Italy

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I’ve decided that now I have two birthdays’ dates: the day I was born and the day we have arrived in Gravina in Puglia, Italy: July 24.

Father of three and grandfather of one, my husband became a very sentimental person and decided to get the Italian Citizenship to honor his grandfather Felippo Losacco. Could be the right time to pursue what life still can offer to us and we may enjoy it.

Living in the USA since 2003, when we finally decided to gather all the documentation, we found out that the Italian Government now requires that all documents have to be originals. And, as we would be leaving on vacation soon, we decided to get his grandfather’s birth certificate personally in the city he was born: Gravina in Puglia. I have to confess that I would never, ever imagine how this decision would be giving me a new meaning in my life.

Until we get there, maybe because we had so many things to think about, like to book the tickets, the hotels, the car rental, things to learn about Italy, the excitement of the trip itself, I have not realized its magnitude.

Filippo Losacco, my husband’s grandfather, was born in Gravina in Puglia on February 2nd, 1878. Around 1896 he left Gravina with his sibling Salvador Losacco and went to Brazil, leaving behind their parents, Nicola Losacco and Donata Cataldi and their little brother, Nicola Losacco.  As far as we know, they never saw each other again.

Gravina in Puglia is magnificent. Walking down the street we could feel the whole great love that our grandfather lived in that city with his parents and brothers and how courageous he must have had to leave the city and his family.

Suddenly, all the emotional arrival made me understand how he could leave: because that city encourages men to be brave.

Now I was sure his Gravina helped him; a place where he could extract the courage to live far from there, taking with him the will to win and given him the support to follow his new life, always thinking in his beloved parents and brother that still lived there.

Gravina in Puglia and the “Sotterranea” and its “habitat rupestre” still kept stored in its soul so much courage to thrill us. The city grew and maintains the dignity of their ancestors and all the struggle of a people to survive every day with faith; those who built every inch of each house in the city, La Basilica Cattedrale di Gravina in Puglia, il santuario Madonna delle Grazie, la Piazza Notar Domenico, la Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi, everything gave him the foundation to be a real man and built the family which I belong today.

How much love sprung from my heart in that moment! It was as if I had always belonged to that city. I wanted to run and shout “My Gravina, I came back,” and kiss the ground that my grandfather played and was happy when he was a child there, so deep was the feeling of love and identification.

Gravina in Puglia is also our town now. We are Italian by sanguine descent and Gravinese by heart.

We were completed enraptured, impregnated by the love left in the air by our relatives. We could feel it!

And this love, the “Sotterranea” that strengthen us, his honorable and hardworking people, those who left and those who stayed in Gravina, brought me a new vision of how being a real human being and the courage of to being like a bold Gravinese can be, like our grandfather. For all that, I found out, at age of 60, that I can be brave as a Gravinese and this saved me, not only the day, but my life, because it gave me a new purpose, a new motivation.

That trip, from that moment on, I flourished. Gravina in Puglia brought me a new beginning and the emotional feeling that I looked for, my entire life, to be able to write with passion.

Gravina, with its magical atmosphere, gave me, like a gift, the properly emotion to find the right words to describe the life beyond expression.

We went there seeking for our origins and we fall completely in love for the city, for the people and we left our hearts and souls there.

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Read Parts I, II, and 3

“Realization,” Italy: Blood and Sacrifice Part 4

Salvatore’s team won the game and as was custom after every game of calcetto we headed to a pizzeria to celebrate. It wasn’t about the celebration of victory it was about the celebration of life and being with close friends. Nicolas and Salvatore hadn’t seen each other in seven years. We arrived in Brindisi the day before after a rough and snowy twenty-four hour drive from Gaeta.   One of the things I love about Italians and Italian culture is that you can arrive on a moments notice and within thirty minutes a five-course meal and an abundance of wine has been prepared for you without complaint. Not only do they not complain they celebrate the arrival of a guest as if he, or she were family. Since I was with Nicolas, whom Salvatore and his family considered a brother and a son, I was also considered in the same light.   Without any notice of our arrival and knowing we would stay for a week they scurried to find us a place to stay, as their apartments were full with their extended family. Within fifteen minutes of our arrival we had a place to stay at no cost. With bags in tow Salvatore told Nicolas that when we entered the building we could come and go as we pleased at whatever time of day, or night, but that under no circumstances were we to speak to anybody. I didn’t get it at first, but after witnessing what we saw at the pizzeria the following day it all began to sink in.IMG_5973

