maybe an island

While in the drudgy vehicle parade loading onto the ferry I see a local boy by the pedestrian walkway. He’s eighteen and sporting a new lower half of the chin beard. He’s Robert Sean Leonard with Downs. I often see him on the ferry heading off to high school. On his way home, he sometimes hangs with the other kids and sometimes he’s found a stray traveler to talk to. Always male. He’s usually smiling, chatting away.

But today, he’s on dry land. Oh yes. He’s right in front of the “Welcome to Bowen” sign in a dark tasteful hoodie and excellent jeans. Our boy leers at the off loading vehicles with a water fall of F-U fists. He is flying the bird at everyone and everything and mouthing the words just in case the tourists don’t understand the hand gestures.

F-U! F-U! F-U! F-U! F-U!

I am on the opposite side of the parade, unable to slide over there to ask, “Hey buddy, have a hard day?”

Only about four thousand people live here so I get to know the locals; we’re just over two years. It has occurred to me before that it’s mostly new white money and old white hippies here..and .not enough people of colour to make up a soft ball team. I’ve wondered what it’s like for them. But then I see our boy here and realize – he may be the only one of his kind. The only down syndrome person on Bowen…at least as far as I’ve seen. Maybe “no man is an island” is F-ing tired of being lonely.

A lanky man in his thirties leaps over to have a chat with our angry ambassador. It doesn’t seem to do any good. They sort of shift their weight around each other, our boy looks away, shoves his fists in his hoodie. I can see the lanky man wants to put his hand on the boy’s shoulder but decides it would be invasive…maybe…and kindly greets him well and hesitantly walks away. Our boy glowers after him. As soon as the lanky man is out of sight, our boy is back at the F-Us but it’s only one hand now and more sullen than sincere.

I catch myself. He’s not “our boy”, he’s his own boy. He probably has absolutely no need or love for my mother instincts.

A flouncy chubby girl in polka dots with a real live bow in her hair and boots strides up the walkway towards him with strong naked thighs peeping out from her skirt. He sees her and I can feel his gasp from here.. She’s Mini Mouse plus sized and formidably DD. She’s glorious! Our boy does the most remarkable thing. He floats slow motion in a circle away from her and hugs the rock wall with the welcome sign on it. He curves every part of his body into the rocks as though he’s doing a moss impression and suddenly now invisible. It’s…unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Delicate and graceful as a lyrical dancer.

Once she’s well past him, once her perfume has wafted away, he pulls away from the wall and transforms back into a boy. He stands there, forlorn, looking after her.

The last few cars off load from the ferry and he has no ill feelings at all towards them anymore, just a sigh of sadness and maybe…a kind of relief.

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pina colada boys

Three young men sit beside me on the patio talking about IT in their button down shirts and their semi casual light coloured pants, having a bite after work. All three of them have all manner of grooming very well attended to: the beards are closely clipped, the hair slicked back, hands are immaculate. These men are single, ringless, and smelling like soapy spice. All in their mid twenties I suspect. I smirk to myself, “Next up in conversation will be Trump or hockey” but no. The fellow on the end starts talking about his girlfriend.

“…she lives with her Grandma so…it’s hard for her…not having her parents around…but crazy things she’s learning, man – she can cook. Dude. Her gramma taught her. She can cook for the whole family, crazy shit like that. And she’s a religious girl. You know? So she has more freedom than some other girls but – I respect that. What she believes.”

My ears perk up. When do I get to hear a young man talk about his girlfriend? Never! The other two nod in appreciation.

“A person of quality.” Says the fellow next to him.

“She’s a good girl” says the boy.

“what’s her name?” Says the guy on the end.

“Noori”

“Ah. Like Nora with an I.”

The boyfriend repeats the proper vowel sound, longer, “Noooooori.”

“Ah.”

The waitress interrupts them and takes their order. Various tacos – and they start talking about a guy at work. I become engrossed in updating my Fitbit, my fitness Beachbody App and my accountability partner (obsessed much?) My concentration is broken when I see what my three boys have ordered for drinks. A pitcher of pina colada. Are you kidding me? I nearly burst out laughing. I love it. I love it when people surprise me. Maybe one guy has a pina colada when he’s out with his mother, but all three of them, all three of them together decide on a pitcher of pina colada?! I check to see if there’s some wild drink special. Nope. They just all happen to like this particular drink. Okay.

The tacos come and the guy on the end immediately drops salsa on his nicely pressed pastel coloured button down shirt. He flags the waitress.

“Excuse me, do you mind brining me some Tide Out?”

“Some what?”

“You know for stains. That little stick. Tide out.”

“I’m…right…I’m sorry we – we don’t have anything like that.”

“For spills.”

“Yeah, no.”

He sighs heavily. What kind of restaurant serves salsa with no Tide Out? I am wishing so badly I had some in my purse because his pain is palpable.  He is no longer pristine. There goes his entire evening, salsa hanging on the right side of his chest like a badge of goof.

I like these fellows. I wish I had all afternoon to eavesdrop, but I have to get to my costume fitting. I head down the street to the hotel and up the stairs to the conference room. I’m feeling a bit protective because Nora and I were called into a mother daughter spot. She got a hold, then a day later, I got a hold. Then two days later I was booked and she was still on hold. Four days they held her until releasing her. That’s hard on a kid. I walk through the door and see the girl who got the part. Ah. I text my daughter, “They went with an African American family and stuck me in a different spot as the middle-aged woman with tech issues”. Explains everything.

I try on exactly ten cardigans with various neutral stretch pants and flowing blouses: the middle aged woman uniform. There’s a fine line at this time of life between clothing and pyjamas.

In walks the guy who landed the repair man role. I’ve seen this fellow before. He looks like he’s ridden in on on an appaloosa pony. He’s got a scruffy blonde beard and wild white blue eyes, weathered rosy cheeks and a one eyed scruffy little blonde dog same colour as his beard who comes with him everywhere. Does this guy fill a niche or what? He works all the time and he’s very good.

Our costumer has a bright red orange skirt and bright red orange lipstick to match it perfectly. It’s fabulous. However, what is not fabulous is the fact that she is behind and someone forgot to load in her rack of children’s clothing. There’s a wall lined with African American children, all in a row, waiting to be clothed in H&M. Many video games are playing at once on devices, adorable little heads bent, a line of bobbing afros. I want to squish them squish them squish them they are all so cute. But – no. That would certainly not be welcomed. So, instead I pace along the wardrobe racks with my Fitbit, logging in 3000 steps in three hours. I’m quite pleased with this. I am wearing what normal women wear, apparently. Complete with grey flats. Grey. Flats. The ugliest shoes ever invented. like slipping my feet into two dead fish.

As I rhumba, grapevine and march along the clothing racks, not giving a crap what people think of me because a gal’s got goals people, a gal’s got goals! … I have a little smile on my face thinking about my pina colada boys. The tenderness the boyfriend had in his voice when he said his girlfriend was religious. The fact his friends didn’t tease him about the likelihood that this meant he wasn’t getting laid. The earnestness in which the fellow closest to me wanted to remove a stain. Good young fellows who enjoyed ordering a fruity alcoholic beverage in public without fear of recrimination.

Scruffy dog barks, scruffy man lays out his plaid blanket like a bed for the pup and then proceeds to name drop to me the stars he worked with this year and why he thinks his pilot will get picked up. I nod.

“You work much?” He asks.

“Oh a little”. I say. I could arguably “win” but I don’t play the game. Let Mr Scruffy be the big man today.

Three beautiful leggy girls walk in with astonishing figures. One is chattering excitedly, “I can’t believe I got the part of “Asian girl on the bus” because I never get the Asian girl parts, even though I am Asian, I’m only half Asian, and when they put me with a full Asian family, I’m a foot taller than the father!” The other girl smiles at me, generously inclusive, and says, “Are you on the bus too?” I shrug. “I have no idea. I’m the all purpose middle-aged woman, that’s all I know.” They chuckle at me like their Mom just told a joke. They have no idea they are going to be me tomorrow like I was them just yesterday. With shorter legs.

