Until I was eight years old, I spent almost every summer with my grandmother in a village of 10 houses lost in the woods. Twice a week, a cart would bring us bread, salt and matches from the city; this was our only contact with the outside world. There was radio but no television; everything we had was fresh, homemade, and handcrafted.
My grandmother, it turned out, was a healer and knew all about medicinal plants and natural remedies. Instead of fairy tales, she told me stories about the powers and virtues of nature. Sometimes we would pick flowers together —stems, roots, and fruits—on long journeys through the woods. Her house always smelled of herbs, infusions, and oils. The kitchen, which had an enormous Russian stove, was always full of jars and tinctures; and in the loft hung bunches of various plants and flowers that she had dried.
My favourite playthings were the fruits and vegetables in the garden, flowers, plants, old bits of wood and, of course, my beloved pets. I watched my grandmother preparing her aromatic and curative remedies, and afterwards, I would play at healer myself, trying to put bandages and compresses on my cat, or trying to apply curative drops to the nose of our dog. I added infusions to the pig’s food and created drawings on its enormous backside, using different muds and dyes. The cow liked fresh plants, so I fed it a variety of combinations of medicinal herbs.
I never managed to make friends with the geese. They were very big and quick, and they pecked my bottom whenever they could. Neither did I trust the bees; however, the chickens were charming and immediately ate the mixtures of roots and seeds that I offered them.
I was a delicate child and when I lived in the city I was frequently ill. My summers were, therefore, filled with my grandmother’s intensive treatments. I remember beginning the day with aloe vera pulp accompanied by a shot of some bitter extract. Just thinking about it now, I sense the same bitter taste in my mouth, recalling the interminable infusions that I took.