Following the victory at calcetto Salvatore invited us to the pizzeria with his teammates and friends. It was a warm and sunny afternoon and so we sat outside. Beer and wine flowed with abundance. I felt good, although I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying and that frustrated me. Italian, unlike German was so beautiful, lyrical and poetic. Don’t worry Germans I’ve learned to love and appreciate your language as well. When I first heard Italian I felt like I was in a fairytale. It sang to me. I wanted so badly to communicate in their language that it ate at my psyche. I think this is when I first knew, subconsciously, that Italy and Italian would play a major role in my life.

As we sat there drinking with Nicolas translating and just being merry it happened. Around seven unmarked and marked police vehicles sped by with lights on, but no sirens. They suddenly stopped about fifty yards away on our side of the street. Many men in masks with machine guns got out of the vehicles and went inside a building. My heart began to pound. I began to speak, but Nicolas gave me a look and nodded his head indicating I should keep my mouth shut. Salvatore got up and went inside the pizzeria to use the telephone. Other men in masks stood guard outside the building, ready to pounce on anything that moved.

Nicolas leaned in and whispered, “Whatever you see, or hear, you didn’t see or hear, got it!”IMG_5672

I nodded.

After ten minutes the police officers came out of the building with three people in handcuffs. Some women followed and began yelling. The three individuals were put in three different vehicles and off they went. The whole operation took no more than twenty minutes. We ate our pizzas in silence. Later that night Nicolas and I returned to our hotel. We entered the building and Nicolas nodded to the lady at the front desk. She nodded back and handed him the key to our room. As we walked towards the elevator we saw three scantily clad women with long dark hair escorting a few gentleman towards a room. I smiled, but said nothing. When we got in the elevator Nicolas pushed the button for the 4th floor. Exiting on the fourth floor we headed towards our room. More scantily clad young women and men were walking about. Some of the women even winked at me. My head began to spin. The past two weeks had been crazy and today I got a glimpse of a part of Italy that was a hotbed of current political activity and represented in every newspaper around. We arrived at our room and went inside. Nicolas closed the door behind us and locked the door. In a whisper he asked me if I knew who Giovanni Falcone was. I told him no.

“What about S.C.U.?” (Pronounced sku).

“No. Sorry what is that?” I asked.

He then went into his backpack and got a pen and piece of paper.

Quietly he scrawled out the meaning of the acronym S.C.U. It was the first time I had ever seen the name, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Sacra Corona Unita.

 

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Coming Soon:

“The Dream Begins,” Italy: Blood and Sacrifice Part 5

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ItalyItaly: Blood and Sacrifice Part 3 (Read Part I)

How many of you have asked yourself if you could go back and do it all over again it would be different, it would be better. How could you be so dumb and make those mistakes? You would have achieved your life long dream, your happiness.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately things happen the way they are supposed to happen and to question it is useless no matter how hard you try. More often than not in the moment you fail to realize what is truly going on and therefore take for granted the importance of that moment and as a consequence do not cease the moment for what it’s meant to be. That is the balance of life.

Brindisi Italy, 1993:

It had been a year since I left southern California for Europe. I landed in Frankfurt with too many bags and made my way to Munich, where I would see and visit a friend I grew up with.   After a month in Munich with her father’s help I found a job at a ski resort in an alpine village called Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps, on the German side of the border with Austria. The job was affiliated with the United States military, although it was a recreational facility and I was a civilian. It was here that I would meet the people who would change my life and take me down a path that would reverberate beyond borders and future generations.

