Posts in Italy
Napoli: An Utter Wasteland

Naples is a foul city and after the Amalfi utopia and then John leaving, I can’t stand a single part of it. Trash covers the streets and blows around your legs as you try to make your way through millions of loud and dirty Italian men. Graffiti covers the walls everywhere; places are boarded up and abandoned; horns and sirens ring ceaselessly throughout every street. And even after 15 showers, it is impossible to feel clean when it seems contracting aids is inevitable if you fancy breathing. 

Men shout, honk, and stare at you like some sort of alien creature and whole rooms go silent when a woman walks into a shop or bar full of old greasy Italian men, briefly before erupting again in jeers and propositions. There has to be a ratio of at least 9:1, men to women in this place and it’s not a wonder why they all left. 

I tell myself it’s okay because I am locking myself in my room for 4 days to do nothing but write, but I cannot get over how ugly the place is. It has no right to be in Italy and is an utter disgrace to everything Italy is. It feels as if everyone who cared anything about beauty at all fled long ago, leaving the city slickers to waste away in their own filth. And that is exactly what they are doing, over crowding the grime covered streets and eroding buildings, mixing in with the trash around them.

After a strike in 2008 where municipal workers refused to pick up trash or keep the streets clean any longer and certain landfills overflowed and subsequently shut down, smart citizens of the city did leave. But further research shows that this trash filled city (and the later strike) stems back to the 1980’s when a particular branch of Italian mafia, the Cammora, realized just how lucrative waste management could be. They sent hundreds of trucks to illegally dump trash throughout the city, hiding some and dispersing others – vast mountains of toxic waste endlessly showing up all over the city. (No wonder the workers all went on strike). Some suspect that the mafia is still dispersing trash and other forms of toxic waste to this day. The crisis has yet to be resolved, leaving this once glorious and third largest Italian city in an apocalyptic and filth ridden desecration.


(In all fairness to Napoli, I did end up finding some nice areas, such as Amadeo. However, if you do venture to this war zone, do not for any reason stay in Garibauldi or Gianturco)

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.")

Capri with Mario

Mario is just about as tan as anyone could be, with dark hair and those Italian eyes like melted chocolate. His sunglasses hang around his neck as he commands the twelve of us on the dock, oozing charisma and explaining how this excursion is going to go. Everyone obliges his jokes even though it’s far too early for laughs. Everyone but John, who is in a dark place this morning and would most likely be whimpering in a corner had he been on his own. Instead, his mouth is forced into a thin, straight line, in desperate attempts to coax strength back into his broad shoulders and embrace this Capri adventure.

Mario is our skipper for the day and John swears every skipper in the world is named Mario, although I am unsure of how many he’s met, I believe him. Mario asks for a brave soul to be the leader of the group for the day. The group consists of twelve very disappointingly dull others and I instinctually volunteer John, nudging him foreword. I look up at the exasperated horror in his eyes, remembering how ill he is and it’s too late to bite my tongue. John is the leader of the gang.

Shortly after boarding the small boat, a suicidal Mario drives us abruptly close to the cliffs and I am sure he will smash right into them. He stops below a “fresh water” waterfall pouring down from miles above us and John leans and hangs over the front of the boat, letting it pour down over his head and exorcise last night’s demons.

We are dealt a very dull and lacking hand for friends aboard. A sixty-year-old Gilligan sits to my left with a Chestershire cat smile; he laughs and shakes in his blue and white striped sailor’s outfit with his eyes closed in smiley squints as his skin slides down his face. I can’t hide my judgmental dismay as he flops around the boat with the balance of a 4-month-old infant while his skinny blonde wife cackles like an ally cat. An Australian couple much younger than John and I lay out on the boat in boredom and are about as interesting to engage as a moldy rock. A wiry, frail excuse for a boy lays down next to John in a fit of pale seasick horror as the love of his life dismisses him and checks out every other male aboard. Mario is looking better by the minute.

We fly across the choppy Mediterranean Sea, bouncing about, salt sprayed and laughing. Our neighboring passengers panic at the choppy state of the water; Gilligan tosses about the boat as seasick boy near vomits on John’s foot. Completely sure that we will capsize and not caring in the slightest if we do, John and I indulge in fits of laughter. The sun glistens off the turquoise sea and Mario cracks jokes that are lost in the wind. With the Amalfi coast at our back and a vague rock temple covered in mist ahead of us, we cut through the sea.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the majestic awe of the towering rock that is Capri, standing small in circumference but ferocious and powerful in stature in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The boat falls silent as we near the mirage, craning our necks looking up at the breathtaking, chill-producing and terrifying beauty of this island mountain. Looking like it just rose from middle earth, powerful and mighty, right in front of our eyes, this island could not possess anything but mystical powers, standing there amidst an eerie well of clouds. I stare wide eyed from the front of the boat, not daring to blink, in fear that the place might vanish at any moment right before our eyes, leaving our boat in it’s wake and us wondering if it was ever really there at all.

