11 March 2012

Lost in translation

"On the way to God-don’t-know, my brain’s the burger & my heart’s the coal
on this life that we call home the years go fast & the days go so slow."
-- Modest Mouse

Mom & I both awoke early to catch the once-a-day shuttle to La Biodola. Like yesterday, we were the only guests utilizing it. Beforehand, we dined on the usual European continental breakfast presented by Park Hotel Napoleone. Once again, we would not have a full day on Elba. At 15:30 we were supposed to catch the ferry back to the mainland, then onward to Fiumicino (not just the name of the international airport but also a coastal town with cheaper lodging options than Roma).

Our first day in Elba we were so anxious to get to the beach – especially after all the mishaps we experienced – but today felt even more relaxed because we knew what to expect. Mom’s gashes started turning from bright reds to deep purples and she was sore from the motorcycle accident so we had more reason to take the day at a slow pace. La Biodola was just as unbelievable as yesterday but with two differences: it was low tide & there were boats anchored in the cay.
In an effort to maximize our time at the beach, Mom & I planned to travel from La Biodola directly to Portoferraio, bypassing a stop at our Park Hotel Napoleone to retrieve our belongings. I’m sure we looked odd, but we both hauled our backpacks & rolling luggage through the fine sand. This time we parked under an umbrella in the row furthest from the water since there would be less traffic (read: less chance of everything being stolen). I positioned my lounge chair in the sunlight and halfway dozed… that restful state where you’re still aware of what’s going on around you yet your mind is fluid. After about 30 minutes I roused. I was minding my own business when the lifeguard/employee/hottest man in the universe from yesterday approached me, observed our plethora of items, and asked "You no need a shuttle back today?"

I reacted the way it happens in movies… I paused a moment (to assure he wasn’t talking to someone behind me) to process what was occurring. I could not fathom that Adonnis was talking to me! Of course I drooled over him yesterday with his perfect smile and alluring charisma, but now – up close – I noticed his bronze, washboard abs and muscular legs (thanks to the mid-thigh board shorts). With a stealth, discreet glance I secretly studied every curve of his body. Adonnis looked so good I wanted to snap a picture of him, like a rare and exotic animal at the zoo.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, I explained the purpose for bringing everything to the beach. I tried to regain my composure but it was like trying to have a conversation with The Beatles: I felt giddy, and starstruck. The initial shuttle question diverged into a full-blown conversation with Giacomo (his real name). I learned he was born in Elba, along with his mother. He deduced I was from the United States, and – like most Australians – only knew of California, New York and Florida. He had never crossed the Atlantic to visit, but described that his mother went on a cruise from Miami, Florida. I tried to brief him on the whereabouts of Ohio but I think something got lost in translation so I abandoned the geography lesson and summarized with "There are no beaches like here [on Elba]. There’s a lot of corn." I had to kill my curiosity & the stereotype so I asked Giacomo if he surfed. To my surprise he did not, but named the popular Italian surf spots on the mainland. That somehow led to us chatting about winter sports. He mentioned that he still worked over the winter (though not at the beach since it was too cold) and skiied. I told him that I snowboarded, hoping to win some cool points. After about 15 heart-pounding minutes of conversation I reverted back to my typical, wise-guy self and cracked a joke about how snowboarders think skiiers are dorky. Giacomo gave me a glazed over look and a polite but crooked smile. In my mind, I heard the chirping of crickets. Giacomo was infallibly gorgeous but did not understand my American humor.

I was so caught up in the moment that – to this day – I cannot remember how our conversation ended, but somehow I peeled myself away from the blonde siren. I don’t recall the details but I promise you I floated back to the lounge chair. Admittedly, I was a little miffed that I hadn’t been hit on by a single Italian male (yes, there was Lucca from outside the Colisseum but that wasn’t genuine). Wasn’t Italia the birthplace of Cassanova and Fabio? Italian men were famous for being romantic, passionate lovers. The past three weeks & lack of interest from the opposite sex had scathed my ego…. but no longer! Now, I felt like I had won the lottery.