One of those people was a nineteen-year-old American named Nicolas. His father was a Captain in the US Navy, stationed in Gaeta, roughly sixty miles north of Naples and his mother was an American diplomat living in Rome. It was because of Nicolas that I found myself here in Brindisi on this mild February afternoon watching his friend Salvatore play a game of calciotto.

GC-QX5 ImageIn the United States basketball courts are a dime a dozen. Pickup games are in every city and town. In Italy the pickup games are soccer, or football as they say, or better yet calcio. Calcio is the lifeblood of Italian sport and rules all else, even to the point of life and death. Before Italians learn calcio they learn calciotto, which is a form of calcio, however it is played on a much smaller field with five to seven players on a team. The goal nets are also much smaller. In a way it’s like American indoor football, where the fields are smaller and the goalposts are narrower. On this day I was with Nicolas watching Salvatore play a game of calciotto with his friends. Nicolas and Salvatore had known each other since they were four years old, having gone to school together at daycare and then elementary school here in Brindisi. Nicolas spent a good part of his youth in Brindisi while his father worked his way up the ranks of the navy.

Two weeks ago IMG_0827Nicolas and I left Germany under hurried and anxious circumstances. What we knew was that one of our friends was in jail somewhere in Germany and the other nine were waiting for us in Prague.

We also knew, much like Romeo with his beloved Verona, that we were banned for life from returning to Garmisch. With Zebra in jail Nicolas and I became the backbone, the two the others looked to for guidance, however the two of us were in Italy.

On that fateful day two weeks ago we were all given six hours to pack up our lives and leave, or face arrest and prosecution. We were made to sign papers of our banishment and given an explanation that to this day, in some regards, remains a mystery.

We were all American civilians, expats living in Germany working for the American military. We had no real home and nowhere to go. Nicolas and I were roommates in Garmisch and I already knew his family, so he invited me to Italy, but I was the only one.   The plan was to go to Italy for a few weeks while things cooled down in Germany. From there we would meet the others in Prague to hash out a plan.

Before we could do that however we first needed to get back to Garmisch to pick up something extremely valuable. That was the hitch. It was possible, but risky. What we hadn’t counted on was that his father with his higher up military connections would look deeper into our affair. We weren’t going anywhere until he found out what he wanted to know.

Read all the articles in this series: Blood and Sacrifice

 

 

 

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I sit under a pillar of a city turning to ruin. Pompeii. How I wish I could’ve seen the people roaming around the common, the smiles and laughter. My mother trusts me enough  to sit here without causing too much trouble, being the boisterous son I am. The longer I sit here the more I feel at peace, I feel like I belong here. I am filled with courage as I think about the day of this great city’s demise. I slowly lay back on the pillar and close my eyes…

When I awaken, I am surrounded by Romans chatting with each other, bargaining for armor and daggers. A small girl knocks into me as she chases a mischievous boy. She whips her head and waves at me as if to apologize. I nod to acknowledge her. The boisterous chatter erupts from the many people, they all speak in Latin.

I can hear the hooves of a mule carrying various supplies in bags and carts hit the cobblestone path beside me. Suddenly, a shaking knocks me down to the floor along with some supplies from the small cart. I brush myself off and stand back up seeing blood run down my knee. What happened? I look up and see Mt. Vesuvius spewing out gases and ash so high I cannot see the top. A small boy starts crying, but the parent shakes her head and remarks “It’s only smoke.” That seems to calm him down, and he stops crying. The people continue with their daily lives, but something is wrong. I know something terrible is happening.

The clouds of ash cover the sun, and it turns dark. Many people look confused at what is happening. I have never seen anything like this. The sun is gone, and it isn’t from an eclipse. A woman looks at me as small rocks fall into her hands, then bigger rocks. I see a man collapse, blood running down his head. We have to get out of here; I know what will happen next. Panic sets in and people start fleeing to the openings of the city. I can see the ash cascading down the mountain. The reds and greys envelope all sights of green. I have to get out. I shove people out of the way. Run. I need to make my way to the gate. The small rocks pile up so far that they are up to my knees, and are wiping away the blood from my cut.