This ancient island standing in tremendous depths of water is a mass of limestone rock, Mario informs us; time has eroded holes beneath it and openings in its sides that have left caves that can be entered when the sea level is low. The light trapped in these caves underneath the mountain reflect off of the limestone and create an illuminating blue glowing space, which radiates in the dark caves from the water. That’s the somewhat scientific reason for this phenomenon; however I am so converted to magic in this moment that if someone told me Poseidon had banished one million tiny fairies to be trapped inside the mountain for all of time and their waling tears produced this radiant blue glow, I would have believed them.

The silent space we have all been frozen in passes when Mario docks the boat and allows us to swim in these mystical waters. The water is so salty that it seals your eyes shut and John and I laugh as we try to decipher just how deep this crystal clear expanse underneath us is.

“You know, this ocean floor here is covered with Octopus. They hide behind every rock right below you, but it’s almost impossible to catch them since the only thing you can see is their eyes,” Mario calls to us from the boat.

Well, that’s all he had to say. John is the last one left in the water, diving down in valiant attempts of catching this sneaky sea creature. We watch from the boat as Mario whispers to me that he’ll never get one and I smile, 100% sure that John will. I can just see him climbing back up the ladder and slapping down an Octopus at Mario’s feet, flashing him that sideways grin, cracking open a beer and sitting on the bow of the boat, casually telling Mario, “let’s go.” But time does not allow for John’s excursion and he has to be reeled in as we press onward.

We round the island and Mario has a terrible time trying to dock at the port, letting us off for a few hours to explore Capri, as he waits out at sea. After wandering aimlessly with our sea legs for a bit, we decide, fully addicted, that we need to rent a Vespa again and John, in his confident way, assures the renters that we will be just fine on the roads which are even more steep and narrow than the Amalfi coast. Hugging the right side, we whip around each sharp turn, climbing up the mountain, with a pair of headphones split between us; music blasting, we laugh and dance as we ride the cliffs. With swaying arms on either side, I bounce along on the back, singing each tune off key with all the heart I have and waving at passerbys.

We pull off at the top of the mountain in Anacapri at a small beach bar and watch swimmers get thrashed against the rocks with the wind. The island’s lighthouse stands among this top most point and we hike up to explore an ancient look out tower. With the wind whipping around us violently, standing at the edge of death on top of the world, every nerve ending buzzes with electricity in my ears mixing with the sound of waves crashing on the rocks miles below us and I am completely alive.

Windblown with risk still thumping behind our skulls, and a bottle of wine later, we meet the rest of our crew on the dock to wait for Mario. They shoot questions back and forth and compare shopping bags and stories of how they spent the past four hours before asking John and I what we did.

“A little exploring. Not much,” I respond, averting my gaze and then sneak a smile in John’s direction. They give a polite nod and go back to shopping chatter.

John leans over to me, “We are winning,” he whispers.

The Secret to Life

{In honor of being in Italy, my first love, again 6 years later ... I'm going to share with you an excerpt from another trip journal - the end of an Italian journey 6 years ago and my first time in Rome. Unedited and straight from the pages of a 19 year old Kris's journal}

"There's a new wind blowing like I've never known and I'm breathing deeper than I've ever done." - Keith Urban

The endless possibilities of life are more enticing than ever and the unsteady mystery of not knowing what lies ahead has never been so appealing as it is now.

I've found the secret to live each day as an adventure, to make the ordinary magical, and to see the good in all of the bad. To stop to breathe and take it all in. I mean, really let it sink in deep. The smell of the air, the feel of the breeze and the taste of joy. Never have I tasted something so simple, yet intoxicating. And to find this joy in any place. In observing people, in a laugh, in a tear, the crash of a wave, or the sound of a song, in the cry of a bird, the rain against your face.

