A movie made me pack my bags.
La vita e bella, January 1999. I finished one life and started another in less than a month.
I packed two pair of pants, one single breasted black jacket, one broken heart, one pair of black Italian leather boots, one red shirt, three spiral bound notebooks, and one Cesare Pavese poetry book. I barely said goodbye.
I first saw snow on that plane flight – my face pressed against the tiny oval window, the Apennines stretched out below, a wonderland in miniature.
There are two things I remember – I walked everywhere, and I wrote. More than 80,000 words of scratchy lines, blue pen against the brilliant lined white paper, page after page of exploring my inner world, while the outer world filled my heart with beauty.
On the second day in this foreign country, a man approached me. ‘Boungiorno,’ I said hesitantly. He looked familiar to me, a visceral memory from a dream a few nights earlier.
‘Piccola mia,’ he replied and suddenly my broken heart was mended and ready for new adventures.
For the next three months, I was shown la bella vita by Andrea. Quiet tucked away dinners on the foreshore of Lago di Bracciano, motorbike trips through the cobbled laneways of Rome. Secret trips to the top of the cupola at St Peters, snow covered getaways in Umbria. He cooked spaghetti and laughed at the small portions I ate as he urged me to manga. He greeted me in the morning with cornetti and baci chocolates, and covered me in kisses at the traffic lights. I studied Italian in Florence and promised myself I would never speak a word of English again. I was in love, and Italy returned my affection. At the age of 29, I was home.
When I was alone I had my notebook, and I wrote of the way Italy was showing me how to live. Every day, I recorded the tiny moments. I came to know Italy and I came to know myself, each word a tiny postcard of the soul. Andrea was a thread that bound the experience to my heart, a man who showed me deep inside the Romani way, to places the tourists don’t see. And I am grateful.
And then it was time for the story to end.
I sobbed my goodbyes on that train journey from Stazione Termini to Fiumicino airport. A kindly nonno passed me some fazzoletti and carmello (tissues and a lolly). I sobbed when I landed back in Melbourne. My Italian sojourn, the love and the lovers, a brief interlude in a life that was forever changed by Italy and her grace. I will return this year. I have been homesick for twenty years. Like Romulus and Remus, Rome is my mother. I have adopted her, and she has cradled me in memories.
I returned with three filled journals in my suitcase. My writings still await my shaping – a twenty-year love story that has no ending, and is always beginning.