I didn’t fall but walk in love with Italy — gradually, feeling it all, with my arms and heart wide open. We’ve been on the road for a little over two weeks now. The sun led us south, through Germany and Switzerland and further into Italy. We, that is my dog and I. I had never travelled with Shari before. While I hated to leave her behind each time I embarked on a new adventure, the picture of her in the cold belly of an airplane seemed worse. Our time would come, I kept telling myself — and it has.
“You’ll know when you cross the Italian border,” my Mum had predicted before we left. Her voice sounded dreamy, as if she was speaking to herself rather than me. At the time I couldn’t place the spark that lit her eyes each time we spoke about Italy. “Trust me, you’ll love it,” was all she said with a smile that only mothers master, one that says, I know you well. There was something in the way she hugged me that made this goodbye feel different from the other ones — this time around, she was genuinely happy.
We arrived in Carmignano shortly after one. The windows rolled down, the sun was blazing down on us. Finding towns too small to be noted on the road maps I had previously equipped myself with has been exciting if not essential. I craved to get lost to find myself in hidden places off the map. Now relying on road signs to point us in the right direction, we drove through sleepy towns and lush forests that thrived and prospered all around us. Eventually the hills got bigger and the serpentines steeper. We followed endless curvy roads that led us further up the mountains, past vineyards and old Tuscan houses. Now and then you would hear a few honks before a car came shooting round the narrow street corner. Italians drive like they are mad, yet everything about them makes sense. I find peace of mind in all of them — in the way they walk down the street or argue passionately about the simplest of things, always making use of grand words and wildly gesticulating with their hands. When they speak, their whole bodies move. They tell me to enjoy my days, to seize the moment — la dolce vita! — no matter if it’s good or bad. “What you want today you can change tomorrow,” Piero said last night at the table, reaching out to refill my glass with local red wine.
“La Rocca,” our latest home away from home, is everything I hoped to find: an ancient villa that was built in the sixteen hundreds — a former monastery, the home of a painter, a bed and breakfast in this day and age. Inside, the paint comes off the walls in some places, leaving tiny cracks into the past. The high ceilings are framed with frescos so intricate you’ll find something new about them each time you enter. The big hall once used to be the nuns’ study. Today, the walls are covered with the portraits and still lives Isabella’s grandfather painted when he came here in the late 1960s. His family stayed — along with an old farmer who’s been living in the apartment downstairs and helps with the chickens and olive trees.
Our days go by in a similar fashion. Shari makes sure I get up in the morning, and we go for a walk down the hill after breakfast. Olive trees grow on the side of the unpaved dirt road. The view from the top seems endless, reaching far into the valley that is framed by bigger mountains in the distance. Later, I sit down on the balcony with my laptop, notebook and pen. It never gets boring. The innumerable shades of green that I find myself surrounded by are remarkable; I don’t think I have ever seen so many. Constantly changing, growing richer and darker by the day, they are my daily source of inspiration.
I like the person this place is turning me into; how I’m changing and growing with the leaves in the valley. For the first time in my life I am writing every day, getting up with the intention of doing just that. Sometimes the words just come to me, sometimes they don’t. But I feel confident, inspired, and focused.
I tend to fall asleep before midnight, curling up under three different blankets while Shari is snoring not far from me. “Good night, my love,” I say to her and turn off the light. A street lamp outside casts a soft glow that lingers in the darkness. You were so right, Ma, I think at last and close my eyes. You were so right about everything.