The climate was perfect across Europe but the Mandarin trees grew straggly and with meagre fruit in that small corner of Italy. He had been tending them for many years now, almost too many to recall. Perhaps twenty or more years, years that blended together and dragged and flew by all at once.
The lime trees thrived, producing vivid waxy fruits and glossy thick leaves. He would pinch off a leaf and score it with his thumbnail to release the citrus smell, sometimes adding a choice leaf to a cooking pot for a subtle flavour. The lime flesh dripped almost clear, stuck with his pocket knife, twisted whilst he squeezed fresh juice into his drink. He cut off a chunk and sucked the remaining juice, wincing at its sourness. He sat watching the sun set, plucking lightly at Antonia’s strings.
Lemons and oranges grew well too, large and bright, some so heavy they must surely fall from the branches and onto the soil below any moment. He liked to mix some of each at breakfast, pulping them by hand and picking pips out as he went or spitting those he had missed. If he breakfasted late he might add some cheap sparkling wine to the juices, not quite Bucks Fizz but close enough.
Apples presented no challenge and growing them held no interest for him beyond the sales he could make at the local market or an occasional baked pie, if he could be bothered. Once Maria from the village had wooed him with apples, apples stirred into risottos and stuffed into chicken and sauced with pork and chunked into Italian Applecakes. They were everywhere, apples and Marias.
But the Mandarins still struggled in their pots on his terrace. The Greek weather in which they were cultivated could not have been that different from the Italian weather in which they now barely survived. The same heat and light warmed them as the limes, the same water quenched them as the lemons and oranges, the same bees pollinated them as the apples. Something essentially Greek was missing then, something without which their existence was simply that.
Just an existence.