March 25, 2019, edited: April 4, 2020
Below is an essay I wrote a year ago, two months before I found and bought an apartment to renovate in town. I came upon it tonight after returning from a walk with Chianti in the country, walking distance from my temporary apartment. While I’m getting very weary of quarantine after a month of what equates to solitary confinement, the walk was lovely and restored my equanimity. When I read the below, I decided I wanted to share it. I spoke to Francoise last night who asked that I write something a little less grim. So, here’s to you, Francoise, something positive and light….
I am happy now.
It has been a long, long time since I felt happy, truly happy. It feels good. I feel good. I might be very overweight, but I do not hate myself like I usually do when I am fat. I look at my face in the mirror and like what I see, double chin and all. I can’t tell you the last time it was when I didn’t despise myself when I looked in the mirror.
Here in Città della Pieve, I feel like I have come home. Something about this place just fits me. It was eerie the first time I rode into town. I felt like I was coming home. It was new, but familiar, familiar in such a good way. I liken the feeling to when, en route to Virginia Beach, we crossed the bridge after going through the Hampton Roads Tunnel. There was a feeling of weightlessness and hope that filled my young heart. I knew we would be driving up to the big cottage in less than an hour. I knew that my troubles were behind me, that we would be happy if only for the short time of our beach stay. It seemed like the only place my family got along, the only place my parents didn’t fight incessantly, the only place I was truly happy.
Here, there are no conflicts. Yesterday, I walked the dog on a new route. Outside the walls, the dirt road originates from one of the city doors. I let Chianti off the lead. He loved it. He ran free and smelled the myriad of scents, then rolled in a scat cake. Heaven. I loved the feeling of the sun on my shoulders. I squinted through the bright light and took in unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains dotted with orangy pink, sun-kissed brick houses. The air was fresh; it even smelled fresh; it felt so good on my uncovered face. Spring comes early here. It is warm. The small trail is magnificent, and it is minutes from my dark rental apartment. On it, the sun envelopes me, warms me.
I heard dogs barking up ahead. A lady called to me and gesticulated wildly. I looked toward Chianti who was at least ten paces ahead of me, off the lead. I hurried towards him, urgently calling for him. I glanced nervously in the lady’s direction. I prepared for a struggle to understand the argument that I was sure would ensue. Chianti was supposed to be on a leash. It is the law. But my conviction is that dogs are happier when free, off the lead, allowed to run and explore. We are in Italy. I figure the law is a mere suggestion, not a mandate. The lady waved her arms trying to get my attention. A split-second deliberation. Despite being so close, should I pretend I don’t see or hear her? I decide to face the consequences, to acknowledge her. I struggled to hear, to understand. Finally, we were in comfortable earshot. She was still gesticulating and jabbering at me through her wrought iron gate as her two dogs jumped at the gate and danced around her in a barking frenzy. I tuned in with my most acute foreign language listening skills. She told me that I need not worry about my dog being off the lead. It was ok, he should run free, it’s good for him and besides, her dogs are safely ensconced in her garden. I need not worry. I let out an audible sigh of relief.
Inside the recesses of my memory, I am taken back to last spring when I walked the dogs on the beach in Beach Haven. An empty beach. It was chilly. The expanse of breadth and scope of the nothingness obscured the horizon. The dogs ran ahead so far that they were dark specks on the white beach. I saw a dot on the horizon that was not the dogs. As the dot grew into a man’s silhouette, I saw that the man was gesticulating wildly. Then, once in earshot, I realized he was screaming at me – a wild man’s gibberish. But the gist was that the dogs were off the leash and that he was going to report me, to call the police. I responded that since no one was out on the beach walking today and it was two months before the summer, I didn’t think it mattered. My reasoning was a mistake. He stormed off past me as he pulled his cell phone from his breast pocket, ostensibly to report me. Asshole, I thought to myself, repeating it several times under my breath. The disgruntled senior was behind me then.
As the distance between us grew, I thought that it must be sad to be so sour about life that the most profound demonstration of joy, a dog running free on a beach, would elicit such a violently negative reaction. Why does everyone in America have to tell you what to do all of the time? And when you don’t do what the prescribed rule is, no matter how useless or absurd the said rule or law is, why do they feel compelled to play the enforcer? I am happy to be far from that insanity, the ugliness of the people so ripe to pounce on anyone who doesn’t agree with them or do as they say. Sure enough, as I trudged up my dune, the police were waiting for me. They had responded to the curmudgeon’s report of my crime.
I am in Italy, now, in Città della Pieve. I am happy, not only happy, but content. I haven’t felt this good for so long. I feel healthy even though I have eaten a lifetime’s worth of pasta, pizza, chocolate and gelato and drunk way too much Montefalco Sagrantino over the past five months. My middle section is barrel-like; I no longer walk, I waddle.
I want to live here, at least six months of the year. I want to call Città della Pieve home. I want to wake up with the windows open and feel the fresh air on my skin. I want to take that path along the ridgeline of Città della Pieve with my dog. I want to finish the walk at the Caffe’ Degli Artisti where I know the cappuccino will be potent, delicious, and hot. I want to return home and fix a breakfast that includes oranges that are blood red and sweet. I want to cross people in the street that say, Buon Giorno, even if you don’t know them personally. I want to walk everywhere and take a car only when necessary. I want to eat my main meal in the middle of the day, sometimes with wine, sometimes not. After lunch, I want to lie down for 15 minutes to recharge my bunny batteries and then beat my bunny drum into the evening hours when I’ll take in yet another beautiful sunset just before the Aperitivo hour when I’ll drink a glass of Chianti with my dog, Chianti at my side, I’ll probably return to the Caffe’ Degli Artisti but maybe I’ll go somewhere else. Like many women in town, I’m under the charm spell of Salvatore and love the friendliness of Francesco, the two owners of the “American Bar” as Artisiti is referred to by locals.
Most evenings, I will view the sunset from the hill that supports this beautiful fortified town. This jewel of a place that sits upon the border between Tuscany and Umbria. I want to live here, then die here.
I have come home.