I remember standing at Rome train station, the hustle of people rushing to platforms unknown. The timetable, ever changing, clicking of platform changes and announcements in loud, inaudible Italian voices confusing me even more. I had longed for this moment, it seems like my whole life. My Italian Journey, 4 weeks on my own, soaking up as much of the culture as I could. I think I’ve always wanted to be Italian!
I find my train, lug my enormous suitcase up the stairs. A kindly, slightly swarthy man offers to help. His open shirt, swirling grey haired chest adorned with thick golden chains, heaves it up onto the rack. I rather think he did an injury but kept his smile pasted on me. I sit, anticipation and anxietystarting to grip at my stomach as I head into the unknown. Leaving behind Scott and the boys, my 50th year and here I sit on a train bound for the little town of Panicale, in Umbria. I somehow traverse the stop in Chiusi and head to the car rental. He delivers me a tiny car, only inches bigger that my suitcase. I recall being completely breathless with fear as I get in this car on the wrong side, it is supposed to be an automatic but somehow has gears. I drive on the wrong side of the road and tenaciously head in the direction of the little apartment I have dreamt of for so long. After many winding roads and wrong turns, I arrive. I don’t know where to park, it’s a tiny fortified town. My 6 week beginner Italian course is seeming time wasted as I try and converse with a local policeman. Finally I find the Café I’m looking for and the man who’s face I have seen online for the past 2 yearsas my dream built momentum. “Buongourno Aldo, Mi chiami Linda, Apartmento Podesta, I spit out liltingly.
He smiles, hugs me and offers me a cool drink. He takes hold of my enormous suitcase and points for me to follow him. We climb up and up to the top of the little hill top town and he opens the door to a new world, a tiny little apartment at the base of the bell tower, my home for the next 3 weeks. After he has shown me around and leaves, I fall to my knees on the hard tile floor. From my depths come great, hacking sobs that rack my body for the next 6 hours. I feel stripped bare. This dream, this fantasy, this escape, into what? I thought paradise and this feels like hell. I barely leave the apartment for 2 days. Paralysed by what? I pick up my gorgeous, leather bound journal that was purchased to write my wonderful experience and I write and I write and write some more. I sustain myself with fresh local buffalo mozzarella, eggplants and olive oil on the freshest of breads.
I start to appear on the pages on day 3. I can see myself, I can see the fierce independence. I’m meeting a much younger me, who had to look out for herself. No one to help me, guide me or protect me. Me against the world. It astounds me that I have a 27 year old marriage and family unit when my independence is worn like a suit of armour.
I start to delve into my marriage on the pages and see that all I really want is to be part of it and really with Scott. This solo journey of my life over the past 35 years isn’t working anymore. I can feel safe in the arms of my relationship.
As this new awareness emerges, I too emerge from my bell tower, which, by the way, chimes every half hour from 6am to 11pm. I have never had to wonder what the time is here.
I love my little apartmento, I love my little town, where no-one speaks English and where I am welcomed each day with a smile and a recommendation to try something new each day by the point of a hard worked finger.
I start to stroll around town, hidden little parks, tiny museums. Goat farmers high on the hill. Stories and secrets hidden in pockets around the town.
The old couple who sit at the bus stop every day. The man with the crinkly eyes who doffs his hat to each morning and night.
I will miss this town, this chapter in my life. I will never forget the journey I went on here..