I head home on the ferry to my own scruffy dog and smile, thinking of all the unexpected people I met today and how beautiful they all are. My daughter calls me excitedly, she’s been invited to a sleepover. Well I guess the four day hold has blown over. Good. I walk laps around the ferry deck until BOOM my Fitbit explodes in fireworks of congratulations: 10,000 steps. How wonderful. And I haven’t even walked the dog.images

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when do I stop being a chauffeur?

I iron out the crinkles in my daughter’s crinoline. I am at my ex-husband’s. He’s away. We’re prepping for the big night at his house.IMG_4195

I painted these walls. They haven’t changed. I think this colour was called French vanilla. I stare at pictures of his stern relatives from generations past. They’ve dropped off my tree but I can see my daughter’s eyes in that great grandmother. I still love these kitchen tiles. I picked them almost entirely because they were named aubergine.

It is my daughter’s finale dance recital tonight. She is in five numbers. She’s the youngest in her group by two years or so, accelerated, a natural, they tell me. My favourite costume is the tuxedo top tutu that I carefully fold into her Dad’s old garment bag from Moore’s mens wear that used to carry his suits. She is flitting around completely naked, going through what tights, what tops, what order, what hanger and where is her lipstick. She has the same hips as her father. Something about the way she moves. She’s like this tuxedo tutu compared to his suits: the smaller girly version of him, decked out with rhinestones. She catches me smiling.

“What?” She looks at me shyly, suddenly remembering she’s naked.

“I’m just so very fond of you. I love this dress.”

“Me too!”

I continue to iron, this time a cowboy shirt. I found the iron in the place I left it. Not the ironing board though. That was hidden in the bedroom closet. Plenty of room, not so full. I never iron. I wish I did. It gives me the feeling I can smooth out anything. My surroundings tell me this isn’t true. Bittersweet, being here. The unfamiliar and familiar. The gorgeous kitchen he created himself: planed the wood, mitred the joints meticulously. I love it that he’s here to make a home with his daughter out of all the hopes we started with. The best part of him is built into these walls: his creativity, his courage, his attention to detail, his intelligence. This is what shelters her.

I find a hole in her jeans, surprise surprise.

“Does it have to be these?” I call through the sound of the shower.

“No. Any ones will do”.

The trick is to find the “any ones” without a hole. If I were my mother or grandmother or Nonna or that stern great grandmother on the wall I would be darning myself silly. Instead, I just sigh, resigned. How did my mother have the time to keep her place so clean? Maybe it’s time for me to admit I’m never going to reach that level of domestic excellence instead of beating myself up about it? But how, honestly, how can I not have a tidier house? She was a single mother with three kids and nothing was out of order, ever. No holes, no spider webs, no heaps of paper, no rotting cheese in the fridge, no dog hair on the black trousers, no finger prints on the door knob, no dead tulip leaves slopped over the side of the flower pot, no coffee spill down the cupboard drawer, no tooth paste ring under the glass in the medicine cabinet. It’s kind of the worst being brought up by such an amazing housekeeper. I have the eyes to see all the flaws but the inability to keep up with them.

Where did she find the time? Well, I know the answer to some degree. From a young age I either walked bussed or biked from school or lessons or friend’s homes. Certainly by Nora’s age Mom had stopped being my chauffeur. She couldn’t have been, even if she wanted to, she had to get to work. I remember her driving me along the path I was to walk in order to get to my new school in Red Deer, twelve years old. She drove slowly, pointing out landmarks, and I remember her looking down at her odometer and remarking, “oh look, it’s almost exactly a mile! That should take you about fifteen minutes.” And it was no big deal. I can’t imagine letting my daughter out of my sight. What if she was walking and a white van with blacked out windows drove by her and snatched her up? What if she was biking and she stopped paying attention and she swerved into oncoming traffic? What if she was followed when she got off the bus by a bunch of older girls who decided to beat her up? That used to happen to me. And I didn’t have holes in my jeans.

When am I going to let go? When am I going to decide she can do it on her own?  It doesn’t help that she’s a little thing. Everyone else is sprouting up around her and she’s still tiny. She’s 85lbs dripping wet. And just as I say this to myself, her dripping wet self streaks across the living room with a towel on her head.

“I’ll go in wearing my first costume.”

“Okay.”

By her age I was 115lbs and 5’2″. I was bigger than my Mom. I could walk to school.

I also did chores by her age. I vacuumed and dusted and started to learn how to cook (albeit badly). I brushed the dog and mowed the lawn and did dishes and shovelled the walk. I learned how to iron. I don’t remember getting an allowance. I probably did. It probably wasn’t much. I eye my daughter who grabs a drink from the fridge and then leaves the glass on the counter instead of putting it into the dish washer. Little does she know what I am plotting.

Maybe I don’t get her to do chores because I have joint custody? Maybe I want our time together to be precious, fun, necessary? But maybe this is doing her a disservice. It is also necessary to learn some of these life skills. Maybe I am her chauffeur because I want to maximize my time with her. Maybe this is selfish of me.

All I have to do is start to admit she’s not a baby anymore, she’s growing up and I don’t have another who is younger to mother, this is it and that’s just the way it is.

All I have to do is accept my mortality.

She zips up the garment bag and wraps her little slender arms around me.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I want to hold onto her tightly for too long but I don’t. She’s wearing her dance make up. She looks so much older. She looks…like me. Except skinny. F’ing lucky.

I drive over to the Northshore and I drop her off at the stage door of the theatre.

“You good to go in by yourself?”

“Yup.”

She glides out of the back of the car with her dad’s garment bag. Her ten foot lashes, her mound of curly hair and her painted red lips. She’s all arms and legs and Maybelline and she still smells like baby.IMG_4196

 

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honey

I pull down stars late into the evening. I dismantle a galaxy; it has long since lost its shine. Some tender Mom or Dad had meticulously placed each celestial being on the ceiling once upon a time, to help their baby sleep. “The night is not so dark, little one. There is is always a star to wish upon.” It takes me quite a while to pry the loving gesture out of the stucco’ed sky. I demolish planets and comets and feel like a malevolent god.images

Out the open window down the street under the moon and mewing through the night is my neighbour calling timorously, “Luna Luna Luuuuuuna…” This has been going on for at least half an hour. I crumple a moon in my hand, “Is she calling for you?” I chuckle. I know who Luna is and I know where Luna is. That young brat of a black cat is slinking around the bushes with the low income housing Tom of the same coat, scoping out rats. I saw them earlier when my old dog and I took the last walk of the evening. They eyed us suspiciously then scampered off into the complex courtyard. Oh Luna isn’t lost, she is found. Her little pink collar is tinging tonight. She sniffs the fur of her feline cohort. His neck is bare and he smells of petuli and dope.images-3

I am painting over wasabi with honey if you ask Benjamin Moore. My daughter and I chose wasabi when we first moved in: an effort to find some FUN FUN FUN! in a year full of moving, divorce and death. I painted everything green in those days: NEW NEW NEW! But now several years have passed and green has done its job and can retire, handing the walls over to calm soothing gentle honey. AHHH. That’s all I want these days. AHHH. No longer in survival mode. AHHH. The galaxy, though dim, was a comfort to my daughter but the ceiling is looking grey and it’s time for white and tidy brightness. She’s older now. She is sleeping through the night without being afraid. She is big enough to open the window and look out into the real big sky herself.

I sort through her closet. I’ll keep the dinosaur model but she’s outgrown the bath toys. A little sad setting them aside for recycling. I fetch the rubber ducky with the tiara out of the bin. That one cannot go. Oh. The dresses too short to wear now. I wonder if she’d want them as tunics with tights. Ah. The hello Kitty dress…probably no. It’s all dance wear and sports bras and skinny jeans. It’s all Heartland, Sam and Cat and Glee.images-2

I decide to take a break and head into the kitchen for a glass of water and a peek at old timey Facebook. My friend writes, “The thing that kills me? My daughter would have loved to have been at that Ariana Grande concert.” Hm. I have no idea what he’s talking about. Why would that kill him? Ariana Grande. I convinced my daughter Bang Bang was about bumper cars. I think she has probably figured it out by now, being eleven. Yeah, she would have loved to have been at that concert too. As I scroll down, I start to piece together what he’s talking about. Horror. Horror. What horrifies me the most is: the suicide bomber targeted young girls.

