They say that you can’t go home again, but in some ways, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
During my reunion with Tony, Bernardo and Josè yesterday –and Alessandra, Laura, Maria Grazia, the Mancini sisters, and Sandro Trattore (Sandro Tractor Man) today– it’s like I never left. I was surprised how normal it felt to see Josè and Bernardo walk through Tony’s gate, to embrace them and share a glass of vino rosso.
Sitting together on Tony’s old metal chairs with the thin, green gingham cushions, it felt more than simply normal to be there together. It was as if the past ten months hadn’t passed at all, though we spent our time discussing the events of our lives since we last saw one another, alternating between English and Italian.
Likewise, Il Nuovo is the same, although it’s lost that newly renovated crispness and is now beginning to develop a well-loved patina. Same bed, same white sheets, same maroon coverlet – it was like returning to one’s childhood bedroom, with Lee Copeland’s ink drawings hanging beside me.
A few nice improvements –a bar of Dove soap waiting in the shower and a new red bath mat (last year, it was a towel’s duty)– though I noted that the legacy stash of dry goods had been cleaned out, so it was a heavy first run to Bagnoregio to grocery shop early this morning.
Yet, aside from familiar faces and feelings, everything else is altered. One of the watchword phrases about Civita is “continuity and change;” I’m now beginning to get a sense for what that means here in all of the nuances that I witness.
The continuous change is evident in both big and small moments: from the architecturally dazzling new osteria and B&B opened by Alessandra and Mauritzio to Tony’s evolving family of felines.
As Nerone came up to nuzzle me yesterday, I noticed flecks of gray in his coat. Betty’s gattino from last year is now a gangly teenage cat named “Toot” (short for “tutti“) — and has been replaced as the baby by another gattino, this one the spitting image of Betty and not a bit shy as Toot had been. While Figaro and Massimo sauntered around in characteristic boredom, I was aghast when Shaw, the shyest of them all, the one who always ran from me, pressed his head into my hand as if we were old friends.
Before those revelations, though, there was the journey here which, while familiar, was different enough to hearken my awareness –even sitting on the tarmac in Seattle– that this trip was not about reliving the past. There was no soft-spoken Spaniard overflowing the armrests into my airline seat, but a friendly woman on her way to help orphans in Africa. No raucous chums piss-drunk on Heiniken who were threatened with arrest upon our arrival in Schipol, but two chatty septuagenarian gals on their way to Russia (similarly, they never came up for air in their conversation except when one went to the lavatory.)
Like variations on a tune, the melody changes but the underlying song remains the same.
A new twist, I was able to apply some well-earned wisdom, thus changing my fate and raising my contentment this time out: ordering pasta rather than chicken on the flight from Seattle to Amsterdam; knowing where to stand as the train from Fiumencino to Roma Termini arrived so that I’d be assured a seat; understanding the layout of Termini well enough to find the train to Orvieto without inducing cardiac arrest; making time to stop for a gelato before departing, knowing that there would be no sustenance for several hours.
Naturally, I also encountered situations that I couldn’t have known to prepare for. To ride the wave of the unknown asks a lot of a person. To handle it well requires grace, stamina, and faith — in oneself, in the existence of good karma, and often, in the kindness of strangers.
Faith comes in when one knows the odds of finding one –let alone all three– of these blessings is rare. On top of it is the path of the solitary traveler, where there is no strategic partner to help plot out Plan C when Plans A and B don’t work, or supply a back-up credit card or set of hands when baggage becomes unwieldy.
In my case, the surprises began when my borrowed mobile phone informed me that its calling card was no longer valid. With a morbid aversion to complicated Italian pay phones, I begged assistance from a kind mother/daughter pair with a European telefonino to call Tony, who assured me that “we’re here.”
A few hours later, I realized that “we’re here” is different from “we’ll be there,” and thus dissipated my expectation of a reunion with Tony at the train station. That, and I would have to find another way to Civita.
As hot as it was —caldissimo inferno— the cabs weren’t running in the usual number. While I silently contemplated how long I might have to wait for a bus (sometimes, they just don’t come), a kind man waiting for his ride phoned his friend at the cab company to come retrieve me. As the taxi twisted and turned down the well-known roads to Bagnoregio, I felt a temporary heaving sigh of relief, having been rescued from the deserted station.
The snowball effect of this was, of course, no assistance with my luggage (32 pounds this year, 47 last year — an improvement) and my troppo pesante black leather shoulder bag. I faced the steep bridge in 100-degree heat, laden like a reluctant donkey, pausing only once just over the halfway point. I was never so happy and sweaty at once as when I turned the key in the lock and collapsed inside the darkness of Il Nuovo.
As I dried off from an usually welcome cold shower, knowing that Tony was waiting for me in the garden, I admit that I smiled. It’s clear that I’ve transitioned from Fellow to family — the pampering may be over, but there’s always a warm meal, hugs and kisses, and a pitcher of wine waiting. Not a bad trade-off.
Many more unforeseen adventures await me in Venezia, no doubt, but as I’ve learned, I will take the coming days piano, piano — one step at a time so as to savor each minute for exactly what it is.
Something else familiar is how easily I’ve stepped into the flow, alternating between relaxation and resourcefulness as the given moment calls.
Or, as they say here in Civita, between continuity and change.