In this part of the country the telephone signal is poor, the wifi coverage scant. There are cars but not that many. It is quiet enough to hear the voices of olive pickers calling to each other in the groves across the valley near Fiano. One of the men has a deep, gruff voice. His interlocutor is more reserved, confining himself to sighs that might signal agreement or simply an immense weariness at the heat of the day and the general madness of the world.

Not that there is much sign of any madness here. Only the midday sun bludgeons us and we are wise enough to avoid it, coiled under high ceilings and on cool stone floors.

Before that, there is a delicious hour of freshness, the hour of coffee and sitting with my thoughts, sifting the good of the year from the bad and making promises to myself. How many will I keep? Best not to dwell on the failures. Rise, find more coffee, cleave to the light. I think of Seamus Heaney‘s lines written in Tuscany:

“The mellowed clarities, the grape deep air…”

Not just grape deep here but thick with lavender and wild rosemary. I walk down the hill through the vineyards and pass a barn where a donkey foal and a goat are munching on the hard, dry grass of late summer. They pay me no heed.

I walk on and feel the heat is building so that by the time I have breasted the last hill before Fiano I am drenched in sweat. The village appears deserted. A handful of elderly people are sitting in the square, one of them an old man in a wheelchair is humming a tune and staring into the middle distance.

I approach an old woman sitting in a bus shelter and ask when is the next bus to Certaldo? But she does not know.

When I pass back this way several hours later she is still sitting there with her newspaper, going nowhere. I give up on my plan to visit Certaldo and slide into the local grocery store cum cafe.

Over a splendidly bitter espresso I watch the comings and goings. There are few at this time of the day. A couple of Germans stop and park their bicycles outside. They down their coffees quickly and are gone, pounding up the hill in a blur of muscle and testosterone. Good luck to them.

And then the old folks start to drift in. There is a large table in the middle of the room and until now it has been dominated by a portly man who has spread his newspaper ostentatiously so that potential invaders will know that this is taken ground. But the newcomers are his friends and neighbours. The paper is drawn in and seats are gathered. Soon the place is full of chat. A boisterous woman of stately dimensions enters with her dog, a thin and neurotic looking beast whose party trick – we soon learn – is to sing when its chin is stroked. The original occupant of the table erupts in laughter as the hound does full Rossini although I am sure he has witnessed this ritual many times before.

Nobody here has very much money.

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They have worked all their lives in the vineyards and olive groves and from the look of things most of their children and grandchildren have left for the towns and cities. But such a feeling of community! Sitting here for just an hour rejuvenates me. A great country for old men and women, and for those of us heading remorselessly in that direction.


In Galway in the weeks before the outbreak of World War II, Louis MacNeice found himself gazing upon the salmon in the Corrib and wrote: “What a place to talk of war.”

In Fiano, I paraphrase MacNeice and think: “What a place to talk of Trump.” But I can distinctly make out his name in the back and forth of conversation at the next table. And so I break my self-imposed rule and look at the News website on my phone to read the latest news of Il Presidente and learn that his lawyer Michael Cohen has accused the President of directing him to commit a criminal offence. In the days to come, other old acolytes and ‘‘friends‘‘ become canaries and agree to cooperate with prosecutors in return for immunity.

There is an obvious downside to being the most powerful man in the world and surrounding yourself with chancers and sycophants. Nobody will tell you the truth when you most need to hear it. Mind you with Trump it would make scant difference. The man hears what he wants to hear and everything else is the poisonous chatter of his enemies.

But is the turning of Michael Cohen really the defining moment, the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency? Dear readers you and I have been over this ground several times in the last couple of years. One scandal after another has risen and faded away. What makes this different?

The law is the difference. Cohen‘s evidence on its own does not prove anything. Trump‘s lawyers will assert that Cohen sang to save his own skin.

On the critical claim that he was directed to commit a criminal act by the President, it will be Cohen‘s word against Trump. But Cohen is only one element of a growing and potentially disastrous scenario for the President.

Others are now singing their hearts out to federal prosecutors and to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating alleged collusion with Russia. The mid-terms loom with growing signs of a Democratic Party revival.

Out of it all emerges a picture of the Trump campaign – like the Trump White House – as shockingly amateur. Dumb and dumber in the way they tried to cover up the stupidities, poor judgment and – potentially – the criminality of the candidate.

Much has been made last week of the fact that Trump‘s base does not care that he paid off a porn star. That may or may not count for something in the mid-terms. It will count for nothing in a court of law.

Sunday Independent