I start to surf the internet for details: the dead, the injured, ISIS taking responsibility but he may have acted alone, the identity of the suicide bomber, the members of his mosque completely dumbfounded that such a quiet boy from a respectable family could do such a thing, the devastated parents, the naming one by one of the little girls and mothers and teens and boys and men who were killed…the first being a girl all of eight. Saffi. Oh Saffi. Oh all of you out in the night to catch a shooting star.

“Luna, Luna, Luna…!” My neighbour’s voice is becoming more frantic. There are racoons and coyotes about.

I read the expected response from hackneyed Hercules. “This evil ideology must be obliterated. Completely obliterated.” “Evil losers.”

Even my eleven year old daughter, having read Percy Jackson, will tell you that if you cut off the head of Hydra it will grow back two more. The only way to stop it is to cauterize the wound.

The question is: how to. I ponder this with a bowed head, my heart full of sorrow for the loved ones of the lost.

“Luna, Lun- oh there you are! Thank God!” my neighbour says. “I will never let you out again.”

Well, that’s no life for a cat.

I take a deep sigh and unwrap my roller, dip it in honey and make a little peace.Unknown

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Give Way: a dreadful last day in Roma and a surprisingly lovely time in Gatwick and now home

It is 5am and I am up to walk my old dog. Not bad. My clock is only off by two hours. I slip on my sandals and they still have sand in them from Gavitella beach. The moon is high in the sky as old Tartuffe and I stroll around sleepy Little Italy. I am delighted to see that tulips are just coming out now, the cherry blossoms are in full matrimony and the rhodos haven’t popped. My children are sleeping. I am tempted to peek at them both, having missed them muchly. But being teens, this isn’t the thing to do anymore.IMG_4025

Mom. Ew. Creep much?

So I peek at my husband instead. His big warm arm cradling the lucky pillow. I open the fridge to find some almond milk to heat up and I’m overwhelmed by the blue cheese we bought shrink wrapped in Altamura, opened last night.

I haven’t written about the last three days because they were marred with a migraine. An inglorious end to a glorious month in Italy. The migraine began while I was on the crowded commuter train between Sorrento and Napoli, my bags knocking against my knees. And I know some people use migraine lightly, I’m not talking about a headache, I’m talking “can’t see out of my eyes, can’t think, gonna scream, gonna throw up, gonna jump out the window” migraine with no meds in sight. Doors opened at S. Giovanni and who walked in? Why, a three piece accordion band. It’s at these precise moments that I believe in Satan: an actual malevolent creature who cooks up torture for fun. As I hung my head and tried not to weep, I felt that sudden “pour three slightly beaten eggs into the bowl” feeling and oh no oh no! In walks my “Aunt” to greet me, a few days earlier than our anticipated appointment. She is on the train, in all her glory, flowy and showy for all the passengers to see, wearing red that is more suitable to someone who is sixteen. Ridiculously revealing. There is no way for me to hide her.

Forgive me, I don’t usually write about “relatives”, but Auntie really dominated my day and I am sure as I write, many of you women are chuckling with sympathy. I pushed past the accordion players who thought I was up to tip them. I slammed my hip against the rails as we rattled around a curve. I caused a little old whiskery man with a cane to look up in fright over his newspaper and exclaim with white hoary flying eyebrows, “Mama Mia!”

I finally found the washroom in order to have a proper conversation with Auntie and get her under control. But the washroom was filthy, and I discovered far far far too late there was no paper and no other means of reparation. This is so unusual for me, to have an empty purse, but I was thrown off by the extra ten days of travel. My Aunt laughed. “Ha, I’m not so easy to get rid of!” In my state of delirious pain I grabbed an old airline ticket from my pocket and slide its slightly laminated self around, making things worse. She giggled, “It’s a crime scene! It’s a crime scene!” I had to use my hand. Dear God. A discovery worse than “no paper” was “no water” in the sink. There was nothing I could do. Nothing. Auntie said, “You know, this would never happen to Karen or Lisa or Cheryl or Anita or any one of your friends because they are grown ups.” I wiped my hands on the inside of my jeans, a finger painting, and put them back on and walked out. In less than half an hour I had gone from “well put together lady” to “filthy stinking irrational animal.”

I sat down again. My head was throbbing so badly I considered bashing my brains against the metal hand rail. My next airbnb host in Roma had given me about five options on how to get to his place and all those bus tram and train lines knotted like a ball of wool in my head. In my addled state I didn’t understand a single one of them, even after reading the directions out of my one eye about five times. Auntie smirked, “screw it, take a cab”. Yeah. Because she’s made of money. I I typed back, slowly, with one foul finger, “you pick. best way. for woman with bag.” Auntie pouted, “I hope by bag you don’t mean me.” My host, Massimiliano (isn’t that a great name?) wrote back, “I will drive. Wait at Termini at Benetton.” This usually meant a rip off where the host will charge me 30$ euro plus another 5$ euro for my bags. F it. I don’t care. Just get me to a shower and a bed.

I arrived in Roma termini, finally, and found the proper facilities at the station. This is all a blur because the pain was so great. And it was a rush. There wasn’t time to change, the train had been late. I trotted painfully with my carry-on bag wrapped on top of my heavy carry-on suitcase and clutched a scarf I dug out of my bag to hang elegantly at crotch length, that delicate art of coverage without getting the tassels caught between my legs as I wheeled around looking frantically for our meeting place: The United Colours of Benetton. Auntie shouted, “my favourite colour is red!” The handles on my carry on bag ripped off and sent my technology flying. Passengers stepped over my plug adapters and cords as I gathered them up, now openly moaning in pain.

I looked up and there he was, Massimiliano (Max). Just what I expected. An impeccably dressed well groomed hygienic and  handsome young Italian man with great shoes and a tasteful murse. I prayed to God I was in no way odiferous and that he wouldn’t notice my Aunt was with me. I don’t remember much, I was in such pain. And for some reason I didn’t want to burden him with the knowledge of my migraine as it seemed embarrassingly linked to my Aunt, so I didn’t mention the need for medication. I think back now and wonder what the heck I was thinking but I was by no means rational. So he proceeded to kindly give me a little tour of the neighbourhood showing me the restaurants, the tram, the bus, the best coffee, the best gelato. I prayed my Aunt would leave no mark on his seat.IMG_4002

He let me into his beautiful little apartment with a wizard worthy collection of marvellous keys. It was all high ceilings and white and absolutely lovely. Surgically clean. Max arranged my taxi for the next day and refused any sort of payment for picking me up at the train station, which was a good hour out of his day. He was an angel. (He and his boyfriend have three suites they rent out.) He even left  me a bottle of water and a bottle of wine before he breezed away. I sunk to my knees. “Thank you God I made it”. I showered and dried down with the first fluffy towel I’d come across in the entire country. I soaked my clothes and then gingerly crawled like a baby into the big soft bed with thick stiff cotton sheets. I thought to myself…”such…lovely…light…fixtures…” then thankfully fell asleep.

Massimiliano suite

IMG_4003When I woke up, the migraine had diminished into a manageable headache so I decided to go out and try to find a pharmacy and something to eat for my last night in Roma. All the stores were closed, now eight, but I did find a restaurant named Primi. It was basically traditional Roman food but half the amount and double the price. The food items were presented artfully – little blobs of fried things on the plate. I didn’t notice “fried” in the description. It was all pretty bland. But I did try a Falanghina wine for the first time and that was worth the price of admission. It was almost savoury, as though it was grown with porcini mushrooms or truffles, a beautiful local uncommon white. And I had my last Italian pastry: a deconstructed cannolo that was very nice indeed. I followed this with a boatload of water and a swig of cognac, getting cocky that my migraine was behind me.IMG_3998

But oh, was I wrong. Around four in the morning Auntie came in banging cymbals and the migraine returned with a vengeance. I had to wake up at five anyway. Now, Massimiliano had advised me to take a taxi all the way to the airport despite the 48 euro fee but I had already bought my ticket to take the Metro which was only 7 euro. Being early morning on a sunday though, I needed a taxi to the metro, 15 euro, because nothing else was running.

