Striking out in Sorrento
No sentences are constructed this morning. Thoughts come out in turret like syllables, bounce off each other like walls, and are dismissed as fast as they came. Neither of us try to reconstruct them but allow them to lay where they fall; after 24 years growing up with each other, no words need to be spoken between my brother and I to convey how lost we both are. Last night’s energy, laughter, and adventures are left in broken shards on the hotel floor as we try to pack our bags and check out. If it were only my brother, John, in this morning after disarray state, I would thoroughly enjoy it as I always do, watching my sibling as I have so many times before, try to regain his memory and his brain as he attempts life after last night’s bender, laughing uncontrollably and poking him the whole way through. But it’s not just John, it’s both of us. And the only thing worse than one Thomas unable to function and live life, is two of them together. In a foreign country, checking out of a hotel, with no concrete plans, just a mere string of possibilities strung together last night by some blinking sea captains and World Cup fans that we have dubbed the next course of action.
Well, the best and only prospect of plans is crushed and annihilated by the hotel desk clerk, an Italian suave type with dark, shoulder length pushed back hair straight out of a Pantene advertisement. John is looking across the desk at Mr. suave in horror after asking him what he thought of our subsequent Italian plans. Suave shrugs indifferently and says things like “that place is okay,” or “it is different,” in his complex sing song tones and all I’m thinking about is where the hell he gets his shampoo. The thing about John is he likes confidence; he trusts confidence no matter what you’re selling. Suave here just unraveled everything the confident sea captains had sold to us yesterday – Pompeii, Ischa, and then Naples. As if that wasn’t enough, John finds out looking at a map that we never actually made it to Amalfi when on our coastal scooter adventure and had stopped at the town just before it.
We leave uprooted, without a shred of direction and a robbed Amalfi dream revealed as fraud, with a complete inability to make any decisions. The bags are heavy and it’s hot, the surrounding air is aimless and the first order of business is food. I had been bragging to John about the food in Italy for years and so far we had struck out twice – a hard feat to accomplish in this country. But yesterday’s tasteless lunch robbing us of a devastating eighty euros and the previous “slimy testicles” (aka gnocchi) dinner that John had gagged up, looking at me appalled and offended for suggesting, had left him in a doubt filled world of fear. See, John is the sort of person that plans his next meal while he’s eating his current meal. He goes down in a deterioration of hypothalamic sweats if food isn’t an option when he’s hungry. So we decide on the first place we see- something safe – an Irish pub and take a seat.
The thing about Italy, and Europe in general, is that none of the pictures on the menus look appetizing. Unlike the marketing gurus and mouth watering lies of American foodies, these people literally snap a polaroid of said dish and feature it in their menu. John orders the picture of the huge Italian cold cut, which mockingly comes out as a plate of slimy hams and RAW bacon (yes, raw) with no bread. The distraught in John’s eyes as his mouth furls and his eyebrows sink is soul destroying and impossibly hilarious. It’s too cruel to laugh and I feel as crushed, so I pay for the food, get John up quickly before he goes into an epileptic fit, and decide for a redo. We’ll eat lunch again somewhere else and pretend that last one never happened.
Our brains are still misfiring and there is a complete inability to form choices this morning, so we sit down at the first American restaurant we find, complete with red Coca-Cola chairs and umbrellas out front. John orders a hot dog in Italy because he’s a fool and it comes out as five baby toes on a soccer bun with french fries inside. My burger tastes like a sock and now I am trapped in hysterical fits of laughter that I cannot stifle observing John’s face, sunken in mortification and I know his feelings are personally hurt by this meal. We don’t eat more than a bite and walk to the bus station hoping someone will hold our hands and tell us where we should go from here.
The bus is an additive in a string of foul play and hideous choices made this morning. There is no room for our bags underneath, so we sit crammed together in the front seat with them on our laps. People pile in like shipwreck survivors at every stop and when no seats are left, they push their way through and against each other in the aisle. Every time someone new comes in, a catastrophe of shoving and flailing limbs falls against John’s unwell body, shoving me against the glass window. His face twitches in pain as a screeching Teradactyle of a woman talks shrilly on her cell phone up against his ear, while two Australian teenage girls jabber incessantly in high pitches from the seat behind us. The bus, which is entirely too large to even fit on these costal roads, let alone make it around any of the never ending turns, wheezes and spits painfully along the cliffs. There is a lot of jerking and haulting and clashing of horns, as buses stand off to see who will reverse first back along the path and let the other through. A cruel and relentless game of chicken.
John lifts his eyelids ever so slightly to look at me as his head sways. They seem to be more weight that he can muster and they flutter upwardly as he looks at me. “I don’t even care if you throw up on me, just so you know. I won’t even move,” he says before his head drops back down into a sleepy haze, bouncing and swiveling around on his neck with each bump and jerk.
I am dangerously near a cloister phobic panic attack smashed against this window and my legs have gone numb under my bag. Sucking in deep breaths through clenched teeth and closed eyes, I attempt to regain composure before flailing limbs and bags go everywhere. The bus driver stops again along the cliff to let more people in and I stifle a panicked whimper; there is no more room and no more air. Sweating and trying to find any angle that allows movement, my head slams forward as the bus driver screeches on his breaks. He’s crashed into a row of parked scooters, and I watch them fall one against the other like dominos out my window. Glancing at the driver after I hear a few Italian curse words that I recognize, I watch him shrug, shake his head and go on his way.