I’m almost to the gate. I’m surprised I can see it, considering the amount of bodies trying to cram through. I am so close to getting out when I hear a scream for help from a small girl. I can’t leave her here to die. I whip around and push everyone out of my way. I try to focus on her screams, but the cries of everyone else cloud my mind. I continue to trudge through until I break through the crowd. I target the screaming from a small hotel, abandoned. I run in to see the little girl who ran into me from earlier. Trails of tears stain her cheeks, and she is curled into a fetal position rocking back and forth. I run over to her and pick her up into my arms. There is no time to talk. I start coughing, the fumes are collecting in my lungs, almost causing me to double over in a coughing fit.

The gate is now almost empty, so I don’t have a lot of trouble getting through. The little girl’s face buries deeper into my shoulder as the smoke gets heavier. I can see the ashes plowing closer and closer towards the city. We aren’t going to make it. I see a cart with a horse and a rider running through the gates past us. I know what I have to do. I run after the cart which causes me to hyperventilate. The fumes go into my lungs with every breath I take burning the insides. I can see my vision go darker. I have to make it. I reach the small cart and lift the girl up to place her in it. She looks at me and with tears running down her crystal clear blue eyes. She gives my forehead a kiss, and I place her in the cart. She is safe from this unknown fiery disaster. I take a deep breath in relief as I see the ashes kiss my burning skin.

I open my eyes. Mother? Where are you? “Jonathan!” I hear her call. “There you are!” I wave smiling. She takes me by the hand and leads me to the exit gate. “So how did you like Pompeii? How did it make you feel?” I look back to the ruins and nod to her. “Brave.”

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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jeffrey Blancq Rome Italy

jeffrey Blancq Rome ItalyItaly: Blood and Sacrifice Part II (Read Part I)

Roma Termini had changed in seven years. It was bigger. There were shops, restaurants and a newness that propped up with new millennium money. Before, Termini was dirty and dank. Prostitutes, vagrants and of course the ever present gypsies lined the outside waiting for the unsuspecting tourist. While three begged for your money and harassed you a little rascal was deftly feeling around pockets, belts and inside your shirt with scissors until he, or she found what they were looking for and then clip. More often than not they found their treasure. Ali Baba himself would have been proud. Now it was cleaner, newer. Those same prostitutes, vagrants and gypsies were still around, but they had gone underground. The 90’s were over. Italy was trying to shed its image as a dangerous place where the mafia ruled, the aforementioned gypsies clipped your pockets right in front of you and as rumor would have it people were drugged and taken off night trains anywhere from Rome headed South only to wake up the next day without a body part. I’m not sure about that last part, but I did hear the tale more than once. Over the squeaks and clanks and horns of the trains, as well as the bustle of locals and tourists from around the world the female voice over the loudspeaker monotonously rang out arrival and departure times. My train was arriving from Milan. Knowing I had fifteen minutes to spare I made my way to a new wine shop located at the northern end of Termini and looked around. I found what I was looking for, a bottle of Cesanese del Piglio. I grabbed it and headed toward the register. The clerk rung up my purchase and looked at me. He spoke to me in English. I responded in Italian. He smiled. “Buon viaggio,” he said. I smiled back. “Grazie.”

Jeffrey Blancq Rome ItalyI made my way to the platform and waited with my two backpacks, a large duffle bag, my good luck charm Ferrari cap, a bottle of water, some cheese and bread and the bottle of Cesanese. I double-checked my ticket confirming my car and bunk number. Anyone who’s ever been on an Italian train knows how impatient people are to get on. I had a reservation and was in no hurry, so I waited until everybody had boarded until I made my move. There was a lot of hustle and bustle on the train, however there was nobody else in my compartment. Maybe it was my lucky night. I made sure my passport and my money were secure in my money belt strapped to my waist and situated down my pants. If somebody did want to rob me, or worse they were in for a Hell of a fight. My dad was a cop, so was my brother. I was well trained. After stowing my belongings I went out to the aisle of the train and stuck my head out an open window. I took in all the sights, sounds and smells. With me I could always close my eyes and tell you what country, city, or place I was in based on the smell. Roma Termini had held many memories and would hold many more. I was nervous, yet I felt at peace. I felt at home here. In the aisle of the train there are seats you can pull down.  As the conductor’s final whistle blew and as the night train began to trudge out of the station I pulled down one of those seats and took out my knife, my water, cheese and bread and the bottle of Cesanese del Piglio and grinned. I was exhausted, but not tired. There were many stops ahead until I would reach my final destination the following morning. The train picked up speed and the clanking of train tracks and wheels gave the indication we were changing direction. The engineers were in control and the industrious North was now to our backs. .

