In one of my youthful vain attempts at ‘finding myself’, I set out for Europe again. I was alone, I was on a certain kind of mission. Honestly, I needed a break from the standards I was already beginning to ridiculously impose on myself. I wanted to rebel against the person in my head.
I decided to go to Italy and eat a lot of dairy products. Yes, this is comical to admit. There was more to the venture than this, but in a way it precipitated the entire trip. I hadn’t eaten any dairy in a couple years.
I had been to Florence and most of the south already, so I started in Venice. I stayed at a nunnery. It suited me perfectly. I strategically got lost every day. I also ate gelato and pizza, almost every day. I visited a cathedral on a Sunday for the mass and listened to the beauty of the Italian spoken; I knew not one iota of it.
I took a train to Cinque Terre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinque_Terre Essentially, five villages running alongside a cliff in the northwest region. I stayed at the last one called Riomaggiore so I could do the hike from an end point and reach the last of the five. You can do the entire region in a full day, stopping to refresh or lay on the beaches that each village has. There is also train access to all as individual stops, if you just want to do the touristy investigation. From their cliffside entrances, they have winding steep paths to their tiny church or cathedral. Restaurants, cafes, shops and homes line the path; All the same religious practices, but each five do have a place of worship. Riomaggiore was also the quietest one.
I was so wrapped up in my head at the time, I shamefully remember. What i recall:
After having disembarked from the train and beginning the very steep climb up, everything seemed louder than in the past days. It wasn’t argumentative but I sensed chaos. The one pay phone had a person in the booth and a long line behind. Everyone was anxious. The first cafe I came up to was packed. This was exceptional and very unusual. This place was only busy in the mornings, but people were hanging out the two entrance doors. I pushed myself into the cramped space to see the tv’s broadcasting CNN. So many American tourist, strangers or tiny groups of friends, elbow to elbow, ‘What is going in?’…’A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York.’ What, what, what, what is happening.. was all that was going through my mind. Why did I brush it off and walk out? Why did I think there was something conspiratorial going on? Why did I feel like things were only going to get worse? I don’t know, but these were my thoughts. The magnitude didn’t sink in for a couple of hours. The news was just on a repetitive ‘this is what happened and this is what is happening now’. I sat out on a bench across from the cafe, where I had been sitting the past three mornings to eat my fruit and watch the locals start their days. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get ahold of my family so soon because the line for the phone was ridiculous. I sat there, alone, and I waited. It was hours before the crowd dissipated from the cafe. It was just time going by and my 20 year old brain not comprehending the magnitude of the event, not fully realizing the monstrosity that had occurred.
I woke at the crack of dawn to be one of the first at the pay phone; I stood behind two people who had the same idea. I got a hold of my mother and her hysteria. Hearing her cry immediately makes me cry and always has. Finally it sank in. A familiar voice was what it really took for me to process the actual situation. It was not as raw and real for me until this moment when I heard from someone in the states, closer to the event, in America, seeing how people immediately responded and came together. I remember calling my boyfriend right afterwards. All I recall about that conversation is his slight ambivalence as a non-news watcher and his resentment at my being away. I was angry with him when the call ended. I wanted him to know more. He was not their for me emotionally.
I went back to feeling alone and ignorant of what was happening. Over the next few days, each village had placed wreaths of flowers at strategic turning points in their paths and walkways, each cathedral held vigil and prayer services for all the American tourist. All the cafes and restaurants, all day, left the tv’s running CNN so people would feel in the know somehow. The whole world took note. All the locals were sympathetic and as accommodating as they could be. A few days afterwards, I took a train to the south of France and was picked up by a Dutch woman whom I was going to work for at a bed and breakfast for the rest of the month. Every morning we drove into the nearest town center to pick up the paper and get fresh baguettes and croissants for the visitors staying. The whole world was crying out for America. The papers were my only connection to anything.
By the time I got back to the states, the flags were still in people’s yards. The mood was still very raw and somber, but it was full of stories of hope and banding together. I finally let myself really mourn. I made it home, I was safe and I was not alone.