On Tuscany’s Operatic Magic
If you stand still in the center of the stony dirt road of Casamora above Pian di Scò at the end of June, just quietly enough, you will begin to notice that the forest in which you are enveloped hums electric. Every leaf and frond vibrates with insected ecstasy. The wild spills down the mountain and into town: green, green, green. Everything breathes, buzzes, sings. You may not be able to accurately name any of the flora or fauna, but it is profound enough that you will feel at home for the first time in many years.
You unpack your backpack and line the antique drawers with the few pieces of clothing you brought along with you. Earlier at the train station your host noticed aloud that you travel light. If only that were true in life. You brew a small pot of coffee, smell the fresh Italian milk, pour, smile. You remember that you are completely alone in the heart of Italy and a momentary sense of failure chases the coffee you’re downing. You walk out the door into the bucolic hills and toward the waterfall she told you about. You wonder how many have been here before with their wives and children. How many have hiked to the waterfall together, hand-in-hand?
There was a landslide here recently and it slowed things down; not unlike your own life. A few days ago in Genoa, just walking was disorienting and dizzying. Everything constantly in motion: the cars, the buses, the scooters, the pedestrians, the trains, the begging pigeons, the landscape. Here everything is in motion too, but it’s a different kind of motion. It’s not forced, not contrived or rushed. Somehow a subtle motion.
You walk up the dirt road behind the house into a prolonged arc of trees containing more species than you can count and past sprawling villas both well-kept and abandoned for the summer. On your right past the first villa floats a span of eye-level lavender so perfect, so animated, that it stops you in your tracks. You move closer. A choir of bees and butterflies comes into focus. It’s stunning what you can see and hear when you pause and shut the hell up.
Let me be the first to admit that wandering far away from the place where you live and work day after day will not solve any of your problems. You might consider yourself an emotional refugee, fleeing the shame of being a sober person who’s been drinking too much and hurting the ones you love. Maybe you’re evading the near-crippling loss of heartbreak. But when your feet land abroad you will notice that the problems are still there next to you, for you cannot leave anything behind except for everyone else.
What traveling alone affords is not a solution to your troubles but the space to reflect upon them. Traveling far from home is not enough to change who you are, but if you pay attention it can poke and prod at the long-untouched recesses of your brain until you begin to evolve. It can pluck out the stale stitches once required to hold your heart together, until you find yourself standing in La Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, stunned, tears slowly breaching the levees you built behind your eyes. Or alone in the cabin of a ship crossing the Mediterranean at night, pain pummeling your chest because you can see yourself as a child and you just want to hold her. Or sober another day since you remembered that what happened to you when you were that kid was not your fault.
In weeks prior, you landed in Shannon, Ireland and took a ferry out to the Aran Islands where you had intended to learn and write and reflect. You drank too many pints of Guinness until you couldn’t remember where you were or who you were too many times. You embarrassed yourself in front of your cohort. You tramped through the streets of Dublin and read James Joyce. You arrived in Paris and held your lover and saw the city by boat. You put your heart on some pages for her and maybe it fell on deaf ears; followed her to Vichy where she inherited your chest cold. You sat on the back patio of a wealthy French couple with their patchwork family and ate insects, trying to follow the conversation in a language you’ve never spoken. You sunned topless on the beaches of Barcelona. You crossed the sea and docked in Genoa, worked remotely for 16 of 48 hours; in between, you ambled through Mercato Orientale. The colors and smells stunning your senses, you smiled a genuine smile.
All of this, as if to say, I can and I am.
Now that you have, the noise of travel has stopped and you’re in the mountains with the lavender and the wandering dog with bad hips who visits you every few hours as if to remind you he’s here. It’s a paradise that brings every feeling out of you. Yes, even the pain. You keep on past the second villa where there are signs warning that the area is being watched and even though you can see the owners are gone for the summer, you worry they will find you out. She told you they built a fence up above the waterfall and lagoon but you can just climb over it and descend. Watch for snakes.
You hear the water falling and let it guide you. It’s mid-afternoon and you are not completely certain where to descend so you keep hiking up beyond the waterfall to a perpendicular dirt road. You decide you will come back tomorrow, you hike back down past the two villas and the lavender. You always decide: “maybe tomorrow.” Butterflies keep time with your steps as you amble back. You play with the idea that they are playing with you. Back inside the guest house you drift into dreams while sunlight trickles into your bedroom.
You wake and reorient yourself in the hills of Tuscany - almost floating - high above the city below, in a pastoral dream of a guesthouse staring squarely at your troubles as they sit there right across from you in that weathered, maybe-Italian, rocking chair. This is more than you have been able to do in a long time. Your troubles have been accosting you instead, swallowing you whole like Jonah, until you finally have the thought that the only correct next step would be to stop existing. Maybe that’s why you hopped a plane in the first place. Some things are unseen until The bees in the lavender are your troubles in the chair; the dog with the bad hips poking his head in and out of your life.
Outside the open door, stars reach down toward you over the tops of silhouetted trees and the one power line connecting your home for the next week to civilization. It is here and now, on this couch, that you no longer feel the urge to disappear. Then the thought crosses your mind: HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED. Christopher McCandless used to be one of your heroes. He died alone in the Alaskan wilderness after scrawling those words into the space between the lines of his copy of Dr. Zhivago. You think: maybe he’s right; maybe you can’t disappear for months, for years, alone, without that disconnection someday being the death of you.
Abandonment can mean many different things. You can abandon ideas or endeavors, certain courses of action. You can abandon ship. You can live with reckless abandon, or hell, abandon your will to live! You can abandon your child, your lover, your friend, yourself. You can walk away from yourself like an invisible waterfall - something you can hear and smell but can’t quite reach, so maybe tomorrow. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Attachment can mean many different things, too. You can attach a document to your email. You can walk around all day with all that dog hair attached to your clothes. You can become attached to a parent, a lover, an idea, a future. Maybe attachment and abandonment are synonymous, or at the very least two sides of the same coin. Maybe once you are an adult the only person who can really abandon you is you.
You wander into and out of your relationships wondering how to fill the space left by an absent mother. You retreat into a protective trench of long-distance, long-term travel and it simultaneously bolsters your identity and exacerbates your desire for closeness. And you drink. But maybe your time in the Tuscan hills is a landmark, something you can look back at as a marker of your location: the intersection of understanding and action. The junction where you finally said no to maybe tomorrow, and you hiked up to that waterfall and you blew a kiss to the bees and you ran your fingers across the mangy dog’s hair and told him you really quite like how he checks in on you throughout the day.
And when you do find a home within yourself, Autumn will come. The bees will die off and the ailing dog will not leave the hearth all through winter. Trees will stand dormant and the swarming will hush in the hills above Firenze as snow blankets any troubles you left behind. You’ll be in your studio apartment in Denver with your own dog, an apartment where you’ve never been drunk. You know that too many tomorrows have been lost on those who’ve barricaded themselves from the rest of the world to protect their hearts. No, not maybe tomorrow. You’ll come home today.
Chris Moore is a poet, essayist, and travel writer from the Denver area. She is an elementary school teacher with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Naropa University and a M.A. in Teaching from MSU Denver. She is currently a graduate student in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at Regis University. Her work has been published in the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Anthology.