I cut some cheese and bread and opened my bottle of wine. The night air flowed pleasantly through the train, cooling those that were hot and warming those that were cold. A young man about my age in the next compartment sat in the aisle next to me. In Italian I offered him some wine, which he accepted.

“Where I’m from wine is the elixir of life,” he said in Italian.

“Oh yea, where are you from?” I asked back in the language of where I was.

He responded in Italian, but it wasn’t Italian. He laughed. He took a drink of wine and spoke in English.

“My friend welcome to the real Italy.”

Little did I know then the importance of his words.

Jeffrey Blancq Rome Italy

 

 

 

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Jeffrey Blancq Rome Italy

Jeffrey Blancq Rome ItalyWhen people ask me how it all began it becomes a jumble. It would be like asking someone how they entered an ancient labyrinth. You know how you entered, but once inside the direction you thought you were going was only a mirror of what you thought you believed.

It was a warm and pleasant mid November night in Rome. Walking around Roma Termini people seemed to be in good mood. The new millennium had finally arrived. That summer I had been in Florence realizing a dream to learn some Italian and spend quality time in Italy. My plan was simple. Go to Florence for the summer to learn Italian, a little Italian culture and maybe meet a beautiful dark haired olive skinned beauty to have fun with. Seven years before I had been to Italy under very different circumstances. At the time I started something, but didn’t finish it. More on that later. I could kid myself all I wanted about why I was here now, but the truth is I had to come back.Jeffrey Blancq Rome Italy

“Why Italy?” People always asked me.

“Why anything?” I responded. With travelers oftentimes there is no why. It’s a feeling. Some choose France, or Spain, or South America, Africa, Australia, or Japan. It could have been something we heard, or read. Maybe a movie, or a song? We fell in love perhaps. For me it was Italy and the experiences I had had over time. Experiences that cut deep and left scars, both good and bad. Experiences that transcended who I was and who I would become. It was the language, the culture, the food and the people in all their glory and their dark history. I always believed that to understand a place and the people who lived there you needed to know their language, their history and the land they called home. For many in Italy la Terra, the land, is their blood and sacrifice. It’s what created how they are, how they speak and how they express themselves. The root to knowing how things ticked was learning their language. Once you did that doors opened up and it could also save your life. Learning a language takes discipline and time. It’s not about staying for a summer and expecting to keep it in the foggy recesses of the brain. Yes I learned some Italian this past summer, however it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I needed more. I had to finish what I started, no matter how long it took, or I would forever be trapped in a world where I didn’t belong.

Read Italy: Blood and Sacrifice Part II

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O sole mio, Italy

We were married in Naples in the sixties, practically penniless and with no plastic or other financial safeguards.  In the seven weeks of paperwork before we foreigners could get legally wed Patti au-paired with the rich Buonomo family while I stayed in the youth hostel on 200 lira a day, and taught English at a high school.  We finally found a tiny flat we could afford in the red light district, and got on quite well with the whores on the corner, the day staff that is, ladies who looked rather like our mums: at sunset the real girls took over.  Practically next door to us was a place that roasted coffee beans and the mighty aroma would waft up to us on the third floor

We went back to Naples at the turn of the millennium. They told us it would not be like the nineties when there were often police shoot-outs with drug gangs, it was safe now and things were greatly improved.  Plenty of graffiti and some trash on the pavements but what struck us was how docile the traffic had become. It was quiet in our old quarter, in the steep cobbled laneway across which we would fire cherrystones from our balcony with just the squidge of two fingertips.  No ladies were loitering; gone, too, was the little fruit and vegetable market.