It's found in a child's spirit. The spirit of mystery, of unfaltering faith and joyous wonder. This is the secret to life. To live as a child with all their simple awe and simple joys. To live with this spirit within you

Vespas Down the Amalfi Coast

“Have you had any experience driving a motorized scooter?” The cute, Italian girl at the Vespa rental office asks John. Her dark, mahogany hair is falling out of her loose ponytail in long, silk strands that hang down over her bare shoulders. Her tight, black tube top is oddly paired with a baggy, green, floral pair of pants clearly made out of a hang glider and I can’t stop searching for the cord that’s got to be pumping air into them from somewhere.

John feigns a sympathetic laugh, “yeah, not a problem. I own a motorcycle,” he smiles at her.

“Oh! Wonderful; we’ll skip all the boring stuff then,” she hands each of us a helmet and John the keys.

John does not own a motorcycle, nor has he ever driven one, but naturally she believes him. My younger brother is almost a foot taller than me, strong, with the same light eyes, dirty blonde hair, and reckless streak of adventure. However, he possesses a practicality and drive to succeed that far surpasses the impulsiveness of my free spirit. With that, he has this unfaltering confidence in himself against anything the world might throw at him that is grounded purely in his ability to literally destroy anything that may come at him. This confidence emanates from him and people just believe him because he believes himself.

Of course, John won’t let me near the driver’s seat, but I’m more content and at peace than ever sitting behind him. It feels like I just finally let out a breath that I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding for the past two months. Traveling alone, being alert and guarded and aware constantly. These are things I haven’t always been used to doing and with John at the wheel, I can do what I do best and recklessly throw caution to the wind, just enjoying the ride, because the person I trust most on this earth with my life is in control. I exhale and stretch my hands out on either side of me, arching my back with my face up to the sky as we fly around every narrow and winding, dangerous bend along the Amalfi coast, feeling like nothing in this entire world could touch or hurt me.

Cars honk around every bend and avoid head on collisions at every turn while John weaves in and out of the chaos. My hands find his waist out of instinct, squeezing and laughing as we cheat death. One wrong move and we are road kill on the left or tumbling miles down towards the hungry sea on the right, breaking bones on every rock we hit on the way down the cliff. John follows the road as it dances with the coastal mountains, both engaged as one in nature’s version of Russian roulette. Nothing here is built the way it is back home, where we demolish and destroy land to build upon. The roads, the buildings, the vehicles, they all ride the land in this strange and perfect dance, fitting in where they can, springing right up from and with everything else. The towns crawl up the rock cliffs, built right out of them, houses one on top the other in every radiant hue; yellows, salmons, creams, pinks, oranges, blues, greens … each building a part of the next.

I duck as we fly under an overpass of bright, magenta flowers wrapped around the bamboo shafts that bridge over the road. It’s exhilarating and heart wrenchingly beautiful and utterly peaceful all at once and I could ride up and down this coast for the rest of my life on the back of this Vespa, never needing to get off or go anywhere else.

“Bar?” John asks as he cranes his head to the side so I can hear him in the wind. I look to the corner ahead where a flat, white stone building lies with the words “BAR” written on a sign above it. “Yup,” I answer and John pulls the Vespa off to the side of the cliff.

The only ones there, we are escorted downstairs out to a terrace jutting out over the Mediterranean Sea and I have to stop to catch my breath. John laughs, leaving his jaw gaped as his eyes touch each crevice of this unknown world slowly and methodically, memorizing each curve and flow. Below the railing, dozens of terraces jut out from the cliffs in every direction with families and couples lounging privately outside of their hotel rooms. One on top the other from contradictory angles, built right out of the rock.

“Bubbles?” I ask John, glancing over the menu. Nothing else feels appropriate aside from Champagne, so we indulge as we lounge on the couch, somewhere in between land and sea, dangling in the air.

“How much do you think it is a night to stay here?” John asks, grinning, “If it’s not much more than our place, I’ll do it.”

My face catches fire with mischief, “I’ll be right back,” I say.

I strut inside to the front desk with as much confidence as a Parisian bank heiress, not minding my wind blown hair and make-up less face, and inform the clerk that I would like to see the prices per night for their hotel.

“Of course, ma’am,” a Titanic butler, in his best blues, spreads the pricing list out on the gold plated, oak desk in front of me, “which room would you like?”

Creasing my brow in feigned contemplation, I linger a few moments on the list of 630 euro – 2500 euro a night rooms, wave my hand in the air with the false posh snobbery of a Kardashian and tell him I’ll be with him shortly.

“Let’s get out of here,” I say to John as I venture back up to the terrace. We laugh over the audacity of such a place as we down our bubbly, get on our ride and speed off.