Still with a migraine and no medication, no pharmacies open at 5am, I taxi’ed to Termini and then Metro’ed to Piramide. From there the little black line told me I could get to Fiumicino and I’m sure I could but the whole thing took so long and I could not find the connection to the other lines in the building, I was beside myself with pain and becoming afraid I’d miss my flight. So I had to straggle out from under the earth and grab another taxi. What did it cost me? 48 euro. “From Piramide?!” I cried. “Si”. Said the grumpy driver. I assented very loudly from the back of the car, “ALLORA”! To which he muttered much Italian along the lines of “that’s the standard price you stupid ass tourist.”

I got to the airport forty-five minutes before my flight to Gatwick and they refused to let me on. “Oh please!” Fine, but I had to run and I couldn’t check my bag. The only reason it needed to be checked was I had two bottles of limoncello hand made in Positano that I wanted to take home. But I couldn’t miss my flight so I had to throw both bottles into the garbage and run RUN RUN to the gate. By the time I got on the damn plane I couldn’t help but let out a few sobs I was in such pain, still having had no time to find a painkiller in the airport.

Gatwick. Arg. Why not London where I could go to the West End and catch a show? I didn’t realize Gatwick was so far from it all and expensive to train. But, turns out, not a lot of shows are open on Sunday and Auntie made sure I was in no shape for a big adventure regardless. I did consider this whole day in Gatwick a complete waste. But this flight was so cheap, I couldn’t say no.IMG_4020

When I arrived in Gatwick two hours later, quite delirious, I was dropped off by a cab (a lovely fellow this time) to my farm house airbnb, just ten minutes from the airport, near Charlwood. I tell you all this horror story so you understand just how heavenly it was to meet Veronica. She took one look at me and said, with beautiful English crispness, “Oh dear, you’ve come a long way, you look exhausted, are you not well?”

Like a little pouty baby I confessed, “Migraine.”

“Sit down. I have just the thing.” She let me into her beautiful well appointed home all wood and fine ceramic and tapestry and good art.  She set me down into her living room and came back with a glass of water, a heap of horse pills and a freshly brewed excellent cup of coffee with cream and sugar. I don’t remember what she said the pills were, I don’t care, they were huge and they worked. “thank you” I said from the bottom of my heart. “thank you!” I sank into her sofa.

Veronica suite

We had a wee chat as the drugs set in and I went upstairs and freshened up. Veronica had set out a heap of towels, and the first facecloth I’d seen since Canada and lovely organic-y mint and lemon soap. (One mustn’t under estimate the kindness of offering guests good toiletry things.) I had the choice of two twin beds, set out like frilly frosted sugar loaves. I had a view of her back garden, filled with daffodils, spring grass, an immaculate green house and three spotted spaniels springing about.

I woke up refreshed! Veronica drove me into Charlwood town to Half Moon pub where I had an English ale and a big perfect lunch of roast beef, yorkshire pudding, cauliflower and cheese bake and all the fixings. I sat out on the patio, the sun shining.IMG_4005

Veronica had given me a pamphlet describing the various buildings of historic interest in town. I didn’t know anything about medieval villages before. Apparently, they were built in a large ring. In the centre was the common ground where everyone would bring their sheep and goats and so forth to graze. Then they’d wander out back to their homes along the perimeter at the end of the day. One of the only buildings in the middle was the church.IMG_4009

So, I went for a lovely stroll around the village. I wandered through the church and graveyard: gloriously beautiful but also a bit creepy with tipping tomb stones and cracked sarcophagus’s where I peeked inside and expected to see bony toes. IMG_4011

Then I walked by ancient barns, homes, schools and paddocks with their stone roofs, leaning, bulging, crumbling and still lived in! I walked along farmer’s fields full of sheep and wild flowers all the way home. For a while a Colin Farrell faced man strode alongside me and then passed me, his shirt off, his muscles bulging, proud, and white as a corpse.

This wasn’t the way I thought the trip would go. I thought my last night in Roma would be wonderful and I thought my day in Gatwick would be a complete wash. But look at the treasure I found in this sweet village on this sunshiny English day? Often the best moments traveling are the ones that aren’t planned. As the signs on the road here say: give way.IMG_4017
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Later that evening, Veronica joined me for a light meal at another pub further away called the Revisited Fox. There I had a very nice potato and kale pie and had to try their cherry bakewell, which was fantastic. We had a wonderful conversation. The next day her husband, Roger, drove me to the airport, free of charge, after a beautiful breakfast with fresh farm eggs. I felt so cared for.

 

The flight home was harmless and didn’t feel long. Scott greeted me with a bouquet of flowers and dinner made. I rather think it should be the opposite. I’m the one who’s been traipsing around Europe while he cared for the dog and house and our BnB. Well, he shall be rewarded appropriately over time.

The wonderful thing about being away, is seeing home with new appreciation. All morning I find myself newly grateful for things I never thought to miss: sidewalks, healthy breakfast. The round soft brown openness of Asian facial features. The smell of rain. Grocery stores where the clerk does the weighing. Wide roads. Silence easily had in one’s quiet spaces. A country that aspires to be as unpretentious and open as its simple flag.

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Praiano: the path of the Gods

Rough hewn Crosses along the path invited me to think this must be a “stations of the cross” sort of camino. IMG_3958I reverently approached the marble carving near the stairs. Instead of seeing the Christ enduring Roman torture, I saw…two pigs copulating…with…a man trapped underneath? This is either an extreme take on the prodigal son or this is also the path of other deities.IMG_3955

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view of Positano while on the path of the Gods

The hike from Bomerano to Positano up and across the mountainous cliffs of the Amalfi coast is called The Path of the Gods: Sentiero deli dei.

It takes the average person about three and a half hours to hike Praiano to Positano (my little town in-between). IMG_3956It took me four with a bum knee and a stop for lunch. I usually hike flat foresty terrain so the vertical ascent was a great work out for my thighs. I’m also a little afraid of heights so there were times where I just couldn’t look left. The path is a mix of nicely wrought stairs, a trail with a rail, and treacherous hard scrabble beside a five hundred meter drop to certain death.IMG_3970

Being the beginning of April, I had much of the trail to myself. I came across quite a few hearty French. Some Australian young men leapt past me like mountain goats. I feared more for a blueberry round British girl with absolutely no treads and some rickety German seniors with walking sticks and balance issues.

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a farm on the top of a cliff on the Path of the Gods Amalfi coast

The day was perfect. It never ceased to amaze me, the higher I got, I still came across terraces with gardens and goats and sheep and orchards and homes. I won’t complain about my Bowen island garden being rocky, steep and hard to access again. There is no hauling Costco bulk up to these farms. They’d have to be pretty self sufficient.

There are three sounds ubiquitous to Praiano:  the church bells, the SITA bus honking around the curves in the road and the little yellow dog who barks, day and night, right beside my villa. I can see him from my window.

I thought, “Oh, I’ll go for a hike to escape it all and have some peace and quiet.” No. I could still hear those three things clear as a bell from the top of the mountain! I couldn’t believe it. I just had to laugh.

I had lunch when I arrived at the foot of Mt St Angelo, where there’s the St Maria of Castro church, built before 1440 and San Domenico convent, built in the mid 1500s. IMG_3961It had been a place of ancient cult worship before then. There is an ancient sacrificial altar they incorporated into the church nave, apparently. The church was very spare and completely empty. I was comforted by its lack of glitz. It had a piano in the corner that hadn’t been played for a mighty long time.IMG_3967IMG_3966

The convent greeted me with a growing garden, beautiful freshly bloomed iris, some tables and chairs and a public washroom with running water.IMG_3962

Whenever I go on a big vertical hike like this, I always think it is going to result in some life altering contemplation that will lead to a revelation from God.

About two hours into the hike I became impatient. “Hey, I’m doing my part here, God, toss a girl a bone.”IMG_3965

Silence. Bark bark. Honk honk. Ring ring.

Okay. Maybe It’s okay for a girl to take a day off from spiritualizing and just simply enjoy the beauty and the gift of the day. I took a deep breath and stopped trying so bloody hard to contemplate.

