BENEATH THE OLIVE TREE
Enjoying a warm, sunny and windless March afternoon in the garden, Jules began to gather another of her vague outlines for a new manuscript. At the centre was the idea of ‘healing’ and it was to feature a middle-aged Jewish woman from New York, unable to come to terms with her daughter’s death a few years before. The means of that death was undecided – maybe a victim of a drive-by shooting or drugs related. It would be something unpleasant. There would be some reason for anger.
It would be set here, in this ‘Green Heart’ of Italy, for two reasons. One was for its beauty, that can bring the calm to a troubled heart and mind essential for the ‘healing process’ to begin to take hold (so I’m told!). The other was for a part of its history, that of the Second World War.
In the few minutes walk from the garden to go up to her office and start typing the ‘she’ became a he. The Jew was transformed into a W.A.S.P. The concrete and steel of New York disappeared behind green yards and white picket fences. To Jules this was of no consequence – the ‘why’ would reveal it self. She was appalled when it did, finding herself horrified when writing the ‘unpleasant death’ as one of the most shocking ever – as a victim of September 11th, 2001.
Beneath the Olive Tree bears no relation to the manuscript my wife thought (however vaguely) she’d write, but the influences in her subconscious to create it were in place. Among these, the events and aftermath of September 11th were mentally and emotionally challenging for many people.
Living in the middle of nowhere and without a television, a couple of coincidences saw us watching the live footage of the Twin Towers on ‘9/11’ and on the following day, in a bar in Cortona, Jules talked to each of the Americans there. One girl’s’s apartment was very close by – she had just flown out of the U.S. to stay with her family. One couple felt blessed to know that their daughter was safe – but knew that not all her close friends could be accounted for. Another man had been on the phone to his daughter who worked there when the line went dead. Fortunately, she’d also proved to be safe.
In ‘Olive Tree’, ‘Joshua Joseph Harris’ and his wife, ‘Patti-Sue’, weren’t so fortunate with their daughter. In another country, another era, another war and another way, nor was ‘Melanie Adams’. As a child, on one fateful day, hidden and unobserved, she’d watched as her father was led away to be publicly shot by German soldiers, witnessed others killing then raping her mother and, in trying to protect her baby brother and herself, she accidentally smothered him.
It’s the spontaneous radical changes to the character of ‘Joshua’ that so dramatically altered the content of Beneath the Olive Tree. His strong pro-military beliefs made stronger by his grief and rage at how his daughter died were in complete contrast to ‘Melanie’, as the woman she grew up to be.
The manuscript moves between the very different lives and perspectives of these two characters as ‘Joshua’ is challenged and ‘Melanie’s’ life story is told to him - by an olive tree! As with The Gryphon Said ‘Olive Tree’ could be found offensive in the challenging of ‘Joshua’ as an attack on the values and beliefs of some people. Again, the voice is that of ‘the minor key’ – would an ancient and wise olive tree, a symbol of love and peace, deeply rooted in the earth and time, be aggressive and have attitude?