The main street had changed its name back to Via Toledo in memory of earlier Spanish glories, and in the process had become a chic pedestrian plaza with boutiques galore.  When it was Via Roma we would see horse-drawn hearses and motocyclists roaring up the wrong way, and once three santa clauses all puffing cigarettes emerge together from a department store.  Young tourists brushed past us heading for the Caravaggio exhibition.  We looked for and found on a stall graffe, the magnificent fat sugary doughnuts of yore.

At the Anglican church the vicar was leaning a bicycle against the wall. He listened to our short story and ushered us into the vestry: there indeed in the register which had been started in the nineteenth century was our spidery entry, quite spooky really.  We checked out the nave and pews and arches, more quaint than holy and as empty as it had been that time: a surge of feeling came back, and a clutch of the hands.

In the phonebook amazingly was listed the office of the lawyer Buonomo, and in fits and starts a meeting was arranged, in a caffe with cane chairs spread out in a nearby piazza.  Along came the avvocato now in his seventies, but accompanied by a long-faced handsome young man straight out of a painting. Courteous introductions, a round of cinzanos, some recollections. Patti’s main one was of the son as a six-week old, with a very dirty bottom.

Down at the waterfront at Chiaia the bay was as breathtaking as ever.  Sun spangled the blue while Capri’s grey shape beckoned in the middle distance.  We had been there on an Easter Day when the air all over the island was heady with wisteria blossom.  Further along the waterfront at Santa Lucia we joined a small clutch of onlookers bewitched by Vesuvius, pretty as a picture across the water, and thought of the song.  On that corner there, wedged in the back of a Fiat 500, a bigger thing hurtling round the other way had missed us by a whisker, before which Enzo had unnervingly exclaimed ‘If he hits us, I get a new car.’ We had yelled but it was all over.  Now we reflected ‘See Naples and die’ and marvelled that we had survived.  We had even come back.

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I remember the first time I boarded a plane and travelled to a different country. There is nothing quite like the thrill of going to a place you have never been to before. It was in 2009 for a week long school outing to the wonderful Réunion Island. As soon as we arrived I could feel the island humidity engulf and welcome me. It felt strange and I loved the strangeness of it. As Bill Bryson wrote in Neither Here Nor There “I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city”.

And that was when the travel bug bit me. Like many others I immediately made a bucket list of destinations I wish to see. Over the years my knowledge of the world has expanded quite significantly thanks to numerous travel magazines, blogs and websites. This has also led to a proportional increase in the number of items of my bucket list.

My desire to travel has led me to diagnose myself as a sufferer of wanderlust. Wanderlust is often defined as a strong urge or desire to travel. It is difficult to explain that sensation to people that have never experienced it before. John Green captured the essence of wanderlust in his novel Paper Towns with the following:

“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met”.

How do you cure a case of wanderlust? I am not sure you can. I have come to the conclusion that the best way to ease the ache for travel is to give in to it. Last year I spent most of my savings to go to Europe. It was a 21-day Contiki tour. For three weeks I spent a large amount of time with two friends and a bunch of strangers. This trip enabled me to place ticks next to quite a few of my bucket list items. The Eiffel Tower, Coloseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Berlin Wall and a gondola ride in Venice.

In June and July this year wanderlust tugged at me again and I travelled to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana with a missionary/outreach group. And yes, I did get to place a tick next to Victoria Falls on my bucket list. Just like the Europe trip, the accommodation was simple and a lot of time was spent in transport. But the group was smaller and more time was spent taking in the culture and nature of the surroundings.