IMG_3973The clouds rolled up and over me fast as a forest fire. Wild rosemary bristled like fisherman’s beard, and a little collar bell dingled from an errant goat somewhere, impossibly, above me. It felt good to simply climb and gaze out and breathe. As I started to tuck into the next mountain, I noticed I was free of the sound of the dog and honking. At last. Peace.IMG_3982

I made it to the beautiful little cliffy town of Nocelle, still about 430 meters above sea level. The first thing that greeted me was a tarped over uncharacteristically cheesy bar called the Terrace of the Gods. Yeah. I don’t think so. I don’t think any self respecting god is going to stop in here for a Heineken. There’s no way I hiked three hours to end up in Italy’s version of a Husky pit stop.IMG_3984

Beautiful little purplish plants sprung out from the rock wall beside the pub pointing: “Go this way, go this way” with their spiky fingers. So I kept on wandering down the walk way past beautiful villas and BnBs. They had gorgeous custom made wrought iron fences with delicate flowers and leaves, and pristine patio gardens and lemon groves overlooking the sea.  IMG_3988Shortly, Nocelle opened up into a square with a pinkish church and a view of Capri. But the most important thing to me at that moment was the discovery of a little granita stand. There I had the best freshly squeezed locally grown lemon-orange slushy ever. I could not get over it. It was simply one of the best things I’ve ever quenched my thirst with. (The granita stand is really the only thing in the square so you can’t miss it.)IMG_3985

I could hear the SITA bus again, but the dog of Praiano was still out of range. Just as I was thinking this, a little yellow dog wandered over to me for no reason and looked out at the view beside me. He was not there to be fed or petted, just there to be looked at. Sort of like a cat.IMG_3986

The dogs are funny in Italy. Many gates have an “attenti al cane!” warning with a vicious German shepherd in the picture.

IMG_3633But the reality is, it’s a chihuahua who could care less. He’s too busy sunning himself and he’s overstimulated with tourists and traffic and noise. The dogs are simply ambivalent here. My husband loves dogs. He hunches his big self down into play formation, wags his bum like a tail and puts on his Scooby Doo voice, “Hey boy, come here, boy, hey!” and whistles. Usually this drives a Canadian dog BANANAS and they gallop over to him and have a nice little play time. But he hunches down into play formation, wags his bum, whistles and gives the Scooby Doo voice to the Italian dogs and every single one of them has completely and utterly ignored him. Not a single one has even turned its head. Scott would stand, dejected, “I got nothin'”, like he’d lost his magic dog connection forever.IMG_3995

I continued to wander down the steps towards Positano. The many many many steps. I was so utterly happy to see the road and its flatness, I hardly minded the traffic whizzing by me. I wandered into town, the most touristy of all the Amalfi jewels. Some of the high end hotels and villas hung off the cliffs in a way that seemed impossible, perhaps accessible by boat only. IMG_3996The cars started to become very high end. A starchy slender couple solemnly zoomed by in a vintage red coverable Alfa Romeo. Then a man in sunglasses slinked by in a Jag. I passed a very well dressed couple in matching nautical colours who were the first to not say, “Buongiorno” back to the sweaty underling that I was. IMG_3994I stopped into a couple of ceramic shops and bought some things that I really didn’t need simply because I was a bit low on blood sugar and felt the need to mark the achievement of arriving. I wandered down to the Mulini square to find Da Vincenzo restaurant on via Pasitea (172) that my host had recommended, but it was closed. I decided to get out of the tourist trap, as it was already annoying me, and I hopped the SITA bus home.

Once in Praiano, I went to a local restaurant for a simple mediocre linguine with white fish and started reading Steven Weinberg’s “To Explain the World” to balance out this day of complete mental relaxation. I had some limoncello with my Socrates and a most excellent lemon sponge cake and creme at La Strada.  I guess today I was hoping for a break through on my play. The thing I’m writing is a little close to home so I have no idea whether it’s good or not. But it is healing to write it, because I have to imagine both sides of the story. So, even if I can’t sell it, it’s been worth it. And as I took my last sip of deliciousness in the last moments of dusk I realized I had just been given my revelation.

 

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Praiano – a walk to Torre a Mare and other heavenly things

I’ve been listening to some soft spoken Italiana singing “Hotel California” as I watch the sun set settle itself all pink and sexy over Positano. I am on my last sip of limoncello after a lobster linguini and a terrific little hike. I am suddenly pulled into the past and into the deepness of a feeling when the Italiana is replaced with Kate Bush. What?! Kate Bush?!

Did I listen to anyone else in the nineties? Amazing the feelings that can come with music. It doesn’t matter that I’m 47. It doesn’t matter that I’m in Italy. Kate sings and I am instantly Running up that Hill with her, all earnest, with our big hair and our eyes just a little too wide. Kate implores,

“Tell me we both matter don’t we?”

Oh Kate, we do matter. But we just don’t realize it for a while.

I think of her and her crazy dance videos and yet somehow – it had dignity and genius, my favourite being Hounds of Love and .Sensual Worldimages

I think of myself in those years, really into the retro dresses, floral prints and cardigan sweaters, starting to get my hit, buying my first pair of Fluevogs, doing the Value Village mash up, putting real flowers and ribbons in my long curly hair. I started to collect my core great girlfriends that I still hold dear today and I started dating intelligent gorgeous men who had a kind of disdain for me, like I was warm beer. I just couldn’t make myself cooler.

I lived on King Edward and Main in a big old brightly painted house for four hundred and twenty five dollars a month and that included utilities. I wondered how the hell I was going to get my equity card when nobody in town would even see me for an audition.

I put that girl, that girl with her skinned knees and her Body Shop citrus spray – I put that girl across from me at the table tonight, to listen to Kate Bush and to look at the twinkling lights over the sea.IMG_3922

She said, “Wooooooooooooooowwwwwwww. This gets to be me?”

Yeah kid, it does. And we just finished an adaptation of a commissioned script, and we think it’s pretty good, and so we’re celebrating.

“Did you just speak Italian to the waiter? I’ve always wanted to learn Italian!”

Don’t get excited, that’s still about all I know.

“Dad would be impressed!”

(I decide not to tell my younger self that Dad dies at the age of 59)

“And you’re married?”

To the best sexiest kindest man ever.

“And you have kids?”

Yup. I wish I could hook you up with Scott now and save you all the morons you’re about to date for the next twenty odd years, but Scott is partying his way through university right now and, to use his own words, he’s still “a complete and clueless dick.” So…yeah. Let’s not mess with destiny. Let’s let that fruit ripen. Because, no offence, you’re a little needy and hysterical.

“How can you say that?! I’m just trying to figure out WHO I AM!”

I sure wish I could have those upper arms back, but gosh, I do not miss the existential angst. Sip your limoncello. IMG_3923

It’s been a beautiful day. The two days before I spent entirely shut up in my suite writing like mad and cooking my own meals. My lovely hosts keep dropping off beautiful things for me: home made orange marmalade, big fluffy lettuce pulled right out of their garden, lemons from their tree…I’ve been sipping espresso in the famous Positano painted ceramic cups and getting out onto the balcony once in a while for a stretch and some fresh air.

My eyes were starting to hurt from strain and my brain was mush from writing four 12 hour days in a row. So, today, I did a bit of editing and then I hit the road with my water bottle and my glow-in-the-dark Puma sneakers.

As far as I can tell there’s only one way to get anywhere from Praiano, and that’s by walking along the ridiculously narrow cliffside road that two way traffic goes down and pedestrians. Sometimes when a car has slowed down in order for a bus to pass by it, a motorcyclist will zip in-between the two impatiently and it becomes three way traffic. I cannot capture in pictures how dangerous this all seems to me. And there’s really nowhere to go, unless you want a very high dive into the Mediterranean.

