(pleased to say I trod these same steps a few years back, in search of the perfect—you choose: wine, romance, adventure,pasta,story prompt, location for the towers that are A Word with You Press, all of the above)
For those of you counting, this is #10 of 24 stories I have sworn to post since Thanksgiving for The First Annual Peggy Dobbs Write-of-Passage Contest.
Laura Girardeau is an adventurous soul and believer in serendipity. When her traveling companion was declined entry to board the flight from Spokane to Italy due to a technical flaw on her passport, Laura brazenly scuttled the original game plane–oops!–PLAN–and chose to brave the trip on her own, finding herself on the cliffs of Cinque Terre, which has for centuries produced its own wine. But the earth in which the vines take root was carried in a basketful at a time long before USPS declared “If it fits, it ships.”
Sometimes our true selves are discovered halfway around the globe. Sometimes we need a magical place like Cinque Terre for that to happen.
Here is Laura’s magic:
5 Earths, 3 Waves
by Laura Girardeau
I’m in Italy, solo. Not alone: self-reliant, self-indulgent. I swear, it’s not too late. I travel to the farthest place: the Cinque Terre, 5 Earths. Five villages above the sea, protected by pirate castles, reached only by train or by hiking a delicate necklace of vineyards between them. Held in time by law, a national park to protect the natural resources of wind and wine. The houses must stand a millennium; the menu must be caught in the green sea at the mouth of each village.
I step off the train into a gallery of sounds. The sights are sublime: houses hang in multicolored jumbles like the laundry strung over it all. But sounds are more prominent, bouncing between cliffs. The absence of sound strikes first: no cars, no TVs. Singsong of bambinos playing. Every hour, a train dribbles tourists like last drops of wine. Mostly, the hush-hush of waves, whispering in Italian. The tourists hush too—that’s why they came. Nothing to do but eat pesto, imbibe joy, engage with those around you. These are your friends now, not your Facebook friends.
The only other sound is hard to place. I stroll down the one street to find out. No McDonald’s here, only Pasta-to-Go. A chef cooks it up with the sauce of your choice: Kalamata, walnuts, Chianti, brought by men carrying bounty on their backs. You eat on the bench outside–with the chef, who’s required to be your new friend. This is the Happy Meal. This is the prize.
There it is again, the sound rising from the village’s salty mouth. It’s the clatter of dishes, ricocheting between the cliffs. Plates of pleasure: anchovies, pesto, offered by bowing waiters until we slow down and receive. That’s the continual bass line. The melody is the higher clink of glasses, wines suggested by the sommeliers. Like Venice’s gondoliers, sommeliers are artists. They grew up like grapes in these vineyards, their memories distilled into one glinting glass.
May I recommend the Cinque Terre D.O.C., full of my formative years rolling in the sea, color of sand beneath the castle, bite of loam on my shins as I hike between 5 Earths? Or will you have the sweet Sciacchetra, my seductive siestas taken every day by law, turned to liqueur? Will you dip biscotti in La Dolce Vita, or is that too much for you Americans?
Will you fall off the cliffs of steep pleasure because you move too fast? Buy too much for the overhead compartment and bring down the plane? Or can you chuck your cell phones to the sea, cut the cords of your computers, sleep with Jesus smirking above the bed, hang your skivvies out for all to see?
Can you let it all go and just breathe at the edge of the world? I enter the sea-faded chapel. My gods are sacred coincidence, ancient trees, my daughter. Still, I bow to goddess Mary with her altar of candles. A man recites the rosary. Our breath matches the waves. After a slow while, 5 Earths worth, I begin to let loose the shipwrecks of my life. In all of them, someone returned the plate to the waiter, couldn’t ultimately risk the pleasure. Silence. Bambino laughter. Then, I start steering again.
What will I do today? Lose track of where I am, who I was before. Hop trains. Get on, get off. Go to my room, open the window to a square of sea. Take a huge bite of it, just for me. When will I be courted by dark surf again? When will I be queen at the edge of the world, the sea air spreading the curtain’s thighs? I recite the rosary with my body, fall in love again and again with myself.
I follow the clink of dishes to the restaurant. I find we’re all travelers with our own shipwrecks—trying to untie an anchor or tie one fast. Instead of work or politics, we talk of the need to taste: this musky lamb stew from Tuscany, mussels from waves lapping our feet, olive oil glistening our chins. The need to sip each other.
The sommelier appears: Kalamata eyelashes, a mole signed by Da Vinci, smelling of licorice and lust. His own shipwrecks glisten inside. He teaches me Italian in whispers. Maybe he’s praying; maybe he’s swearing. Maybe it’s both. With the light clink of a glass, he offers it to me. It’s a small sip of hope, the color of sunset. And the waves whisper, “Of course.”
The trail is closed for safety, exposed cliffs slick. I climb higher and higher into what will be, finally safe in my danger. I peer over the cliff and see it all below: waterlogged cell phones, umbilical cords of computers cut. And there they are: a few pieces of floating wood. The smithereens of my shipwreck, set out to sea on my breath at the chapel. Not just mine: everyone’s. They reform into the crossbow of a kite, to protect its heart and help it fly. There are enough out-breaths and prayers out there to make the wind pick up.
The waves come in threes, here in the 5 Earths. Three waves, three gratitudes make up this moment, fully tasted. What are yours, every day, no matter what? Pesto, licorice, lust, the waves chant. Daughter, trees, coincidence. Heartbreak, travels, try again.
What will you take from the edge of the earth? Too many souvenirs, too much pizza? Or the right to pleasure, to doing nothing? The right to danger, turned to surprise? The right to make mistakes, to rebuild shipwrecks? You’ll never be here again, like any place, any moment. Will you receive or return the plate?
The tunnel towards Florence means I’m flying home soon. But I still think I hear it: the clink of glasses rising to the pirate castle. An offering continually renewed, like chapel candles. A sommelier bowing, every night for a thousand years, until we finally whisper, like the waves, “Of course.”