When I go through my photos I tend to skip past the ones of me and the bucket list items. I linger at the photos with the people in it. The strangers that became family. In the end it’s the people that make the stories – not the destination. The memory of walking in Rome when a flash of rain made our entire group look like we just came out a shower still puts a smile on my face. It makes the tossing of a coin into the Trevi Fountain seem insignificant.
The next evening a group of us (only girls) were lost at 23h00 and couldn’t find the camp site outside Rome. On the way two young (and attractive) men zoomed past us on a Vespa and shouted something along the lines of “Ciao belle”. This was accompanied by the romantic blow of a kiss. Eventually we found the camp site. We were physically drained and with blisters on our feet, we all fell asleep with a smiles on our faces.

My brother back-packed alone through Vietnam and the first story he related back to me involved him playing a drinking game with about 20 other strangers on a boat. He doesn’t remember their names but he remembers the moment and the joy he shared with them. These experiences add meaning to Rule #32 from the move Zombieland: “Enjoy the little things”.

One of the beauties of travel is to share moments with strangers. You don’t know them and they don’t know you. This affords you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. But you don’t. You are exactly who you are supposed to be in the company of these strangers. This is why travel helps you to discover yourself. Even though you can pretend to be someone else you always end up being your true self. This novelty is independent of destination and available to all that are willing leave behind the comforts and familiarity of home.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The sky was insane that day. I thought as I looked upwards, the dab of white clouds meshed with the remaining grey ones overhead. There was no sight of the sky,  the normal tint of blue disappeared quickly. Nothing would get me out of the water, certainly not rain. I had come too far, I dreamt of this too long. I needed time away and in the steaming water I realized it was me, not the sky who was insane.

I had made it to Bath Spa in time of departures. In my city, I left my two best friends struggling  with luggage and bags,  as they readied to move out I packed and ran.  I had disregarded their advice of staying , they insisted it was my flu that concerned them.  I knew they wanted me to stay for another day before our separation. I couldn’t, goodbyes are not exactly my strongest feature not as unlike escape. Before September and its sunshine faded I was on the train heading south to the Roman city that sits poised in the midst of rainy England.

 It seemed the Romans managed to leave remains wherever they went, even way into my childhood stories that’s how I learnt of a city with an odd name as Bath. When I saw photographs of the Roman Baths as an adult I was dumbfounded.  I wanted to meet Aqua Sulis and greet Minerva, at whose account the water flowed in an eternal flame- the Goddesses of the hot streams. I wanted to feel even if it was for a moment the appreciation of my body toward water. Would I be a volcano? Would the waters soften me? I had yet to know.

When I walked out of the station early afternoon I could sense history on the walls of the city, it was old but extremely warm. Stewart, the taxi driver, told me the buildings were frozen in time because it was a heritage site, paperwork and permissions were needed to get the buildings restored, forget remodeling.  I thanked Stewart and descended towards the public baths thinking of the women who walked the street before me, were they so laden with the burden of departures?.

The lady who greeted me at the Baths told me as she did others not to touch the steaming waters. She referred me to the adjunct spa, Thermae where hot waters ran deep even in October.  My bathing suit itched beneath the discomfort of the raincoat and cardigan I had on as I walked the tiled street. Thermae is where I met Aqua Sulis, it is where I greeted her and shook hands. The open air pool swarmed with the intensity of the earth’s breath, above the pool Minerva/ Aqua Sulis’ head was carved, rock benches rounded the pool and a young Roman olive tree stood lonesome in its pot. I undressed under the watchful eye of the goddess and the young lifeguard who pretended to busy himself reading through an old file. I descended the water.

The whiff of sulfur greeted me as I landed in the pool. It was everywhere, inside my lungs, between my ears and over my shoulders. Then I couldn’t tell how but as I moved in the waters I felt connected, light and weightless. It was womanhood floating in my living cells, in my eyes, behind my ears and under my chest. It was a submersion while I still held my breath. This is what escape denoted: carelessness, a softer cushion for the blows you felt in the mornings. In the warm water I said goodbye to my fears of departures. There I met the beautiful Aqua Sulis/Minerva, she smiled at me. It was the spirit of growth that glazed the surface of the water as the wind changed. Alone and silent I watched the shadows of the clouds play, I smiled back. In a few days I will travel back to an empty apartment, alone without any friends or family around me but for minutes it didn’t matter, I had taken time for myself and met another, an invocation of a wise woman weaved out of myth. I earned my first smile in a month.

