If you haven’t read the first love letter, then you might not understand parts of this post!
Happy People’s Street. Yes, I need more of those in my life.
This morning I woke up at 6:30 am to an email from the aupair who helps me with my three preschool-age kids (they’re with papa’ this weekend), in which she uncerimoniously tells me that she’s decided to leave and go back to the States in just two days. I felt it coming, and frankly it’s a relief. I don’t want anyone to feel stuck in a situation they’re not comfortable in, and she has clearly been feeling lonely and itching to get back to the States for some time now. And with what I’ve gone through in the past few years, I feel fairly equipped now to handle the unexpected jolt with a decent amount of grace and composure.
As is habit with my recovering type-A brain, I immediately start to evaluate my life at warp speed, like a file cabinet with drawers opening and closing at random, and manila folders and paper flying all over the room. Mentally going over all my obligations and responsibilities, now I’m strategizing how I’m going to face in the short term this big hole and inconvenience, and how to move forward in the smoothest way possible, with the least amount of fallout, and all this before breakfast.
It’s a beautiful morning in Spoleto. So quiet you could hear a pin drop from miles away. The streets are completely deserted. The air is fresh, the breeze is late-summer/early-morning cool, and I decide to check out of my accommodation and walk to breakfast, to see how the day will unfold.
My cappuccino has a lovely spontaneous design, and I have a great view of the silent piazza, the sun literally shining on the two angels hanging by their wings from the building in front of me. The barista has me sit out front on the patio and puts on music: Muddy Waters. I have never heard anyone play Muddy Waters in a bar in Italy in the 9 years I’ve lived here, and Muddy Waters is one of my all-time favorite musicians, and this makes my heart happy. Hoochie-coochie man and my cappuccino.
I look up times for the train. I have 2 full hours before the next Sunday train to Rome shows up.
I finish my breakfast, stare blankly for a while, pay for my cappuccino and cornetto. I compliment the barista for his choice of the blues. He smiles and says he puts it on in the morning because, “Mi rilassa,” – “It relaxes me.”
Now I wander to the bus stop. I see that the bus for the train station only passes once an hour on Sundays, meaning I have nearly a full hour to wait. Conveniently, there’s a park: a gorgeous, lush, sprawling green park, right next to the bus stop.
My heart is really heavy by now. I’m reflecting all of a sudden on so much. My journey in the past few months of hard-core physical training, and the results it has brought me, not only physical but mental. The fact that I had too much wine to drink at lunch yesterday and the resulting embarrassment over the fact that I sent an email love missive to a man I know, one who has no time for me and I know it. Beating myself up over why I don’t give up the fight, and why I insist on continuing the fruitless struggle of trying to find and then somehow force a guy to shower me with attention and affection and time and consideration, when clearly it’s not the cards for me right now. That snowballs into the stark realization that no matter which way I go about it, it’s always the wrong way, it seems.
My real struggle, coming to terms with the fact that I’m single for the first time in nearly 13 years,and that before that, I hadn’t ever really dated. The last time I was truly single was my senior year in college—1999. I had just turned 21. I remember doing the “bar thing” for like a grand total of six months. I literally danced on top of the bar at good ol’ San Felipe in Flagstaff (I wonder if they still let people do that?), tasting for the first time what it meant to be out, drinking, and trying to drown my insecurities in finding a boy who would “like” me.
All I know is that frankly I find it hard not to like a place that has a national academy of olive and oil.
It sounds so naïve and yet, here I find myself at 35 years old, raising three children now as a single mom in a country that’s not my own, and those old insecurities haven’t gone far. Only now the men are different, the circumstances are different, the life experience is different. And yet, I still haven’t even had time to get to know myself or what I want. I can finally admit that I have always looked for myself in others, in serving others, in trying to be what I think others want me to be, and in the process, I lost whoever the real me is, or was, time and time and time again.
So I sit in the park. There are a ton of benches, and it is sublime. I look up into the trees, the sun is literally coming through the leaves and that’s why the word “dappled” was invented, you know?
Tears come to my eyes. If there’s one thing to know about me, it is this: I cry all the time. If you know me in any way, even superficially, you might already know this. I can’t help it. Nervous, angry, sad, overjoyed: I cry when my soul speaks. When I have no words. Which is rare, given how talkative I am and how prolifically I write. But when you get down to it, down to real and raw, no words are left. Just tears. Big ones. Dropping on my damn book that’s supposed to teach me about how to not be so needy anymore. The one I’m using a highlighter on.
My heart really hurts. I feel happy for all my blessings, but I still feel trapped in this mad desire to “get” happiness. To “find” the perfect man who’s going to magically solve all my problems. You can know that logically that’s impossible, but emotionally it’s my heart’s way of saying that I’ve completely forgotten about how to take care of it. I finally admit it. I feel alone. Denial has been a great protective shield to get me through the initial stages of my crisis, but I can see it’s not going to work for me from here on out.
