At the risk of starting this like a rip off a Diane Keaton movie, we spent our days basking under the Italian sun.
It was warm the second we crossed over that invisible line dividing the Italian territory from the French; from the moment the first little grandma grabbed one of the girls by the cheeks proclaiming, "Bellisima!"; from that first bite of saucy, cheesy pasta washed down with a glass of rich red wine. Italian culture is like hot chocolate on a snowy day--you heat up from the inside, out, enjoying every little second.
That's not to say that our travels through Italy were devoid of challenges. The language barrier is certainly there; the Italians just care less. They'll keep talking your head off, and it doesn't matter if you don't understand a word. The people exist on passion, and it's just as intense on the side of anger and frustration as it is in passionate joy and sensuality. Like in anything, transitioning from one spot to the next was laden with difficulty. Some unnamed Roman airport workers may have their opinions about Americans and when it is necessary to involve local authorities...but that's a story for another time. It's all the same. In that moment, I wasn't just warm--I was burning hot; but isn't it better to feel alive?
We spent two unplanned nights in Rome. Trevor and I had been to Rome before, and for most of our travels with the girls, we were trying to stay away from large cities; but going back to Rome with them was like college homecoming, the way it felt like just yesterday we were there and how the memories were vivid and formative and important. We knew where to turn down certain streets; and the gelato tasted like that perfect summer day when you were ten-years-old; and suddenly, oh yes, I remember these Italian words and can accent them perfectly. Watching the girls gobble up the history and the familiar bustle of a large city, there was a tingly hope that it was all rooting and sprouting in them, too--maybe someday they'll head back to Rome and remember it in their souls.
After that quick stopover, we lost ourselves to the southwestern coast of Sicily, which I would highly recommend to anyone who is brave enough to truly rest. In the off-season, the tiny little village near our beach cottage was home to, at most, 75 people--all of whom knew of our arrival within minutes of it. The resort was abandoned, and almost apocalyptic feeling; but that also meant the beach to ourselves, every day, standing on the edge of the world all alone, straining eyes for a glimpse of the African coast to remember there was something else out there. Our bungalow was furnished in "couch beds" from Bali and the only dining table was outside. We lit lavender spirals to keep the bugs away, erasing the lines between inside and out. We showered on the roof every day. Americans aren't naked outside nearly enough, warmed up from the outside, in, by the day's last sunlight. Even Sicilian foods have unexpected notes of warmth--the sweetness from raisins folded into an eggplant stew, the thrill of a meal prepared straight from the sea.
Our last night in Sicily, we dug a hole in the sand for a bonfire, watching the fiery sun sink below the horizon while the flames of our camp climbed higher into the sky. Dinner was makeshift pizzas on a makeshift grill. We met a Tunisian immigrant walking the shore at dusk, and we tried to share our supper with him. It wasn't time to break fast, so with broken Italian, Spanish, English, and French, we shared histories instead.
As best I could, I bottled up all this warmth to take it with me. Italians are good at that--bottling up olive oils, wines, sauces. You need to be able to recreate a feeling.
When we finally landed in Napoli and rented our silly little car, the air was chilled, climbing into the mountains toward Amalfi. I rolled down the window anyway. I could smell a fire, burning in the distance--the smell of a warm home. In Furore, Mario suckered us into a meal that was much more indulgent than we felt like paying for; but again I ask: isn't it better to feel alive? I doubt I'll ever taste a cabernet like that one again, like collapsing into a perfect sofa after a long, hard day.
In Amalfi, the sea fades into the sky, and you've know idea where the firmaments begin. You're just enveloped in earth and air and scenery, winding around in it on terrifying roads, in towns chiseled into the cliffs. There are no beginnings or endings, just where you are. It's always a personal goal to exist like this; it's the only way they know to live on the Amalfi coast. They walk around in the sky, feasting on some magical goat cheese that I don't think is possible anywhere else--so perhaps the Amalfi Coast is heaven. It looks like heaven, tastes like heaven, and it sounds like heaven, too, where the clear, turquoise water rushes over the rocky beaches of Amalfi, Positano, and Maiori. I made up stories for all the local personalities. Maybe someday I'll finish them.
All this time sunning ourselves on beaches, stocking up on that Italian warmth, like we knit together a blanket to carry around us in Tuscany. We crossed open fields and vineyards, picking up coats and warm sweaters along the way, to keep us cozy in our stone, medieval fortress. Our little hamlet, Poggio di Loro, was the homiest of all, so much so that I know those four days spent by the fireplace, make-believing simple, nook living, will not be the only days I spend there in this lifetime. You can't help but to be called home to a place, especially when you know friendly faces and bread stew doused in fresh thyme are waiting.
Before we left Italy, we drove back to Napoli and took a sunny boat ride to Capri--back to crazy, winding streets and staircases carved into rocks; back to pebbled beaches and life al fresco; back to early bedtimes after watching the sunset over the water. We stayed in a friend's home, with the island's most enviable view; and even though I'd not been there before, something about it belonging to Olivia made it familiar somehow.
It was the end of October by then. Even that far south, the air was cooling. But I'd stored up all that warmth and saved it for later. I was all warmed up from the inside out. And even though you might not believe me, there's nothing warmer than glowing windows lighting up dark, cold London streets--so on from one home to the next.