And little dogs and children are everywhere. I came across a little dog today that had a limp, likely a motor vehicle hit. IMG_3948He kept following me and hopping along down the middle of the road. He was driving me crazy with anxiety. I started to call him “Come here, Darwin! Darwin Award, get off the road, you crazy dog! Oh my God, I can’t watch…” And he would face traffic, bewildered, like he had completely forgotten what a vehicle was and that it may just be dangerous, and at the last minute he’d skitter away on his three good legs looking behind him like, “what’s the rush, geesh!”. I headed into a marina area just so he would follow me and get off the road and it worked. Down the stairs he went. “Arrivederci, Darwin Award!” Whew!IMG_3949

It’s seriously quite a bit of work just to stay alive. I have to constantly look behind me when I walk because some vehicles are coming so fast and so close to the curb I have to literally flatten my body against the wall or barrier to avoid my purse smacking their windshield. And there aren’t really any streetlights. There are some very pretty sort of Victorian lamp things that are solar powered and virtually useless. So, one has to make it home before the sun sets or something like this tunnel here is – well – I just wouldn’t do it. Even in broad daylight, I run, I RUN through it. The locals chuckle at my fear. IMG_3946

Oh, even the sides of the street are beautiful. Wisteria and clematis grow on everything like weeds. IMG_3926Parking lots look like vacation huts with bamboo roofs. Usually above them is the family lemon grove. Above that is the whitewashed villa.IMG_3927

My goal is the Marina di Praia and the Torre a Mare. This is in the direction of Amalfi, about thirty minutes down the harrowing honking beeping motorcycle mania road. Once I get there, it’s gorgeous, and there’s a winding set of stairs to the watch tower and the sea. It’s right near a famous club called Africana. It’s build into the side of a cliff, the band plays in a rock cave. Yachts can pull up to it.

In the Torre a Mara is an artist named Paulo Sandulli What a lovely human. He’s studied painting and sculpture three years in Rome and five years in Paris and has since been doing his sculpture and painting out of the torre for thirty years. His focus is the local people and the human form and how we interact with the sea. So, he has painting and sculpted local fishermen playing cards, he has fanciful scuba divers with painted toe nails and he has mermaids holding real coral and sitting in the bathtub. One of his signature pieces is a sea goddess bust  of a woman with a real sea sponge for hair. My favourite piece was a hanging sculpture: a rollypolly woman in a bikini diving into the water with her nose plugged, her little delicate toes wiggling. And above her is a man reaching for her gently and elegantly, naked and comfortable in the sea. It was just so playful and loving. He also had a lot of naked terracotta gals riding fish and squids provocatively with bright pink nipples happy as daisies…he let me walk up the very creaky rickety old wooden spiral stairs to the top of the tower where he kept more work. I really loved meeting him and I wish I could have purchased the lady plugging her nose but this trip is now well beyond my budget.IMG_3928

After that, I walked to the marina and along a cliff path. Along it there was art from the artist I just saw and mosaics pressed into the pathway and a beautiful mosaic bench guarded by a ceramic San Lucca.IMG_3930IMG_3929

I turned a corner and two electricians were working on some wire that seemed like it had fallen from the hotel far above or…something. Anyway, the guy was up a ladder against a cliff…he climbed down when I passed. When I came around again to return home he was up there again and told me to just go under his ladder. I started to laugh. On top of being hugely dangerous, let’s now give ourselves bad luck.

I ducked under his ladder and made the sign of the cross and the two electricians laughed along with me and shrugged their shoulders. There’s too much work to do to be worried about superstitions – I think is what his partner was saying. Or maybe I’m just getting very good at pretending I am understanding Italian.IMG_3933

On my way home, as I said, I stopped for dinner at a restaurant near my villa to celebrate my completed adaptation with Kate Bush and my younger self. Claudia had recommended it: Ristorante La Strada. But when I walked in, the entire seating area was completely empty. I asked, “Are you closed?” The gracious waiter said, “Oh no! Would you like to go upstairs like everyone else?” I didn’t notice this place had an upstairs.

He lead me to the back of the restaurant up this long flight of stairs built right next to a cliff wall. I thought to myself, “Where in the heck am I going?”

Sure enough, I got to the top and it opened out into a huge terrace with a wide bar and lots of tables out on the  patio,, white tablecloths fluttering. So beautiful. The food was quite nice too. The service was superb.IMG_3952

I realized, as I descended down the terrace stairs of the restaurant…despite the traffic, despite the cliffs, despite the environmental danger all around me, I’m not really afraid of death. I don’t give much thought to it. Maybe because I don’t regret my life. I feel I have left a good mark. I think everyone I love knows I love them. And I think there’s something beyond. Who knows. Could be like this restaurant. It’s possible that there’s a whole other level to existence I can’t even imagine, with a much better view.

My younger self smiles because I’m staring out at the sea with my eyes just a little too wide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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when I know I’m ready to start a new play

Fireworks went off over the town of Positano along where the luxury hotels are. Must be some celebrity’s birthday. I headed out to the balcony to see and stretch my legs. The quiet doves are tucked into their nesting tree beside me and they could care less who just turned 41. They had the same blasé response to the busses that tried to pass each other on the narrow cliffside street outside my balcony this afternoon and one of their mirrors got ripped off.

The doves completely ignored the mother shouting at her children at dinner, “time to come in and eat, finally, for the love of God in heaven, stop playing soccer!” (I am quite sure I understood that.)

But six a.m. tomorrow morning the doves will be adamant about something, so adamant they will wake me up. The sound is very…I don’t know…motherly…in that hot cocoa with tiny marshmallows way. It is impossible not to roll over and smile before pulling the pillow over my ears.IMG_3873

I haven’t left the house today. I have kept myself prisoner until my inbox got cleared. I had a heap of teaching to catch up on and several plays to read. And by heaven, I did it. 9am-midnight. With a small break for lunch and a few espressos. In this airbnb they have a gorgeous little rooster thingie – I am not sure if it’s an espresso tamper or a cigar cutter. Anyway, I use it for tampering! It adds to the ceremony. There is only a single shot espresso percolator, so tiny, it fits into the palm of my hand.IMG_3881

I ate dinner while reading. I had a bit of wine around nine and my notes got very blunt. I took a short breather on the balcony again, and stared out at  the sea I drank a glass of water, looked the notes over again and thought, “Well, I’m sending them off. They’re bang on! And I suspect she’s tough.” She’s got promise this one. In fact, I have an excellent group this year. They’ve made me laugh out loud and have moved me to tears and have made me mad and have made me uncomfortable in my skin. And we’re only halfway done the course. Yup. Proud of my kids.

So, tomorrow I can start on my own writing. I have a draft of a translation, that won’t take me long. I know exactly what i want to do with it. And then…I plunge into something brand new and frightening.

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a head of lettuce from my host’s garden, another gift!

It makes me excited. It makes me sick. Like a long anticipated first date. I want to get to it right now and I want to run screaming at the same time. A memory of a terrible “long anticipated” first date came to mind. A friend tried to set me up with her friend but our schedules didn’t mesh and then I was off to Banff. So, he started writing to me. Long beautiful poetic sensual letters full of wit and promises and smarts. When the day to meet in person finally came, I was so nervous I was literally shaking. I put on my little sundress. I waited in line at the restaurant we chose. He wasn’t there. I stood for a while. Finally, I noticed this guy staring at me from across the street. It was him. He had been watching me and he wasn’t at all pleased. When he saw that I spotted him he kind of hung his head, resigned, and crossed the street. When we sat down for lunch, he suggested I try the salad.

I think of this as I look up at the moon shining a shimmery path across the Mediterranean sea. I chuckle. I say to the doves who still couldn’t give two hoots: “Boy, have I ever dodged a lot of bullets before meeting Mr. Awesomesauce.”

I think of my new play idea. I think it’s going to hold. It’s done that humiliating turn in my head. The turn that is necessary. My plays start with a question. That’s a nice way of saying, it starts with a subject that makes me shout WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?!?!?! I rush into the subject matter like it’s a festering wound and I’m going to clean it all up all Florence Nightingale like. And as I start to wipe away the blood, I see my own face. I see how I am part of the wound. I don’t know if this makes sense…but it’s only when I see how I am part of the wound…and how shocking and humbling it is to realize I am part of the problem…that’s when I’m ready to write about it. From that humble place. From the middle of the mess, covered in it. Implicated.

And with this lovely thought I head to bed with the anticipation of doves and a plot outline.

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Praiano: basking in the glory

 

I cannot look at the Christ and his sacred heart. All I can see is Tina Turner shot in the chest.