By now it’s quarter to ten, and my bus should be coming soon. I move back to the sidewalk and stand there, alone with my little red suitcase, waiting for the tiny bus to take me to the station, hoping this sign is right and the bus will actually show when it says it will.
Parking in downtown Spoleto: “Leave sufficient room for opening the shutters. Thank you.” We aren’t in Rome anymore, Toto.
Suddenly, out of nowhere on the deserted town street, this strange little white contraption pulls up. It looks like some kind of tourist vehicle, like a little modified “Ape” that some intrepid Spoletino businessman has dreamt up as a way to make a euro on the side. I look up and wonder if he’s approaching me to see if I need a tourist taxi or something.
Just then, the man looks me in the eyes and says in Italian, “Hey! Americana!”
He’s dressed kind of spiffy and I don’t recognize him at first. Then it hits me and I blurt out, half exclamation, half question: “I know you!!!!?!”
And it turns out it’s Filippo. The matto from my delightful lunch experience yesterday.
Are you kidding me? This is like that scene from that Woody Allen movie, where Owen Wilson is sitting on a Paris street and the car pulls up out of nowhere to take him back to the Belle Epoque.
He says, “Where ya goin’? Train station?”
Him, “Well hop in already! I’ll give you a ride!”
The car is white with a bright red logo emblazoned on one side proclaiming “Il Matarello,” which is like a double word play for the little crazy one and rolling pin.
I lug my little suitcase aboard and sit down in the back. I say to him, “So, Filippo, is this your preferred method of transport around Spoleto?”
Him, “Only for weddings, Shel. And today, I have a wedding. I do everything around here, you know!”
Me, “I’m starting to get that feeling. Well, fantastic! Look at me! Looks like I’m getting married today, Filippo!”
Him, laughing, “Ah, is that the case?” (of course I’d already told him half my life story the day before. Recall that he sat down at my table to eat with me and chat.)
Me, “Sure enough! Already been married once, then divorced, and here I am! In the wedding getaway vehicle, this time without the groom! Congratulations to me, Filippo! I’m getting married to myself! I found the last person around who I can actually trust!”
He and I both have a good laugh and I realize that all of a sudden all the heaviness and sadness and longing of just moments before has totally vanished into the air around this strange little car, loudly and merrily put-putting around the streets of Spoleto, this taxi of white marital bliss that seems to have come out of the heavens especially for me.
I realize it’s true. Filippo does have “crazy eyes” just like it said in all the articles he had me read about him and his osteria. I start to reflect on the new project he told me about yesterday: he plans to open a small artisanal brewery around the corner from his restaurant.
“What are you going to call the beer?” I asked him, as he sat across from me over a plate of strangozzi spoletini and Montefalco rosso in that standard-issue Italian short Lurex glass.
“Birra del Matto, of course!” he says. Crazy man’s beer. God bless him.
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: having faith in life, in your journey, in your experience, is not to be underestimated. Just when you think things are so bad they can’t get worse, the Matarello drives up and tells you to hop in.
I get to the station, and there’s the obligatory group of old men lingering around in front of the bar, that group that seems to travel from small town to small town on Sunday mornings, always there to observe life around them, since they’ve already lived it all themselves.
I pray that my crappy cell phone camera hasn’t got a dead battery, because I really need to get a shot of Filippo in his little car. But then, realizing how I have no control over virtually anything in my life, I tell myself: even if it’s dead, still—it happened, and I don’t need the photo to prove it. Whatever happens, happens, and truly, in the end, it’s all good. And I’m finally starting to believe it.
Amazingly, even though the battery icon is totally hollow and my phone should be shutting itself off, the camera loads and it’s ready to go. I take a shot of him. The crazy eyes are shining and proud.
I pray I can get one more shot in. I’m awful at taking self-portraits with other people with my cell phone cam—and yet, miraculously, I manage not to cut off either of our faces.
So there you go folks: the two crazies. One Italian man married to a woman from Thailand, one American woman divorced from a man from Rome.
Yesterday the Italian man who stopped in front of the restaurant with his wife, after chatting with me for some time at my little table out front, turns to me and says, “You know what?! You’re not American, you know that?”
Me: “Oh, is that so? Why is that?”
He says, “No! You’re crazy!”
I say, “Well, you’re certainly right on that one.”
He says, “So, that means you’re not really American. You’re Italian. Because only we Italians are crazy in a good way, like you.”
And I thank him for the compliment.
Crazy is good. Unexpected is better. And without sadness, there would be no way to appreciate the joy of when the matarello swings by to take you to the station for the next leg of your journey.