 

I knew I was insane to swim outdoors in autumn but the weather and the spa’s pool proved me wrong: I had subconsciously said goodbye to my friends the same way  I did sunshine- winter was coming. I dunked below the surface,  I could hear the first rain dripping and felt it on the tip of my shoulders. When I blinked under water I saw was rain’s ripples, the shade of a roman olive tree, the hand of another woman offering me strength and the remains of yesterday’s dream coming true.

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1 16

     “It happened again, Lu. Sally backed out of the trip just as we were to send a check.”

     “What? Again?”

     “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to Rome. I so wanted to be surrounded by the history of our grandparents.”

     “That’s a shame.”

     “Gotta go. Talk to you next week.”

     As I hung up, I took out the vacuum. The phone rang again.

     “Hi Ro, Tom overheard our conversation. He is willing to treat me to a trip to Rome with you! What do ya think?”

     “I was just feeling sorry for myself but this is even better news. I’ll be there with my sister!  Thank Tom for me!”

      This was January and as we were moving closer to June we were getting more and more excited.

      We were at JFK airport in New York and slowly walking to the gate. It was a night flight and we made sure we had no caffeine all day so we could sleep on the plane. The weather was warm and sunny when we landed as were our dispositions. Everyone we met was friendly and smiling.

     We toured the Vatican gardens and museum and spent time in the lovely Saint Peter’s Basilica. There is something to be said for standing in a revered place and contemplating about its history and present day function. We spent lots of silent time drinking in the magnificence of the architecture and art works. The Sistine Chapel kept us in awe that day as we craned our heads to peer at each painting of Adam and God the Father, and the other figures. We did not want to leave as we were herded through after about thirty minutes, all in silence. The recordings emphasized that the moisture from our voices would affect the paintings. Thinking back keeping quiet was just what we should have done to take in the brilliance of the fresco.

     I must admit that our scheduled trip to Padua did not seem so special to me until we pulled into the square (piazza). I remarked to myself that this was the prettiest of all we had seen so far because of the white marble statues lining the manicured square. Then we were told about the relics of Saint Anthony and how these were in the Church named after him. I became queasy as we were encouraged to view the relics as we moved through the Church. Then something unusual happened. As we were moving along, a Swedish woman, pushed my sister and spoke so all could hear, “You Americans are so pushy.” We were all being jostled along. I was angry that this woman said this but my sister looked at me and kept silent, as not to start a scene.

     At that moment, something very strong and unusual happened inside of me. I had a compelling feeling about my youngest brother and my mother. They had had a falling out that lasted over a year and were not talking. Mom was battling cancer and my family had been praying that they would reconcile. At that moment, I knew that they would reunite. It was that strong. I had to buy a Saint Anthony medal in the gift shop, something I did not do anywhere else.

     Later on I told my sister about my strong feelings. She said, “I hope you’re right, for Mom’s sake.”

     When we returned home and visited with our parents, I told my mother about my experience. She wanted to know when it would happen. I just kept saying that I knew that they would reconcile and gave her the medal for safe keeping. “Give the medal back to me when it happens.”

     Months later, Mom received the worst news that any cancer patient can hear. The cancer had spread to her other organs. When she called to tell me the news, I began to sob and couldn’t stop. My husband offered to call my brother. The next night we hurried dinner so we could visit with my parents. Soon after we arrived, my youngest brother and family walked in. There were hugs and smiles all around where there had been arguments. It was a joyous occasion and one that helped buoy my mother’s spirits despite the bad medical news. After that day, He was back visiting with Mom whenever he could.

     After he left that night, I asked Mom if she knew where the Saint Anthony medal was. “I knew this would happen, I said.”

     Then I remembered something I knew once. Saint Anthony is the patron saint of the lost. My brother was lost and then found in a small town in Italy called Padua.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.