So, I focus on the fresh birds of paradise, calla lilies, tulips and day lilies beautifully arranged around his feet. This metaphor is more symbiotic with my sense of Jesus.IMG_3889

A little church lady was scuttling around caring for the flowers when I peeked into the San Gennaro chiesa.IMG_3885

I was drawn in by the magnificence and could not help but utter a deep loud WOW.IMG_3891 The uniqueness of this church is the inclusion of ceramic art, famous in these parts. The floors are all gorgeous hand painted tiles and the idols are porcelain dolls with fabric clothes.IMG_3895

I knelt down in the congregation to pray when the little church lady interrupted me with a whisper and a beckoning hand, “Cristo! Cristo!” Ah. In the little side chapel there is the Christ and padded chairs and magnificent fresh flowers. She thinks this is a better place for my contemplation. “Allora”. I whisper back, “Magnifico”, “Grazie”, and headed towards poor Tina. She scuttled off and left me alone in the large vibrant cathedral.

Here I am. Staring at the lilies. They smell like weddings and they smell like funerals. I begin my prayer.

“Dear Lord, I thank you so much for the-”

“stop eating soft cheese.”IMG_3882

This is how my God speaks to me. Blunt. I know exactly why God has asked me to stop eating soft cheese, it makes me sleepy and I have work to do. God adds:

“I find your guilt repugnant.”

This is also how my God speaks to me. With perfect words like repugnant.

“Okay…you’re right. God, I would like to thank you for – ”

“Listen, I give you a gift, take it. You are my beloved. Things won’t always be easy. When you go through a hard time in the future you can say to yourself, “Yes but I had a month in Italy”

True.

“You’ve been a faithful servant. You’re a good mother.”

My God also surprises me by saying things I wasn’t even thinking about but feeling and fearing deep down. t shed a few soft cheesy tears.

“I said you’re a good mother. Now cut it out. You just took your children to Italy and you love both of them. And you’re a pretty good wife.”

Yes. I am quite sure God said, “cut it out” and “pretty good wife”. For a second I wonder why I only get a C+ for spousing but I don’t question it.

“Thank you, thank you.”

“Now, get down to the sea before it gets too hot for those stairs.”IMG_3887IMG_3888

 

Before I leave, I tour the rest of the chapels. The sacred heart of Christ is captured in stone and in cloth.

There is a Joan of Arc character (I think) or perhaps a warrior Mary, stepping on the back of a little devil’s bum. The devil is definitely a devil of colour, complete with a wee devil afro, whereas she is porcelain white. I find this repugnant.IMG_3892

Being from Vancouver, I certainly hear a lot of racism directed towards Asians but not black people. I’m sure it’s out there, I just don’t hear it. Here in Italy, perhaps with the proximity to Africa and the immigration that happens, there seems to be quite a bit of trouble with racism. A lot of graffiti says “no immigrati!” When I was in Palazzo, a program came on TV about an African tribe and someone hissed and said something about “brutta…nazione” and looked away. I’ve seen people cross the street and avoid taking bus seats. So, whenever I come across a person of colour in Italy, I am particularly smiley and kind, sensing that they get shit on quite regularly.

I come across the statue of San Gennaro himself. (St Gerard) He has a bucket full of children beside him and a woman holding an embroidered handkerchief.

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This encouraged me to do some “what the heck?!” research. Apparently one of his miracles in the mid eighteen century was: he dropped a handkerchief and a woman picked it up for him. He said, “keep it, you will need it later”. A while later she was dying in child birth and she grabbed the handkerchief and she miraculously recovered and birthed a healthy child.

He had several other miracles regarding feeding the poor and looking out for children. He dropped the bishop’s key down the well once and he sent the “bambino” (the christ child statue) down the well in the bucket to get it, and indeed, the bambino had the key in his hand when the bucket was drawn. Where IS that handy little bambino when I lose my car keys?IMG_3897

I head down to the ocean for my walk. Praiano is high up on a cliff, a small town just past Positano, so getting to the beach is quite the incline. But the pathway from the church is a gentle zigzag path through villas, homes and fancy inns. Lovely whimsical porcelain art is everywhere. Little fancy tiles on the ground, sardines being eaten by larger fish pressed into the rock faces of the walls. IMG_3900Everyone’s street address is listed on a hand painted tile. I was particularly pleased with the cuttle fish trapping dinner with his wild moustachio.IMG_3917IMG_3907

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wandered along a gorgeous cliff side garden with a wooden grape trellis shading the artichoke plants. A Nonno and his toddler grandson were taking a walk through the scented garden, full of flowers. I am sure they were both wearing linen. Honestly. I am such a SLOB compared to these people. All the paths, all the streets, all the gardens and houses and shops, are immaculate.

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When I finally got to the ocean, I had the entire beach to myself. I guess tourists aren’t quite here yet and the Italians think 20 degrees is far too cold for swimming. Lucky me! I stared up at the sky and God said one word to me.

“Bask.”

So, I did. I basked in the Glory.IMG_3914

 

 

 

 

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A family travels Italy 18-19: travel days and the gift of Amalfi

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Keith Haring mural in Pisa by the art cafe, Keith’s

From what I have gleaned in the past three weeks I can confidently say I see no evidence that Italians believe in fluffy towels, breakfast, or the right of way for pedestrians. Nobody seems to be afraid of heights, concerned about cholesterol or trying to actively avoid motor vehicle accidents. I have yet to meet someone who is poorly dressed. Even the beggar ladies have an eye for colour. I have not missed Costco, Starbucks, bacon, peanut butter, soy product, bad ice-cream, or the current US president’s pinched and petulant face plastered everywhere. I am really enjoying the local markets, cappuccino bars, prosciutto, gelato, hazelnuts and public art.

Our last day in Italy was spent traveling from Firenze to Roma. Our game of choice on the trains has been Risk. Nora is clearly the most competitive and she seems to always target Scott and he absolutely deserves it. The boy has to be cajoled into playing, he could care less. He builds up his men in one place quietly then wipes out everyone, dominating the entire world at least half the time. They call me the “pie lady”, because I act all sweet and innocent to hide my ruthlessness. Just like my Mom, just like Gramma Bunny, some things are in the genes.IMG_3859

We lugged our wheelies around train stations and metro tunnels and along residential streets under construction and over flowing with garbage. I think mail delivery and trash disposal comes once a month. While traveling my husband asked me, “why don’t you stay?”

“What?”

“Why don’t you stay in Italy another week or so. Most of the expense is just getting here, you have some travel points, the kids are with the other parents and I’m working, stay.”

“I can’t possibly do that.”

“Yes you can.”

“What about the suite?”

“I’ll do it.”

“I have a few commitments.”

“I think you should stay here and write.”

“I don’t…I don’t…”

“You don’t what?”

“Deserve it.”

“No, you don’t deserve it. Not if you don’t write something amazing.”

“No pressure.”

“Do it.”

“But-”

“Do it.”

Once we got to our BnB I had about an hour to investigate all the possibilities and sure enough – the travel points worked -it was cheap to stay.

“Honey, our reservations are for 7:30pm for dinner…”

Okay, so I picked the place I wanted to be in Italy for the next ten days HOLY MOSES TEN DAYS MORE IN ITALY. If I stay with family I won’t get a thing done. I love the Cinque Terre but I wonder if I should try something new? Maria liked the Amalfi coast…I quickly googled the Amalfi and got a breakdown of the personalities of the little towns along the sea and decided to pick Praiano because it has a nice beach and it’s “quiet”. I quickly went on airbnb and found an adorable apartment with a kitchen and a stunning view and a red leather sofa and BOOM – a whole new trip was planned in about an hour.

I was filled with a tremendous sense of….guilt.

The family headed back to our favourite restaurant in Rome, la Taverna del Grano. It’s the one in the cistern/balcksmith shop that dates back pre-Christ.

https://www.facebook.com/LaTavernadelGranoRistorante/?ref=page_internal

When we arrived the owner greeted us with a kiss and thanked me for the trip advisor review and for returning. I think we were the only tourists who came in the past two weeks so that’s how she knew who I was. She poured us all prosecco, even the kids, which is something that no longer surprises them. Then we had some fabulous risotto and home made pasta, a variety of bruschetta and bistecca with veggies. Then we went down to the cistern pub – so cool – and had an aperitif. Again the kids got a little tiny flute of prosecco. On our way home the kids goofed and giggled the whole way, making alarming flatulence sounds with their palms pressed against their mouths. i’m sure the locals thought, “oh, those poor Canadians, the cuisine isn’t agreeing with their systems…”IMG_3865

The evening was a quick repack and then an early morning rush to the airport and a hurried kiss good-bye. They were gone. I was left in the airport all on my own with a list of apology emails to write for broken commitments and an address I had no clear notion of how to get to. I knew I had to get to Napoli first, at the very least, and then work out a series of busses and/or ferries.

