I left you in Napoli. Rather, I left my stomach in Napoli, munching on pizza for eternity. And cream puff cake, and sausage sandwiches (the italians have a a huge thing for the salsccica, didn´t you know?) and tiny cafes standing at the bar with a whole paacket of sugar in them, and giant prosciutto and mozzerella sandwiches. All of this am more can be yours for a reasonable price in NAPOLI! If I had stayed in Naples, I would have eaten myself into an absolute stupor, and would therefore have no more energy for writing.
What else did I do in Napoli? I trudged through Herculaneum in the rain, that´s what I did. Herculaneum was one of many places in Italy that literally took my breath away, rounding each new corner quietly uttering, "Holy crap". I did it in the Vatican Museum. I did it on the steps of the train station in Venice. And I did it in Herculaneum because I simply couldn´t believe that things so old, so beautiful, still remained in this world after the world had seemed to move on so quickly.
It seemed to serve as a metaphor for life, maybe. That pieces of what you create in your lifetime find a way to persevere for, well, if you´re lucky like the people of the Roman Empire, for thousands of years. This also continued to remind me of the profound way the ballad The Iliad influenced the way I think about life. The essence of the story: Achilles is given a choice. He can either stay at home, live a happy, tranquil and safe life, have a beautiful wife and many children, and their children will have many children, etc. etc. - but if he choses this path, over time he will be forgotten. And if he goes to battle, he will never return home, never sustain love, never create progeny, but he will be remembered for eternity.
Well, we all probably have an idea of what happened to ol´ Achilles. He chose eternal glory, and all throughout Italy are signs that in turn, the Romans, Venetians, Tuscans, etc. - they also chose glory. They probably also had children and hopefully happy marriages, but what they created so many years ago, they intended to be a testament to their lives so many years later. Enough about eternal hypotheticals, but perhaps this helps me connect to the things I enjoyed seeing so much in Italy.
While in Naples, I received an email from a helpx host that I had put of feelers for, since I had a burning feeling that I should stay in Italy for a while. This family, according to the internet, was working on villa restoration in Tuscany, and had rave reviews by other helpers. I accepted. Though it wasn´t exactly what I had wanted, which was picking olives, it sounded good enough.
So I left Naples (after a long, misdirected walk about 1.5 k past my destination to a funicular, and luckily my vocabulary had extended to being able to ask strangers how to find places - a very kind Venetian woman in a turquoise pantsuit took me all the way to the train station) headed to Florence, a recommendation by my parents, before heading up to Tuscany for a week. I should take a moment for acknowledgement, publically, of the incredible hospitality of my friend, who we are calling Colin, in Naples. Though I don´t want the secret to get out, Colin did his best to extend all of the comforts of his sparcely decorated by gorgeous flat to me, and also allowed me to sleep in on two separate occasions, while taking me to excellent pizza, cream puff cake, etc., and seeing amazing views, and drinking lots of excellent Pieroni beer. It wouldn´t have been nearly as wonderful there without him.
In Florence, I had another "Holy Crap!" moment. I dropped my bags at my hostel (where I accidentally met some international overgrown frat boys drinking excessively on the deck, and by accidentally, I mean it was nice to have company, but not necessarily ideal...) and set out into the city to find the fabled Duomo. This moment needs to bring up another very special person in my life, and by special I mean took up many hours of my sleep time in high school - this one goes out to Mr. Rodrigues. Thank you, Mr. Rodrigues, for forcing us to learn something about European history, because without this knowledge that is completely squashed nto surprising corners of my brain, I would have been completely lost on my trip, wondering what things were.
I turned a corner onto a pedestrian street, distracted by the waffle makers in the doorways of gelato shops (waffles?), and suddenly spotted it: the most beautiful church exterior I had ever seen. Possibly one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen. And this was substantiated by a literal gasp. I can´t describe it much better than that. Only a week before I had been at the Vatican and all I could think was, shame on you, Catholic Church. And here I was, not caring who had funded this church - it could have been funded by evicting Romani ie gypsy families and selling their land (yikes, bad joke), and I still wouldn´t have cared. I was literally that impressed. So I stared at it for a long time, and then went inside. Not nearly as cool, so I just looked at it from outside again. Then I went to a locally owned bookstore and bought a copy of Eat, Pray, Love. All in a day´s work.
I would like to mention two other amazing things about Florence. One is Michelangelo´s Prisoner collection at the Accademia. Best art I have seen in practically my whole trip. Not to mention the David, who has these incredible marble back muscles that only a true male body enthusiast could have captured properly. I would also like to take a moment to recognize Za Za´s restaurant for serving me one of the most delicious plates of pasta I have ever eaten: spaghetti carbonara. I realize this is a Roman dish, but once again, I care not, because it was just that good. I will work the rest of my life trying to recreate that dish.
I left Florence in anticipation of something I knew very little about. A train from Florence to Lucca, from Lucca to a place called Garfagnana de Castelnuovo (silent g in Garfagnana), and then someone was going to pick me up. I had no idea that who would pick me up was a perky, headbanded Irishman in a giant red VW bus with two young boys in tow. I had no idea that in a few minutes time, the van wwould be whipping around amazing curves on a road up a mountain covered in trees with colors rivaling the fabled New England autumns. I had no idea I would arrive to find co-workers lounging by the pool (the pool?), a South African and an English guy. I was initiated into the gang the first night at a giant bonfire, complete with several guitars, plenty of red wine, an Irish drum, plenty of singing, lots of sausages...and all men...except me. Life was good. No no. Life was great.
Work wasn´t necessarily a piece of cake. The first week, the weather was beautiful over the Tuscan valley and we worked outside breaking, chopping, stacing and carrying wood up a hill that would probably require some sort of hand rail in the United States. This hill is a killer, let me just say. Soft dirt and rocks and nothing to hold onto but the massive pile of wood in your arms, or perhaps part of a tree trunk, or maybe a machete or two? Oh yes, it was and is a killer. But as long as you ate your porriage in the morning (and oh yes, I love porriage), and took a quick jump in the freezing pool just before lunch, everything was completely perfect.
As the weather turned, the work turned inside, to the second house (nextdoor to the one we all lived in, which had already been completed) - to sanding, varnishing, pointing, cleaning, chipping, etc. Dirty work. I didn´t wash my pants for two weeks. Wait, did I say two weeks? Wasn´t I supposed to stay one week? Well, that plan went to hell after the first few days. Good conversation, amazing food, cool kids (there are three living there), music, vino, comfy bed, and a view that would stop even the most distracted of people in their tracks for hours. I just had to stay. There was no question.
People kept coming and going and were equally as interesting as the rest. A mosaic artist from Israel, a post-high school Canadian girl - all different ages, all from completely different corners of thinking. It as a mesh. and I suppose if we had really hated each other, we still wouldn´t have said anything. It was like three families exisited within the house - the family of the Irish dad and his three sons, the family of workers like myself, and the combination of the two. Two meals a day around a giant table, sharing, laughing, then maybe music, maybe cards, maybe Scrabble (never television? My goodness!) A particularly memorable night included some wine, may games of cards, and a man that looked a bit like Mario the video game character roasting chestnuts for us over the fireplace. That is all I can say about that while still preserving my image as a respectable lady.
The day I left for Milan, I let out a few tears on the platform, which were more than I had even let go back in Termini, watching my Australian travel pal (hah!) run off to the airport. Some parts in your life you just can´t go back to in the same way.
To be continued.