Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Ma il cuor generoso...

Conkers! With great glee my inner child leapt at the sight of some burnished mahogany-brown nuts lying on the pavement less than a hundred yards from my new home. As I gathered them up, marvelling at the uniqueness of each one's mottled markings, so like wood and unlike nuts, my mind floated through five decades of memories.

My mother used to roast chestnuts she'd bought as a treat from the greengrocers, splitting and peeling them while still hot to reveal their puckered, wrinkled but tasty treasures. After my parents returned to live in Italy they no longer needed to buy chestnuts, as they could now be gathered for free from the hills above the village. Whenever I visited them at this time of year I learnt to take a bag with me if I went for any walk, as nature abundantly strewed my way with dozens of temptations to stop, just begging me to take them home.

My mother would often recite a rhyme she'd learned at primary school, which began Ho il riccio spinoso ma il cuor generoso... I have a prickly husk but a generous heart... which I find myself repeating whenever I see one of these prickly, uninviting husks. Chestnuts are only attractive once they have burst from their protective carapace; faced with one still in its shell, only the most foolish and well-gloved would think of trying to prise it out.

And it occurred to me today that this is rather like so many humans, really... so many hearts longing to relate, to be generous and loved, but unavoidably wrapped up within a prickly, defensive exterior, forbidding entry even though yearning for it... And anyone with any sense of self-preservation soon learns to avoid such people, and focus on the loveliness elsewhere, already well-displayed. Maybe the humble conker can remind us that within even the spikiest, most forbidding shell, can lie a thing of beauty, a generous heart just longing to be released...

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