I boarded for Napoli and a pack of rowdy middle aged women were in my carrozza. I pressed the button to let myself into their party and they looked up at me, displeased, eying my tired face and my Fluevog shoes. I rolled my suitcase through them and there was a huge silver mammoth case right in the middle of the aisle. I waited for a bit. Nobody was going to move that suitcase so I had to haul mine over top of it and I muttered loudly, “Madonna” and gave it a little kick to the side. I sat down and one blonde lady in the pack glared at me while muttering something unkind about tourists in Neapolitan to her pal. I sat on my purse and closed my eyes. Go ahead, slit my throat and steal my wallet, I’m really too tired to care.

By the time I reach Napoli my airbnb host has given me the quickest route to Praiana, so I take the commuter train past Pompeii to Sorrento. I stand for a good hour of this ride, pressed against locals and a huge gaggle of Japanese tourists who seem to be in a very good mood. I listen closely to the Japanese guide like I’ve been doing for the past three weeks. I catch myself. It doesn’t matter how closely I listen, I’m not going to find any latin there to link to my English. There is no way in hell I’m ever going to understand what he’s saying. He’s a handsome young guy, snapping his bubble gum and making the old ladies with their sun hats chortle. I asked the lady beside me, “Pompeii?” She shook her head at me in silent protest and a smile. She’s not going to even try to communicate. And why should she? The host is far more entertaining and far better looking.images-2

I finally got to Sorrento and immediately hopped on the Amalfi bus for another hour’s ride. Again, I had to stand. The Amalfi bus ride was one of the most terrifying transit experiences of my entire life. We drove on what seemed like single lane roads with oncoming traffic, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians all sharing the road. Sorrento to Positano is the same slender snake, but it’s along the cliffs way way way way way above the ocean. When I looked over the side when making hairpin turns, I could literally see nothing underneath me except a steep drop to rocky ocean. I didn’t take a picture because I was too afraid to look. I got my stop wrong, called it too early, and when I gently asked the bus driver for confirmation, “Praiano?”

He YELLED – YELLED! MAMA MIA!!!!!!!!!!!!! images-3

And followed it with a string of Italian words. He screeched the bus back into traffic, sending me stumbling backwards. Apparently Praiano is still half an hour away. When Praiano did come up, he YELLED- YELLED! PRAIANO!

And followed it with a string of Italian words. He screeched to a halt, sending me stumbling forwards.

As I got off the bus, trying not to throw up, he grinned wolfishly at me, handsome beggar, and said, “buon viaggio” with a friendly tip of his hat. I barely got off the last step and the bus roared away with a line of Fiats behind it, all waiting.

My lovely host, Claudia, greeted me, a tiny woman with sea blue eyes and excellent brown leather boots tucked around her tiny ankles. She gently pointed her finger around in a circle, letting me know where the good eats were, the beaches, the church, the grocery store. Then she lead me up a steep flight of stairs, offering to take my bag. I said no, considering it was as heavy as she was. I let her take my purse and I humped my little wheelie monster up the stairs.

I arrived early so her mother was just finishing up cleaning the suite and called out “cinque minuti” . Claudia sat me down at my large patio overlooking the hazy sea with a view of Positano (which I still couldn’t look at, give me a day) and her quiet gracious Dad, like an angel from heaven, whisked down from his suite upstairs and presented me with a Campari and orange aperitif. Their graciousness and the beauty before me and the fatigue got the better of me and tears just leaked out of my eyes. I had to take off my glasses. I said, “I am overwhelmed by the loveliness and I’m so glad to be here, thank you.”IMG_3868

The suite was spacious with a bright yellow and white kitchen filled with local porcelain dishes and tiles and a bouquet of anemones from their garden. The living room had a little table for writing and a cozy little red leather sofa to die for. The bedroom had a decent queen mattress and all the rooms had big windows with gorgeous wood shutters, all overlooking the sea. They left me in paradise but not in peace.

The first thing I did was turn off the TV with an Italian game show chirping away. But I could not turn off the traffic outside. We are right up from the treacherous highway that got me here and it is nonstop cars and trucks beeping around the hairpin turns to announce their arrival. I flopped down on my bed and just laughed. So much for a quiet getaway! I’ll have to settle for drop dead gorgeous instead.

I first did laundry and hung my socks all Zia Maria style on the iron rails. Then I had a shower and a nap before strolling into town. I looked at the beautiful and unique church and then contemplated the five thousand steps down to the beach and then said, “nah” and went and got groceries instead.IMG_3875

The grocery store owner was a puffy pouty blonde with huge boobs and manly eyebrows. She was reading some celebrity magazine when I wandered in at the end of her day. I cheerfully said, “Buonasera”! Silence. Okay.

I did my rounds of the two aisles and got some suspicious looking tube that said something about tooth whitening that I hoped was toothpaste. Then I delighted over the blood oranges, the rapini bundles, baby zucchini and pointy ended tomatoes, gorgeous garlics and the tender pears. There was a nice looking Frascati for 8 Euro that I couldn’t pass up and some rounds of cheese. I peered in a strange looking cooler thingie and saw some chicken. I called out, with a bit of trepidation, “Scusi, Señora, Io ha Pollo?” She looked at me like I just asked her if her grandfather was a carp. But I wanted supper. So I said again, pointing, “Pollo. Grazie.”

She got up from her chair, put down her mag and strolled over. She clocked how many groceries I was buying and her mood improved. She decided to actually make verbal contact.

“Pollo?! Where.”

“Si. Right there.”

“Ah. This.”

She pointed at the flat of meat.

“Si.”

She gave me a funny grin that I couldn’t quite comprehend and said rather good naturedly, “Pollo! Allora.”

When I got home with all my goods I realized what her smile was about. She just sold me coniglio with all its organs included. Don’t see that every day in Safeway. Well, the jokes on her. I love rabbit. I cooked it up in my little kitchen with some penne and rapini and roasted tomatoes. Ah. Can’t say as it feels good to cook again, but it does feel good to eat homemade meals again.IMG_3879

I’ve caught up to now.

I sit out on my magnificent balcony with a glass of Frascati and watch the sky turn pink as the sun sets behind Capri. I still feel guilty for being here. I worry about my students, my church group I am disappointing by rescheduling a writing workshop, my daughter flying without me, my old dog in the care of someone who doesn’t care about him (because Scott has to work long hours) the bunnies, the gecko, my BnB guests. But Scott said he had it. So, I have to trust him. It’s just a lot. But this was his idea.

I had this similar sense of guilt when I got married. “I don’t deserve this.” It’s some kind of poverty mentality based on the idea of humility I guess, and also an awareness that I have so much when those in the world around me have so little. And who wants to be the recipient of the twisted horn of envy? Not me. But that’s cowardly and doesn’t accomplish anything.

I know people who feel they deserve to be happy, deserve to have a great job, deserve love, deserve plenty. I can’t get my head around that at all. That kind of entitlement. I think of whoever it is out in their yacht in front of me, twinkling in the dusk. I think of Eleonora of Toledo sitting for that Bronzino portrait in her magnificent embroidered dress covered in pearls. Did she ever feel guilty? She was one of the richest and most powerful women in the world in the mid sixteenth century. I think of the Medicis being painted as the magi by Gozzoli. Quite the statement of political power, spiritual influence and wealth. Arrogant? Or a metaphor that is rather true? They did set some impressive riches at the foot of Christ: Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Galileo, …

Anyway, I am too weary from travel to put this together in any sort of profound way. But I will return back to what Scott said. It isn’t about deserving. This opportunity to spend some alone time in an inspiring and secluded environment is a gift. It is up to me to appreciate it fully, be thankful, and use my time wisely. I will. But I miss my family already.IMG_3873

 

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