Two hours later, the bus dumps us out in Amalfi looking like we've just clawed our way from beneath the earth. Neither of us have a clue where we are staying because the decision to get on the bus to Amalfi in the first place came from the inability to make any other ones. Ideas to go back to Capri are tossed around and shot right back down when we are informed that the sea is too rough and no ferries are going out today. Will there be any tomorrow? Who knows, the woman shrugs. Right on.
It is now appearing that there are no hostels in this luxurious coastal town unless we want to trek a few miles up the mountain with our bags, and all hotels are massively out of our price range. I look up at John across an outdoor cafe table after passing this information along. His lips are pressed together and his eyebrows furrow in a concerned and exasperated look. “Is this what you do? All the time?” He asks in concerned disbelief, the quiver escaping his voice betraying his confidence.
I laugh, shrug, and then let my smile fall again and nod at him seriously. His expression makes me laugh again. “Well, this is insane then,” John lets out half a laugh.
"This is the gypsy breeze agg* for you. Pure agg," I smile, "Allow it because it's always worth it."
It’s time for me to do something to get us out of this since I got my brother into this trip in the first place, so I walk back into the travel office and ask about accommodation. And that’s where God intervenes, putting an end to our morning madness, unable to watch it any longer Himself. The woman behind the desk is an ancient, scary little creature, hunched over with a round body and a round head, leathery brown with a tuft of hair to match; she is so passionate when she speaks that I flinch as if everything she is telling me is a slap in the face. I wait as she sings some Italian into the telephone to her friend who lives upstairs. She appears to slam the phone when she is finished and yells at me that her friend has room for a good price and he will be right down.
We follow an impossibly tan man of maybe thirty, with a kind face and no English language through the tiny cobblestone streets of Amalfi. Under hanging dresses from windows above and around corner shops displaying disgruntled lemons, florescent yellow under the sun and bigger than John’s head. Everything in this town is yellow and the whole place smells of lemons; shops selling lemon soap, lemon candy, lemon liquor (home to the infamous Lemoncello), lemon wallets and purses and candles.
We squeeze our way up three flights of crowded, two way stairs, round a corner up the street and enter the very building we had just come from a few stories below. The buildings and houses here, all built atop one another up the mountains and into the rocks. I look back at John with wide glaring eyes when I see the vertical stone staircase upon entering the building and heave myself up behind our host. He keeps turning around and peering at me sympathetically, saying “sorry,” as we round each corner revealing more flights of vertical stairs. I just smile at him and nod since I can no longer breathe, sweating and panting, using the railing to drag myself to the top. Around the tenth flight of stairs, John is laughing in broken breaths, wheezing “holy shit,” under his breath behind me.
Once at the top, we enter another large wooden door, pass a kitchen where someone’s grandmother is making soup while awaiting her hair dye to set in, the dark creamy liquid covering her scalp. She nods and smiles, wooden spoon in hand over a boiling pot and I smile back through the dizzying spots in my vision. Just down the hall, our guide's wife - a beautiful Italian woman decked out in fushia finishes cleaning our room through the open door. She is humming and scurrying around as the breeze blows off the sea through the floor to ceiling window behind her, twirling the sheer curtains at its side and her long dark hair. John mutters “holy shit,” again from behind me – this time only loud enough for me to hear as he pushes past me towards the window. The view is staggering so high above the sparkling sea and coastline. Music fills the room as a dance camp practices routines on the concrete below us, muffling the sounds of horns and screeching buses. My bag hits the floor with a bang, shaking the stone floor beneath our feet and my palm finds the bed, lowering myself down to sit attempting to slow the thud of my heart against my rib cage. The pretty wife is speaking Italian at me but her words are just echoing against my pounding ear drums. I try to confirm the price we were told, as John paces around the room whispering that it can’t possibly be that cheap, but neither of us can understand each other and I can scarcely get words out in between breaths so I just smile and nod, not knowing what I'm aggreeing to, until she leaves.
After napping on a pile of rocks that this country deems a beach, John and I set out to find the best seafood on the coast, no matter the cost in desperate attempts to right our earlier wrongs. And that is exactly what we find. Fresh lobster, squid, mussels and prawns. The most delicious and interesting dishes atop this seaside deck; not a plate is disappointing and everything exceeds our expectations. We sit there above the sea, a hole shelled out of the rocks, for hours just because we can, taking our time to enjoy every bite. We laugh as the waiters sing to us their Italian phrases introducing each dish as it comes.
“I love this country,” John says in between bites, “Best people and best food I’ve ever come across.”
I laugh, "How's that agg* looking now?"
*Agg: a term coined by the Bonnet Boys (see past post "Snow White, 6 Dwarves, & a Joffrey); deriving from the words agony or aggrivation. May be used as a noun, verb, or adjective whenever circumstances call for it. (i.e. "What an aggy bus ride," "This is the aggiest day of my life," "I am in pure agg.")