Back to nature
My stay in Varese, the garden city of Northern Italy, is the first time I have noticed colors so much. In the gigantic cities I have always lived in – Budapest, New York, Milan – spring flowers were hardly visible. We lived in gray or dirty beige apartment buildings, lined up in rows along the crowded streets, without even a tree to be seen. In the Bronx, the buildings were sometimes faced with red bricks, the only touch of color in what was a sad neighborhood even then. In Manhattan, even the sky almost disappeared, as you had to crane your neck to get a glimpse of something blue way up high, while in Milan the sky returned but was almost always a lowering gray, full of pollution and humidity.
These cities’ public parks provided some greenery, but of course you had to travel to get to them, sometimes even by subway. On the weekends when we were free, we joined the crowds thronging the dusty walkways among the trampled grass lawns, barely green and mostly brown, with no flowers to be seen. City budgets didn’t extend to such investments in time and money, which vandalism would have soon destroyed anyway!
In this new place, year after year, we are surprised by the new-born colors of spring: mostly bright yellows, followed by shocking pinks and flaming reds that contrast so vividly with the newly minted, growing greenery around them. I’ve noticed that the naturally-hued primule in the grass look so much better than the ones you see in the stores. Those have purple velvet petals that attract our eye, but once they are planted, they also fade out in the following year to the same pallid yellow of their natural counterparts.
The tulip-shaped pink flowers of the magnolias follow in their turn, opening slowly on the tree which still seems almost dead with its empty bare branches. Some enormous plants in Varese seem to be just a blushing cloud of color in the azure sky, later producing a beautiful carpet of fallen petals once their budding life is over for this year.
Then come the reds – tulips, azaleas and rhododendrons, and finally, roses. The flaming tips of the bushes reach toward the blue sky, seeming to burst into fire before our eyes. Such a bounty of color even in my poor garden, which doesn’t receive much loving care, especially from me! I enjoy the colors, but not the work they entail, now performed during the occasional visit of a gardener. I even resent the necessity of staying home when he comes, instead of being free to go out when and where I want to.
The first time I passed through the central arch in Varese’s Parco Estense, the shocking burst of color almost blinded me: bright green lawns and rows of red tulips were laid out in the section of park closest to me, while the hill in the back was crowned with a dark fir forest that stood out against the sparkling blue sky. That’s why I’m now ready to switch from my private garden to an apartment in the city again, as long as the city is Varese, the "città giardino". Let the municipal administrators take care that the appropriate flowers are planted in each season, assuring a swift passage from yellows to pinks to reds. As long as I can live within walking distance of that wonderful park, my appreciation of spring colors will continue without having to worry about the consequences...that is, the work involved.