We Won't Soon Forget
The fact that it was after midnight, two members of our party had been traveling for most of the day and one had to begin her travels at 4:30 the next morning did nothing to stop us from ascending the mountain on the banks of the Adige River to the church that overlooks Verona. That’s just what it’s like to travel with Loretta — and all the women in my family — full of heedless wonder.
For two weeks this summer I got the chance to hop around northern Italy with my family. During the first week my god sister Eliza and I traveled from Genoa to Florence and then to Verona. The second week, the Sullivan clan went from Verona, up to the mountains in Val Gardena, down to Sirmione on the shores of Lake Garda, before returning to Venice to fly home. But for one magical night, all seven of us were in Verona together.
We had dinner in an alley criss-crossed by string lights, where the tables were small and close together. The chef worked not only at making the food, but also taking orders, serving dishes and cleaning up at the end of the night. Sitting around that table, and countless others over the course of the trip I felt at once completely at ease and utterly fulfilled.
After dinner, and of course gelato, Loretta decided we needed to climb to the church overlooking the city. We were in sandals and dresses and it was a long, steep climb on equal parts narrow road and rocky trail. When we reached the top, the gates surrounding the church were locked. But the hillside in front of the magnificent building was filled with people sitting there in the dark gazing out at a sparkling Verona. From that vantage point the river flowed soundlessly around the glowing city like black silk. It’s a sight none of us will soon forget.
Most of our days were filled with long walks through the sweltering city streets, broken up by the cool, still air of giant cathedrals built centuries past that seem to dot every neighborhood, or the air conditioned quiet of cavernous museums that play host to some of the great treasures of the art world.
In Florence, we bustled through the crowded streets to see the remnants of the wealth and influence of the powerful Medici family. We gawked at the David, tiptoed across the marble floor of the private Medici chapel and admired the statues of dawn and dusk that adorn the tombs. We saw the nine bronze busts of Michelangelo himself and watched the summer solstice sunset from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Eliza discovered the best view of the famous Duomo from the tiny rooftop bar of a hostel where we listened to the excited recommendations of a group of Mexican college students who were there studying abroad. It was an afternoon neither of us will soon forget.
In the Dolomite mountains we took long hikes across green, verdant valleys in the shadows of abrupt, sharp, rocky peaks. We ate dumplings and drank radlers. It was in this cool, mountainous town that Tony, our 92-year-old, German-speaking neighbor invited us into his home. Whether or not any of us were hesitant didn’t really matter; Loretta was sure. Unconditionally pure souls can recognize one another despite a language barrier.
He served us Grappa infused with chamomile and sugar, played his sextet harmonica, yodeled and talked to us for quite some time. The only hang up? None of us spoke a lick of German and he didn’t understand a word of our fumbling Italian, Spanish or English. It’s a midmorning meetup none of us will soon forget.
In Lake Garda we crossed over the medieval drawbridge and through the renaissance-era city gate to explore the tiny old town that encompasses the entire peninsula. We kayaked around the ancient ruins that adorn its shores and swam in the clear blue water. It’s a swim none of us will soon forget.
We traveled for the adventure. For the art, the ruins, the midnight treks, delicious food and spellbinding mountain views. But I’d be lying if I said those were my favorite parts.
A few weeks ago there was a column in Rumble about the last time you felt free, how each individual has different associations with the word and different needs in order to feel it. Each and every dinner spent with the women I love and admire in Italy felt like moments of full freedom. We talked about everything. What connects us and what we experience individually. We talked about the good, the bad and the ugly; the beautiful, tragic and mundane. We laughed until tears formed in the corners of our eyes and for hours at a time we felt no need or pressure to move from the gathering we inhabited.
We didn’t need to go to Italy to find these moments — we could have been anywhere in the world. But it didn’t hurt to be in a place that places value on the aspects of life that facilitate human connection. Good food, good wine and long, relaxed meals. It’s a trip none of us will soon forget.
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You've captured the essence of a love of life! Sounds magical and totally freeing-as if reading in a spellbinding novel!
Thanks for sharing!