Weaving amidst the coastline during daylight is one thing, but the view from the sea as dusk falls is another thing entirely. Lying on our backs out in the water, staring up at the town of Positano, the bright blue sky lends itself towards darkness as each house turns on their lights, reflecting their own unique colors against their neighbors’. And I think I could maybe fall asleep here like this, floating in the Mediterranean Sea, underneath this vibrant stone village, watching it’s every movement and hue change in the varying light.

“Why would anyone live anywhere else?” John asks as he floats on his back next to me, not taking his eyes from the view.

“I have absolutely no idea,” I sigh.

Independence Day Reunions in Rome

Ropi’s hands dart to and fro in violent enthusiasm out each window as he drives. “Bella Roma!!” he shouts as he stabs the air pointing with his whole hand to the next beautiful sight we pass, like he’s saluting a military commander or going in for a firm handshake. We round the corner with the road as the Colosseum reveals herself in all her majestic glory. My heart swells. Being in Rome again feels like coming home after six years.

I watch Ropi’s massively overweight body dance around in his seat in a fireball of energy, his rotund stomach bouncing five more chins up into his own every time it shakes, and I let laughter wash over me. I love the Italians. I love their passion, their enthusiasm for life and all things beautiful, and most of all the way every phrase out of their mouth comes out in a song. I don’t tell Ropi that I have been here before because I don’t want him to stop exploding with love for this city in front of me. Then again, he’s lived here all his life and the proud love still tumbles out of him so I’m sure it would make no difference.

I met Ropi just ten minutes ago at a market a few blocks from the train station. In my anxious excitement to get off the train and meet my brother, John, here, I had done so too early and was a very far walk from my hotel. Ropi was enjoying a cigarette and a newspaper with friends at an outside table when he must have seen this sweat drowned rat of a girl carrying what looked like a dead body in a bag on her back asking for directions from the waiter.

“You need taxi?!” he shouted from behind me and I turned around. He was about 6’4 and 375 pounds in a purple polo shirt that clung to his belly like cellophane in a vain attempt to keep it from dropping to his knees. A mop of dark grey hair sprung out from his watermelon head like post electrocution wires. He had on those funny sweat pant capris that old men wear and they cut off 4 inches above his scuffed, white New Balances, the left one barely leaving the pavement as he limped towards me.

“Um…” I stalled as I tried to take in what was before me with a clear mind and glanced at the classier men behind him watching from his table. “Maybe. Uh, well, I really just need to know which direction to walk. I’m going here,” I showed him the address on my phone.

A clean-cut man with dark hair and a suit, maybe in his mid forties, ushered me over to the table where they had been sitting and pulled out a map. He started detailing me the route in which to walk. The sweat kept dripping into my eyes and I was blinking rapidly while I stared at the map trying to absorb what he was telling me in his broken English. Nothing was registering. Ropi was towering over me and shouting, (or singing) at his friend but all I caught was “taxi” again and again as I flinched from the dancing explosion of his limbs as he pointed left and right. He seemed to have ten arms and they worked like a disgruntled windmill as he spoke. I looked at the map again as the chaos bellowed around me and craned my voice to be heard, “Taxi, yes. It’s okay. I’ll just take a taxi. Thank you.”

Falling silent, they looked at me. The businessman folded up his map, and Ropi waved me on, “Yes, come.” Dragging his left leg behind him, he heaved his weight over to a beat up Volkswagen that matched the indigo of his stained shirt. He must have seen me hesitate as I looked the car up and down for any sign indicating that it was actually a taxi because he ushered me on, “I take you; I know where. Come.” I stretched out of my backpack as he was already trying to take it off for me and winced as it fell to the ground under his hold, surprisingly throwing his back out as every other driver before him. Being a gimp and massively overweight, I’ve already assessed that I can outrun him if needed so I get in the car.

