I am writing this from a green metal table in the Magical Garden, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, a few feet from my little house.
Today is my last day in Pisciotta.
I arrived in this small village a month ago, and it felt as though I had landed at the end of the world. It was dark, I was alone, and I spent that first night in a fit of allergies, not sure what was below my way-up window.
In the morning, there she was. Miles and miles of her dear familiar blueness. Lit up by the early sun, the Mediterranean sea wished me good morning, and she told that all would be well. Because she is one of my three moms, I believed her.
The following thirty days have been beautiful, difficult, rich, lonely, peaceful and humbling.
Me who thought that left alone I would write pages of insightful and useful stuff, I found out that alone, I sat a lot. And walked a lot. And ate. And walked some more.
Me who came here hoping for Connection, it took me a couple of weeks to let the most important Connection of all come through: the Connection with me.
Me who thought that I would be relieved to leave when the time came, my heart is actually very tender, today.
Pisciotta, thank you.
Thank you for teaching me what I did not think I had come here to learn.
Thank you for being so heartbreakingly beautiful that even when I did not want to see your gifts, I could not help myself.
Thank you for your stairs and hills.
Thank you for your people, most of which looked at me strangely, thus giving me the gift of feeling like a stranger, a gift which I believe will come in handy in the next few weeks.
Thank you for introducing me to one of the most graceful women I know, even though I could not communicate with her as much as I wanted to. Thank you for her Limoncello and the tiny cups of dessert she gave me.
Thank for for giving me a place to painfully get in touch with how much I need Community and Connection, and thus giving me the courage to ask for it, and to create it in the very future (more on this very soon)
Thank you for the smile from the grocery man, often the only smile I saw for days, and somehow it was enough.
Thank you also, for showing no signs of commercial holiday madness, just a few weeks away from Christmas. Thank you for being so real, so very classy on the inside in your somewhat gruff outsideness.
This morning, I walked over to the Wednesday market, where most people still looked at me sideways, I saw your men talking with each other, I saw your mozzarella with that special branch on top of it, I saw the square, the many cats. I walked your tiny streets, I heard your beautiful language, and the whole time I said thank you, thank you, thank you.
Tomorrow, my backpack and I will walk the 4km to the train station, and you will be tucked in there safely, because you are in my heart forever, and I know that my gratefulness will ripen with time.
PS: Elephant Journal published (and edited a bit) a story I wrote about how my backpack and I got to be friends. Here it is . I think you may enjoy it.
The last few days have been important. I guess maybe important is the pretty way of saying difficult. Coming back to the village after spending some time in Naples with my son really allowed me to see that this place, as stunningly magnificent as it is, has not been very friendly towards me. Nothing overt, just this weird thing that makes people not smile back when I say Buongiorno to them. I mean... go ahead and try it. Have someone say hello to you, and try not to smile back, if only a little. Can you do that? My face can’t seem to do that. Here, it’s an art form. Not towards each other, it seems. But towards me. Many times a day (with the exception of the mozzarella man. He smiles at me and so I have been buying mozzarella a lot).
This is a small village, this is a very old village, and I may be the only person walking around who was not born here. I think I get it.
And really, for a while it was ok.
I needed space and I had settled into a peaceful sense of isolation, a deeper leaning into my self and I loved the sweetness of that. But after a few weeks, after a little break where I got to dance the tango in a loud Neapolitan family’s kitchen while the pasta cooked, I came back up here and I realized that I’d had it. Mostly, I realized that no matter how much I love and need solitude, I really thrive on some level Community.
So first, I really felt it. The yearning, the deep desire to be a contributing part of something. It did not feel good, mostly because I had no clue how to achieve that. Out of my window, miles of blue water and acres of olive trees. Most of them already picked.
Following my kids’ advice, I put up a profile on Workaway.com which is a really cool organization, especially if unlike me, you have carpentry skills. I contacted a few potential hosts and the lack of response was impressive. So, I went on a walk. A long walk. High up above the water and among lots of olive trees and the reddish colored grape vines. I talked with myself, I forgave myself for not being a very good hermit, nor a carpenter, I reminded myself that a gift was on its way, that I was okay. That it was perfect. I huffed and I puffed up these crazy hills and I finally made my way home right before dark.
And there, in my inbox, was an email from the Workaway site. A woman, around my age and sounding both funny and lovely. A woman who had found me and was hoping I could come stay with her for a while and “help her figure out what to do with this house of hers,” as well as maybe “help her with the synergy of her little community.” No plastering walls, no cleaning toilets, no hammers involved at all. Basically she was asking me to come stay with her and do ... what I do. Within a few of hours she and I made a plan. And in a couple of weeks, after having spent some yummy time with my kids, I am going to go check out this COMMUNITY of hers and I am pretty sure, meet a new friend.
Man, this life thing is powerful. And even more so when we let ourselves fall down once in a while.
Because I know it is coming to an end, I am now fully enjoying the last few paragraphs of this chapter, up here on the roof of the world. I am soaking up the quiet, the hours, the sun waking me up from over the hill, the lighthouse (the second longest light in Italy, mind you) illuminating the channel between Naples and Sardinia - and my room - every 5 seconds, all of it, the time to write. I have a feeling that when I get home, these weeks will have become some of my most cherished memories. Funny how that works.
Thank you for being on this trip with me. I know that all this stuff I am dancing with - the really great and the less great - is part of what we all do, as our big human family.
And because of this, in a way we are never truly alone.
Whenever I heard about Pompeii, growing up, I thought of it as some fantastical place that did not really exist. Kind of like unicorns. So when I heard that Pompeii was a short train ride away from where I am currently living, I knew for sure I had to go.
My son and I arrived there mid day and, for the next several hours my brain was suspended above my head, not sure what to do with itself.
There were actually three distinct phases to my mind melt.
The first one was that we were walking in the middle of an empty 2000 year old city. I don't care how much time I have spent in Europe and walked among ancient buildings, this was a jolt. Street after street, house after house, stores, piazza, swimming pools... This is not one beautiful isolated building, this is a city. Where 11,000 people lived and did their every day thing. Which you can feel. You can feel the steps on the worn out stones of the streets, you can feel the crowds gathered in the giant piazza, you can feel people coming in and out of their homes. As the sun set and the whole place turned golden, I could almost see Roman kids playing around the corner, sandals on their feet, on their way home. So yes. That. That alone was enough to re-arrange my insides and slather me with a thick layer of both awe and a strange sense of belonging.
Next, there is the fact that until not too long ago, Pompeii was buried under 13 to 20 ft of volcanic ash and pumice. For over 1,500 years, all this beauty, marble counters, frescoes, bread ovens and yes, people, were invisible. Something about that seems just as sacred as the fact that it been a lively community. There was a quietness in thinking about it, a sense of inner hush that made me want to use my library voice.
Finally, just as I tried to make room in my head for the two above points, there is the whole excavation business to take in. It started in 1748, and it is still in the process. Recently, the excavation has been scaled down, in order to concentrate the limited resources available to restore and maintain the buildings which have already been exposed. And my god, what a job that is! HOW, HOW did these buildings get extracted from the ash and the pumice? With paintings still bright, and pottery intact, and mosaics, and doors, and ... I am telling you: it was almost too much to hold.
And then, there's Mount Vesuvius, still active and a constant presence in the not-so-far background. It's there, it's looking down as we're looking up, no way to avoid it. And also no way to ignore the fact that had it not, on that terrible 79AD August day, showed its fierce and merciless power, there would be no way for us today to walk these streets and catch a glimpse of these kids going home in their sandals.
Humans and our humanness amaze me and some days all I can say is thank you, without even trying to understand why.
My new book