Tales of a wandering lesbian

Homecoming

My return to Italy was a friendly one.  It felt like going home in a way.  To familiar airports and train stations.  To familiar smells and sounds and colors.

My return to Barga was something more essential.  It was like returning my soul to the place I first recognized it.  And to a place that had challenged me to the core of my being.  It comforted me.

And frightened me.

What would it be like to return?  Would it feel the same?  Would I be remembered?  Welcomed?  Judged?  Would my language be good enough?  Would I appear confident?  Over-confident?  Would I see her?

(The answers are: great, yes, yes, yes, maybe, yes, yes, maybe, yes.)

I tried not to think too much about it during the three weeks that came before.  Thinking about it wouldn’t change it, either way.  I’d see as much of the hodgepodge that I’d come to regard as my Italian family as possible in the two days I’d be there.

Then I got an email.  We had a place to stay.  A beautiful place.  An apartment above the home of some of my family.  And we had a ride from the train station.

Suddenly our two days became four.  The thought of spending a couple of nights in another city were lost.  The call of this home was strong.

I rode the train with my camera in-hand.  I knew the change that would take place.  How the lush fields would give way to rocky riverbeds.  I missed these rivers.  I hadn’t realized it, but now, riding over them, I felt their pull.

We changed trains in Lucca, another city where I’d been welcomed into the home of friends.

This place spoke to me, too.

I felt emotions rising as we climbed aboard the dirty, regional train, and I warned the Ant.

“I’m going to try to be cool, but I really don’t know what’s going to come up for me, emotionally.”  After all, this was the place my life had changed.  This was the place where my world had shifted dramatically, sending me into a tailspin that would bring me back a few months later to live with strangers after selling my house and quitting my job.

“You don’t have to explain.”  She looked equally shaken.  She’d been there when it happened.

We rolled along, and I considered my legs.  It’s always my legs that bring me to the present.  Snap me to the here and now.

And here I was again.  Riding the train from Lucca to Fornaci di Barga.  The names of familiar train stops flashed by.   In no time at all, we were there, hugging and kissing and thanking Ryo for picking us up.

“I don’t like Kristin!”  The first test came as I climbed in the front seat of the car.  Two-year-old Andre was crying.  “Da-ddy!”

“Yes, Andre, I’m here.”  Ryo was trying to comfort his son from the front seat.  The Ant, sitting next to the boy looked terribly unsure.  I just laughed.  It was like I’d never left.  “Andre, what is it?”

“I DON’T LIKE KRISTIN.”  Ah yes.  If you’d ever like to have your soul crushed a little, have a child scream to the heavens that he doesn’t like you.  Over and over, for 20 minutes.  In a confined space.

I just kept laughing.

Now, it turned out that Andre had been in a fit of “I don’t like” all day.  But I didn’t know that.  And it didn’t really take the sting away once I found out.  Still, it did afford me the remarkable exercise of laughing while someone declared their dislike for me.  Their honest, heartfelt, loud dislike.  Dislike that, over the course of the next 4 days would disappear completely, lost in penguin bowling and soccer.

We stopped by the house in Fornaci where I’d spent two months in the gracious care of my friends, for a quick hello and a cup of tea.  The dogs recognized me, and seemed happy enough to see me, and Berti and I greeted with hugs, kisses, and more Italian than I’d spoken the entire time I’d been there before.  Deb made me a cup of tea, and Tommy threatened me with his paint-sodden hands.

Then we were off, up the hill to Barga, where we’d be staying in the same house as Ryo and Andre, and the rest of their family.

We settled into the beautiful apartment quickly, each of us choosing a room with a big bed and too many pillows.  I sent an email to my friend Frank to let him know we were there and tell him where we’d be for dinner, in the off chance he checked his email and wanted to join us.  We’d already planned to meet the next day for lunch, but I was hoping for a little extra Frank-time.

Hungry from the day’s travels and emotions, the Ant and I decided to head into town.  We’d probably grab a pizza at the place we’d eaten the first day we spent in Barga, over a year ago.

Not to be outdone by Venice, Barga was acting like a diva throwing all kinds of dramatic clouds around the sky.

Up we climbed, into the old heart of Barga, past the studio I knew intimately, and the shop that had drawn me in with its pretty stools.  As we reached the top, huffing and puffing, I looked up from the stone street.  And I smiled.

Frank stood there.  In the middle of a group of people, chatting away.  We all smiled and called out to each other.

“Did you get my email?”

“No.  Did you just get in?”  Perfect.  This was a chance meeting.  Barga is a small place, but I was happy to celebrate meeting Frank here tonight.

He joined us for dinner.  One of many meals we would share over the next few days.  Only our morning coffee and pastry were reserved for the two of us.  Nearly every other meal was in the company of others.

Pizza with the whole family,

curry and rugby at the house,

pasta and opera with Frank.

It was a whirlwind of food and love and discussion and humility.  And every second in between was filled with middle-of-the-street conversation with new friends,

visits to ancient cloisters,

and familiar views.

We even squeezed in games of Pictionary, tossing my little Italian dictionary back and forth.  Playing in two languages.  And when the game was put away, the dishes done, and our last goodbyes said, the final night continued.

The one family member I hadn’t seen enough of during my last trip remained.

“We could play games,” I suggested.

“I’d like that,” she said in her perfect English.

The Ant tucked behind her bedroom door, we closed ourselves into the drawing room.  For four hours we shuffled and dealt and talked.  About life and love, and language.  About “r” and “rr” and “d” and “tt.”   We argued about where your tongue hits your teeth when you say “do.”  And I amazed her with my perfect pronunciation of “boh.”

“You are Italian!” she exclaimed.

I muttered something in her language.

“No, you are a stranger.”  A stranger.  It was more crushing than a two year old screaming his dislike.

I wasn’t a stranger.  Just a newcomer.  After all, I recognized people on the street.  And they recognized me.

When we finally called it quits, I walked her to her car, relishing the summer air and the flickering lightning bugs.

“A dopo,” I promised to me as much as to her.  It wasn’t forever, just until later.

Bookmark and Share

8 comments

1 Heather { 07.09.10 at 9:28 pm }

What a beautiful story 🙂 Thank you for sharing it.

2 Big Mama { 07.10.10 at 6:48 pm }

Why do you bring me to tears with your writing? What is it about Italy…..Barga……

3 Amanda { 07.15.10 at 11:00 am }

Your writing is so expressive and perfectly written! Barga sounds beautiful and I will definitely be adding it to my traveling list!

4 Tribe of One { 07.15.10 at 11:10 am }

That kid is stupid. I like Kristin.

5 Big Mama { 07.15.10 at 4:52 pm }

I do too!!

6 Deed { 07.15.10 at 6:22 pm }

Takes me back in thought…..now I want to back physically!!!!!

7 Ryo { 07.17.10 at 1:05 pm }

Bad timing…
André doesn’t like waking up in the place he didn’t fall asleep and does not like to be confronted on waking up…
Besides, he doesn’t really mean “I don’t like you”… but, “I can’t deal with your presence right now”.

As father, I apologise for his forthright rudeness… He needs to learn to be slightly more diplomatic.

8 KFlick { 07.17.10 at 1:47 pm }

Hahahaha. Andre is actually a bright kid. I’m sure the he was deeply emotionally scarred when I disappeared from his life. Next time I’ll leave a life-sized cut-out in my absence so that my reappearance isn’t so jarring. 🙂

I have no doubt you will imbue diplomacy on both of your beautiful children, Ryo.

Leave a Comment