I grounded myself and strode to the sea. The water felt a tad cooler, but was incredibly calm. In fact, the Tyrrhenian Sea was so docile I was able to wade 75% of the distance between the shore and the parked yachts. Though the water was up to my neck the waves barely crested, allowing me to float on my back and drift with the sea. Eventually I returned to dry land where the wannabe-waves slowly lapped inward.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time to permanently leave the idyllic island and man. But I don’t go out like that. With this new-found confidence I marched right up to Giacomo and explained that I had to leave but that I was glad to meet him & hoped to return to Elba. His reply matched his uber-cool persona: "I will be here."

This time Mom & I caught a break – for what seemed like the first time – with our transportation! The taxi (another van) arrived on time without a hitch. Though we didn’t try to barter we handed over the exact amount we had paid from the hotel to the beach (despite Portoferraio being significantly further away). In addition, our taxi was so efficient that we were an hour early for our pre-purchased ferry on Moby Ale. I wondered what we were going to do for an hour in the heat and boring town of Portferraio.

Mom suggested we press our luck and board the ship already docked. So I ripped the right corner off the top of our tickets so that all the information was visible/in tact except the boarding time. As soon as we summitted the four flights of metal stairs, the deckhand sealed the ship’s door and we were on our way… but to where?
No sooner had I sat down that I was overcome with the panic that only a control-freak [like me] feels. I hadn’t checked any signs! Since we were on an earlier ship we could be headed anywhere else the Moby ferries travel to, like Corsica. Mom was convinced we were on the right ship and I told myself there was no use fretting because I was on this ship for the long haul. Right or wrong destination, Mom & I were on a one-way ticket.

The return ride on Moby Ale was pleasant from the top deck. The wind tricked us into thinking we weren’t getting sunburnt. I observed some gulls riding the coattails of the ferry’s airstream. Amazingly, they rarely flapped their wings. The white birds looked so content as they undulated upward and downward. Their motions reminded me a little of the way dolphins swim, so the remainder of the trip was spent surveying for more gulls (or dolphins) to enviously admire. Infrequently the linear, blue on blue background was broken up by an obtuse object like a sailboat. I also saw the cutest chunk of land (I don’t think it was large enough to classify as an island) that strangely had nothing but a church on it.
Despite being isolated in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea I pleaded with Mom to – if even for a minute – view the absolutely amazing scenery. She unsteadily walked to the railing for a picture. Finally and much to my relief, land started to look familiar. We were regressing to Piombino, Italy. Though we were only gone for 24 hours, Elba was so unique and relaxing it felt much longer.

Mom & I settled onto the train that would take us all the way back to where we first touched down in Europe. At first, it was interesting to pass through the small towns. We saw shanties and elaborate Italian-style country houses alike. At one point as I started out of the window, I briefly saw a man fishing from the bank of a creek. One of the most cheerful surprises was passing through the endless fields of sunflowers, all facing the same direction, in Tuscany.
Eventually the sunflower fields were replaced by olive groves as we returned to Lazio. I could feel the anxiety internally building up. We were going home tomorrow. There would be no more happy adventures in this country. Mom & I discussed how three & a half weeks on the road had left us graciously drained. We lamented that we couldn’t teleport back to the U.S.A. But like all avid travelers, we agreed that if we were both offered free flights to France/Germany/anywhere on the continent we would extend our stay & push on without hesitation.

In the third hour the train ride was starting to drag on so Mom & I played a little game (a la Eat, Pray, Love) where we summarized each place with solely a word. This was my account of our travels:
* Athens, Greece  = torn
* Santorini/Thira, Greece = fun

* Rome, Italy = opulent
* Pompeii, Italy = haunting
* Florence = artistic
* Siena, Italy = medieval
* Elba, Italy = unspoilt a.k.a. unspoiled
* Canton, United States of America = home

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