Ropi does not know where he is going. He swerves from the left side to the right side with all the confidence and stupor of a mad drunk man, shouting at pedestrians and honking at cars alike asking where my hotel is. I’ve told him multiple times that I can’t understand a single world he’s saying but he sings me monologues never the less. Every current of excitement shoots out of his movements and voice like lightening bolts and I want to join in, having spent two hours on the train bottled up like a shaken soda can with the anticipation of seeing John after two and a half months. I had sat on my hands the entire way like an elementary school child in hopes of keeping myself from slapping every stranger across the face out of sheer joy. So I join Ropi, singing nonsensical Italian phrases, the only ones I remember, like “Capitolo due!!!” (literally translating to "chapter two") as I shoot my hands out the windows pointing at the buildings, letting my limbs spaz out at their own accord. Ropi looked over at me for a moment startled, his face dropping and I laughed at his expression and shrugged. He let out a bellow of laughter so deep and full, that the globe in his belly spun and shook violently against the steering wheel, jiggling the tires beneath us, with a smile so broad, pushing his chubby cheeks up past his eyelids and sealing his eyes shut. We joined together in hysterics for a few moments as I repeated my motions and sang things out the window that weren’t Italian words at all, mimicking the flow and dance of their sound so perfectly nevertheless. "AArreeeDDAA DeEEda." The words of the Italian’s hymns hadn’t come back to me, but I knew the melody by heart.

We finally find the hotel and I plant two abundant Italian kisses on either of Ropi’s gruff cheeks and handing him some money, send him on his way. I put my stuff in the room and sit downstairs at an outdoor café to wait for John, shaking my foot and fidgeting with my hands to keep from spontaneously combusting and exploding into shrapmal, impaling everyone around me. Picking up my beer, I bring it to my lips but my hands are shaking (that’s either the excitement or the withdrawal; hard to tell), so I set it back down. I think the heart palpitations might actually kill me, and then I see the red, white, and blue flag that is the eldest of my younger brothers rounding the corner at the end of the street. Standing a head taller than everyone in the crowd at 6'2" (Italian men are very small) with his sharp chin and light eyes facing the sky, scanning every building and taking in every new height of his first European adveture. I had almost forgotten entirely that it was The Fourth of July until this moment and I laugh. John is the most American person I know. He bleeds red, white, and blue and sneezes the Star Spangled Banner, so for him to leave the almighty US of A on Independence Day is a big deal. Albeit, not without slapping every other country in the face with the bald eagle on his way in. That was John.

I leave my drink and sprint down the street, jumping and weaving through every passerby. Almost a foot shorter than him, I can see his head searching the crowd, hearing my feet on the pavement and seeing my blonde ponytail bounce in between civilians. When the crowd breaks, so does his laughter as he sees me and stands still while I pole vault into his arms, crashing into him with such speed, wrapping my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist, that if he wasn't so much taller and stronger than me, I think the force would have knocked us both to the ground.  

Italia Bound

I don't want to leave my cloud this morning, or ever for that matter, but I'm buzzing for Italy and my brother, John to meet me there. The breakfast chatter and birds have woken me and the fairy god mothers have left my laundry folded outside my door with a note reading: "Chambre 20" and a heart drawn next to it. I pack my bag and wait in the garden for the taxi. Everyone seems so sad for me that I didn't have a car to see the rest of Corsica and I don't have the words to explain to them that I never desired to venture anywhere from right here in this perfect little haven of rest. 

Of course, I get the same taxi driver as I had on the way up. Now that I can see him in the light, he looks rather harmless - maybe in his 30's, skinny with thin hair that's balding around the center of his odd shaped head. We drive in silence all the way down the mountain. Once in town, he slows and pulls beside every other taxi driver we pass, yelling his greetings to them and then adding, "Americano!" as he blatantly points towards or nudges me. Each driver lowers his shades for a good view in my open window, smiles with a reassuring nod, and spits some French/Corse/Italian nonsense. By taxi number three, I want this seat to open up and swallow me whole and I am visibly shrinnking to sink lower down below the window. 

The ferry to Livorno is a quick four hours and I wish I could only travel by boat forever.The sun on the deck is hot and the breeze is light. I sit right at the back over the wake and watch the Corsican mountains fade beneathe the waving Italian flag on our ship. I am so excited to see John and sitting dangerously close to the edge of the boat. It's all I can do not to fling myself off into the sea to release some of this unruly anticipation. 

Italy was my first traveling love and it's been six years since I left. Having fallen head over heels and completely captivated by the place, I left a part of my heart there that I never got back. My whole world had opened and changed while living there and I simply had to see the rest of this beautiful earth afterwards. Six years later, unable to supress that thirsty desire, that is exactly what I am doing and I have this country entirely to thank (or blame, depending on who you're talking to) for where I am today. 

The anticipation of standing on Italian soil once again can only be described as seeing your first love after years of being apart, wondering if all the same emotions and passions will still be there. No more than five minutes of stepping off in the port of Livorno, that beautiful familiar language rushing in and singing all around me, I smiled knowing that my dear Italia was exactly as I had left her and everything I remembered, with every old, familiar feeling washing over me and filling me just as before.