No ticket, no worries – there’s counter help; 47 pound bag, just under limit. Mustachioed Italian nonna brushes past me in her kerchief; I’m a specter she refuses to see. An American, one of millions, like harmless bees. Vai, vai. If she can jettison seven pounds from her hard-top luggage, she is flying home where I’m merely a visitor.
Bad teriyaki in Concourse S — no worse than chicken picatta on the plane with green beans boiled so no taste remains. Rowdy chums swear with Heineken-laced breath; the captain storms from the cockpit after one to set them straight. Hulking, soft-spoken Spaniard overflows into my seat while two Cindy Lou Who’s endlessly chatter and bleat. We shoot looks at their tow-headed parents who don’t quell their excitement; after all, none of us is really sleeping, anyway.
Amsterdam Schipol at 8 am, familiar and orderly, directing me in yellow-orange Dutch signs that I can almost read. “Ciao, principessa,” he croons into his cellphone. Pegged jeans, yellow and blue sneakers, Armani glasses tucked into his shirt. I can picture her: a mane of wavy chestnut hair, legs up to here, and pouty red lips.
Or, perhaps, that mustachioed woman in Seattle.
I choose a train from Fiumincino to Roma over a white-knuckled taxi ride. A Termini prendo un espresso sorbetto, il mio primo acquisto from which I find the 80 centesimi I need for the public toilet.
Time’s on my side, but infernal train schedules never speak the truth! Devo aiutare, I beg a woman in an official-looking hat. She’s sighing vai, vai in her mind as she points to my car and seat number on the ticket. Seven cars down, the train’s chugging to depart! I mutter, “Aspetta!” to them and, “Vai!” to myself, willing my legs to hurry. With Titan strength, I thrust my bag six feet in the air and pull myself up into Car 2 in the nick of time.
Sweat-bursting brows, I find a cabin for six containing il mio posto (cinquanta due), an Italian man and his son, and a Brasilian couple expecting a child. The son hoists my bag in a gallant sweep while I collapse in an exhausted heap. Chit-chat about dinner (what else?) as the father phones home, maiale con pomodoro – take me with you!
Their Italian flows over me in waves; in time I ask, “Siamo vicino a Orvieto?” and thus enter the conversation. Why am I in Italy? For how long? Is this my first visit? Will there be someone to pick me up alla stazione? The young Brasilian mother-to-be chides the old man for how quickly he speaks to me, while she praises my ability to understand.
“I could accompany you, if you need to find a ride,” the son offers in richly accented English; a momentary temptation, but I assure him that I’m being met. I disembark alone, and there is Tony – tall, gray and waiting: we know each other instantly.
More gallantry, he takes my bag and shepherds me nella macchina down twisty, turning roads to Bagnoregio – everything that small town Italian life should be – a statue here, a shrine there, l’ufficio postale and a vegetable shop. We dodge a head-on collision as a tiny white car takes a wide hairpin turn, arriving windswept but alive at the point at Civita.
Vai, vai. He instructs me to seek out my new home while he graciously arranges a truck to take my bag. On the narrow bridge, I don’t look down. Vaguely, side to side, I sense the belvedere. It feels like climbing Queen Anne hill until the very last bit, that steep incline and then the turn. Up, up, up to find sweet intern, Jonathan, in the Ruderino. We fall instantly into Civita Speak – that enthusiastic, effervescent conversation about daily life here.
Rest, repose and unpack. Buzz-buzz, the quiet hum of bugs. Salt-laced skin thirsty for a wash. A sweet peach sates my gnawing gut, local Lazio juices flowing freely over my chin. Coaxing clothes from my bag, whose guts spill out on the bed, I’m tempted to stray for a catnap.
The bell tolls eight, time for la cena con Tony, Jonathan, e il gatto, Massimo. Naturalmente, beviamo vino rosso under an arbor of grapevines as evening approaches. Prosciutto and melon followed by risotto al forno with ham, parsley, celery and cucumber. I eat three helpings. An opera sings tinnily on Tony’s radio as we eat and drink, telling stories. Vai, vai, we lazily shoo the night bugs away.
Lubriano lights beam from across the way. Growing dark, stars out to play. Night winds carry band music from the valley below. Gelato and sips of brandy accompany rustling vines and the gentle echo of piazza sounds on our stone walls. Quieter, quieter the evening grows – nine, ten o’clock. A distracted wasp falls in love with the light, breaking up our little party with his insistent banging.
After 30 hours awake, I cannot resist bed. My eyes drift to my notebook, but the call of sleep is stronger. A voice suggests attempting to capture the day, but I muster, “Vai, vai,” until it goes away.