I want to tell you a story. It's about a girl, who found herself in a city across an ocean from her home. Where she felt all the mysteries of the universe encircle her and let her know that it was okay just to feel overwhelmed by the beauty of them, okay just to soak them in and feel the magnitude of their history. To be awe struck.
You know those things in your life that are such a part of you or that are so tightly wound in your heart that you just assume everyone knows them about you? But then you realize that most people probably don't?
Italy is one of those things for me.
In high school I visited. My first international trip. It was the most incredible thing. I still remember the shop that I got my first gelato from, to the right of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. My first taste of bliss before I tossed coins over my shoulder into the fountain to bribe lady luck into allowing me to return.
A few years later I was back. (Thanks fountain!) This time for the summer. And on the coast a few hours south of Rome. Sandwiched between the salty sea air and the mountains in an old city called Salerno. I slept in a room open to the crashing waves and every day ran along the lungamare. I remember what the stones looked like, where the old trolley tracks cut through them. I remember how the road slanted and how my favorite gelateria in the entire world is past the curve and through the narrow streets up into the town. The street sloped up. There was a glowing castle on the top of the hill. We could see it each night. Storms would roll down the coast. We could watch the clouds come over the mountaintops of Vietri and swoop down over us. So fast sometimes we couldn't outrun them back to the pensione.
And the pensione. Quattordici leone. Fourteen lions. With grape vines, wrought iron, terra cotta tiles and pastries with coffee in the morning downstairs. I've never felt more... grounded... than I did that summer in Salerno. We traveled up to Rome so everyone could see the sights. I got gelato at the same little shop to the right of the fountain and tossed a few more coins in. Couldn't hurt, right?
I was back about five years later. And while a few things were changed, my favorite coffee shop and ice cream store were exactly as I remembered. The ferry from the harbor still carved the same route up the coast, stopping in Amalfi, and Positano, and then in Capri. The lemons were still the size of nerf footballs. And the castle on the hill still glowed at night.
We eloped in front of that castle. With no permission. Overlooking my favorite city on Earth. In my favorite area of the world. The Amalfi coast is magical, but all of Italy is really.
Burned into my memory, the smooth dark gray stones on the ground. The way dinners take 3 hours and everyone is up till 1am but stores close at 5. How the whole world stops for a few hours in the afternoon (to my American frustration). The taste of table red wine. The public fountains and how cold they are. Gnocchi. The train to Rome, the crowds at the Trevi fountain. The gelato shop, still there to the right. And two more coins tossed in. So I can return again one day.
Sometimes when I focus I can recall it all with such clarity that it makes me teary eyed. It's a door. I love every detail of it so much I almost cannot bear it...
I just found out that a trip is coming up, back to the Amalfi Coast. It's on the table. And I'm terrified to say that I want it. Because what if I fall short? I've set some big goals and missed them before. But this one is different. Can I even say out loud that I want it? We'll see. But here's one thing I know for sure... I will touch those cobblestones again some day. Because I threw the coins, over my shoulder, into the fountain so legend says it has to happen, and I'll believe it because I want it to be true. Because I left a piece of my heart in Italy and I can't not go try to get it back. Because even if I miss the trip being offered, I know Italy will find a way to bring me home again.
“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” - Clarissa Pinkola Estés