Back back back to Cinque Terre. The train couldn’t have moved fast enough. How silly to be escaping one of the most beautiful romantic cities in the world to go somewhere else. We couldn’t explain our desire to get back to those beach towns. We only knew we must. The art and architecture, history, and churches in Florence are breathtaking, and yet I had begun to feel stifled. I needed to fill my lungs with breeze off the sea, break free of camera clad tourists and museum tours and let my mind wander among dirt and rocks and ocean and all day hikes that would give my heart time to climb the open air, expose itself to the wind and find what hurts were lurking there, tucked away behind muscle and bone.
Omri pulls a couple baguettes out of his backpack and we eat them on the train, leaving flour all over our faces and a multitude of silly cocaine jokes in the air. The train car is suffocating. You can see the heat waving through the air and we have forgotten to buy bottles of water. I am drinking what is left in my tiny bottle, drinking little sips trying to preserve it. Monica and I sit together and the guys are across the isle. We all start to fall asleep, my dress is soaked through with sweat and I start to panic that maybe I am in fact passing out. A while back I had suggested we wander and look for an air conditioned car on the train but the seats with room to spread out were hard to find and we won’t find eight seats together again. Charlie insists that the man coming our direction from another car looks very sweaty and therefore none of the other cars could be air conditioned. Deductive reasoning. “Good job Sherlock Holmes,” I say and we stay in our sticky seats. A half hour later I can’t take it anymore and I fear we will all be struck with heat sickness and I go in search of a car with A/C and after walking through a few cars, each becoming increasingly cooler I find one that is not only crisp and cool but has a number of open seats in the same row. I hurry back to them.
“Nice reasoning skills, Sherlock but we just stayed in the heat for nothing. I found us a car,” I say and we all move to the new train car without pause.
In La Spezia we have to wait a while for our train to Riomaggiore. I give Omri my thoughts on the latest draft of his essay and we sit on a bench a while and find some bottles of water. When the train comes we realize we are on the wrong side of the tracks. We figure there isn’t time to run underground so we skip over the two lanes of tracks and get onto the train only to realize another train has just arrived and maybe that is the train we need. We run back across the tracks and try to get onto the train but the doors close just as we arrive and we watch it pull away with no way to get on. Maybe we were right the first time? We run back to the first train. The doors begin to close and Omri holds them open and Monica gets a foot caught for a moment and I slide in between the crack and somehow we are on. We are all out of breath and laughing and we sit down among the less than amused, silent passengers aboard the train. We are still not sure if this is our train but what’s the worst that could happen? We have no reservations for a place to stay. We have nothing we could be late for.
Riomaggiore. Everyone is hungry except me so I opt to wander while they eat, taking full advantage of our pact–to do whatever we feel like here, letting go of any social pressure to appease one another. I leave my backpack with them and stroll the tiny street, wander in and out of stores alone, feeling that I am on recess at school with an hour to do as I like. Back then I loved retiring to the grass some days while other kids were playing hand ball or swinging on the swing set. I liked to be alone certain afternoons, a little prepubescent melancholy in my veins. I’d make ropes of daisy chains and watch the other kids from afar as they played. Some days I felt strong enough to brave their games, the other pretty girls with perfect hair and boys who lusted after them. I would play the role of confidence. Other days I just didn’t have it in me. At home I was bossy and strong, guiding the children from my neighborhood with courage and charisma. In the eye of the open world I felt small. Powerless. Daydreaming about performances I would put together in my parents garage at home with the neighbor kids. At school I tried to slip by unnoticed most of the time, hiding behind wire rimmed glasses and big frizzy hair that my mom would weave around sponge curlers before bed each night so that I could look like the girls with wavy locks, trying to fit in enough to be invited to birthday parties and not fall too far off into the land of kids that were made fun of, a harder existence, I was sure.
I walk through Riomaggiore taking in clattering church bells and the smell of seafood. I try on a bathing suit in a boutique. I want a new one for my trip to Bermuda. I like the cut but it’s hot pink and I just don’t feel girly enough for a thing like that and it doesn’t come in black. I walk out feeling a little funny and old and not pretty. I run by the table where my friends are eating on the patio outside and Omri sticks a basket of bread out over the railing and I grab a piece as I go by and keep walking. I run out of things to do and I don’t want to buy anything since I’m trying to save money and I don’t want to carry anything extra in my pack–extra weight. I get a gelato and stand outside the railing of the restaurant eating it while everyone finishes and pays their bill.
We decide we will hike to Monarola this afternoon. We get lost and hike the wrong trail and get eaten up by bugs but the walk is pleasant. We figure out that we can walk along the road to Monarola but it’s going to be dark soon enough and it seems too dangerous so we go back into town and see about a place to stay. We discover the hiking trail we should have taken and decide we will just go ahead and hike even though it’s dusk now. It’s cool without the sun beating down on us and we are grateful because the hike is steep. We climb huge steps up the side of a mountain and into the vineyards and we are in nature again and it feels wonderful. We all pause at the top and take in the last rays of sun on the water. We are silent for twenty minutes, standing elbow to elbow in the breeze. A group of American tourists who appear to be college students can be heard coming up the trail behind us and we decide to get a move on so that we can maintain the quiet. We arrive in Manarola sweaty and hungry and cruise through alleyways where people are gathered for evening meals in candlelit restaurants and we are tempted to stop and eat but want to find a place to stay first.
We find a hostel at the top of a hill beside a church and the girl behind the desk laughs when we ask her if there is space for four. It seems there was just a cancellation and we get the last available space. It’s a private room with its own bathroom and two sets of bunk beds. We are bemused with the serendipity and lay our belonging down inside the room. The blue bathroom has a sink, a toilet, a bidet and a shower head with a drain in the center of the bathroom. We laugh and joke about all four of us could use different functions in the bathroom at once. We take turns showering and the whole bathroom is now soaking wet and so it the floor outside and Charlie almost slips and falls but we are happy as clams to have found a place without a plan for where we would land.
We walk down the street and find a seafood restaurant for dinner and order the most beautiful display of calamari, squid ink fettuccini, lobster and red wine made right there in Manarola, all for an astonishingly small number of euros for such a feast.
We walk a while after dinner and sit on some rocks by the sea and pet a stray cat whose home we have disturbed. We wonder what it would be like to have a massage from four people at one time.
We walk back along the sea and the moon is even fuller and feels like it has been full for weeks. It lights up the entire town below. From the bluff we watch a group of laughing italians strip down to their underwear and dive into a startlingly clear pool of water protected by rocks.
“Should we jump in the water?” Omri says.
We are hesitant. We are full and tired and have just showered and it might be cold, and even colder walking home wet. We decide we will just head down there and have a closer look. When we reach the bottom of the stairs there are nine or ten people jumping into the water. We take everything but our underwear off and jump into the beautiful sea. The moon shines so bright that we can see the sand at the bottom. We swim out a ways, howling at each other, “How did we almost not do this?” A beautiful Italian girl swims up beside us saying things excitedly in Italian and gesturing to the moon. She pops up beside each of us, diving beneath the water and coming up to let out another squeal of delight, her skin exposed in the transparent nude colored tank top she swims in as she floats on her back and takes in the sky. None of us can take our eyes off of her, off of the moon, off of the water. We float and dive and kick and swim with pure joy pulsating through us. We lay on the rocks and dry off, sharing cigarettes and what words we can with the Italians. We put our clothes back on and walk up to the hostel and find sleep in our bunks and I go to bed with a fulfilled sigh and sea water in my hair for the first time since I was a child.