Being happy

"The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea."
--Isak Dinesen

Finally, around 14:00 Mom & I – out of options since Elba did not rent automatic cars nor anything else on four wheels -- attempted to visit La Biodola. It was the beach closest to our hotel and rumored to be one of the most beautiful. The busy woman at the front desk of the Park Hotel Napoleone called another employee who worked at the beach but could not get ahold of him. After all of our fiascos, I was not surprised. She continued calling for another fifteen minutes without answer. The front desk attendant woefully told us if we went to La Biodola it was possible we would not have lounge chairs and would have to remain in …gasp… the public section. After everything we endured since 3:30 in the morning in Firenze, Mom & I could care less about seating. The dark-haired, sweet woman called a taxi and promised to keep contacting the beach employee.

We moseyed outside and waited in the shade to avoid the usual summer heat. The atmosphere was silent except for the sound of birds tweeting. Beyond the small valley that Park Hotel Napoleone rested in – just like the view from the ferry -- I saw nothing but treetops.
The unmarked white van that was the taxi pulled up the hotel’s driveway and Mom & I were greeted by a smiling, balding man who spoke minimal English. When we told him our destination he responded with "bellisima" a.k.a. very beautiful. The tan, older gentleman noticed I was eating an apple. Without uttering a word he popped open the glove compartment and revealed a handful of light green objects that resembled grapes on steroids. He gave me two and passed two back to Mom. It was difficult to understand his words but we gathered that the green nuggets were actually fruit from this man’s garden (it sounded like he called them "sancheras") & he ate them every day as part of his lunch. They were a tad larger than cherry tomatoes and two fit comfortably in my palm. I took a nibble of the fruit (which didn’t have the squishyness of a grape like I anticipated; the texture under the skin was more like a plum’s).
Anyway, after fifteen minutes in the van we neared the top of the winding main road. Our driver turned right and I saw the descending pavement ahead. 30 yards down the singular, unnamed street, the foliage opened up and the adorable old man, Mom & I were staring down a tan-colored cliff at the entire cove of La Biodola. It was like staring down at the ground from atop The Eiffel Tower. An almost birdseye view of the beach, on both sides protected by jagged rock walls. The view was breath-taking!
The taxi ride totaled €18. I opened the van’s door and immediately smelled the salt. I took a deep breath. Growing up in San Francisco, CA, I learned the distinct smell of the ocean from an early age. When I lived in Myrtle Beach, SC, I took my puppy to the beach every day and sat with her – twenty feet from the Atlantic Ocean – for hours as she played. Scientists hypothesize smell is the sense that triggers the most powerful memories in people. For me, smelling the Tyrrhenian Sea was like coming home after so long. After the trials of the past three weeks – not to mention since 4:00 that same day – I think that was the point I finally relaxed.
Mom & I trodded through the deep, loose sand toward the shoreline. There the sand was darker brown, smoother and easier to traverse since it was weighted down by the sea. We strolled the equivalent of two city blocks and found the marked area for Park Hotel Napoleone guests. Although the front desk attendant could not guarantee beach chairs for us there were plenty of empty spots since it was after lunch. As Mom & I claimed a pair of lounge chairs next to a closed umbrella, I did not notice the man approaching us. "I’ve been expecting you!" he proclaimed in accented English.

Bent over the chair, I looked up and was momentarily stunned by the welcoming brown eyes and genuine smile that greeted us. This guy was – no exaggeration – the most beautiful man I have seen in my entire life. His teeth were bright white in the natural light and his skin was golden from head to toe. He had the perfect nose – not hook-shaped or too big. He was the stereotype of a California surfer dude with his chin-length, tangled hair which ranged from brown roots to platinum blonde strands, most likely from the sun’s rays. Though it wasn’t my initial observation, his arms – not to mention his entire physique – were muscular and made him look like a living replica of Adonnis.

In broken English and conversation, Mom & I realized he was the employee that the front desk attendant had been repeatedly calling. "No wonder he didn’t answer," I thought "he was too busy hanging ten." The Hottest Guy On The Planet opened up the umbrella for us and left to monitor the guest bathroom/changing area. This left Mom & I alone to inhale the moment. We were here. La Biodola was the realization of our dreams & result of our blood (actually just Mom’s blood from crashing the motorcycle), sweat and tears. Whoever quoted "it’s the journey, not the destination" I would sorely disagree after this day.  Other than missing Mom atop Mt. Vesuvius, being at La Biodola was an emotional apex for me. As I stared at the sea, I kept recounting what Liz Gilbert wrote in Eat, Pray, Love: "…people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon & sometimes even travel around the world looking for it… And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it." I was beyond relieved to be at La Biodola but moreover I was happy that we overcame the series of unfortunate events.
I laid out my towel and basked in the sun like a cold-blooded gator. When the heat became unbearable I decided to – literally – test the waters even though it was high tide. When the water was at my knees I felt the strong pull of the tides and stumbled a few times. As I half-walked, half-paddled further out the water became more turbulent. When I was up to my waist it was incredibly difficult to keep my footing as the monster, transparent waves continuously pounded my back. To avoid the beating I sank underwater and pretended I was dead, letting my limbs go wherever the current took them. For a few seconds letting go was peaceful, then I was jostled around much like a sock in a washing machine. After repeating this routine for 20 minutes I was pooped and headed back to dry land.
When you’re tired it is amazing how depleting swimming can be. I emerged from the sea ravenous! I found food at the only permanent fixture at the beach. It was part bar/part snack bar but nothing sounded appealing. I returned to our reserved seating and there on the small table attached to the umbrella was my favorite fruit: fresh pineapple. Apparently, this was someone’s mobile business. A sun-worn Italian man patrolled the shoreline selling a quarter of a whole pineapple (which he cut into bite size pieces with an excessively large machete) and – as a courtesy – a chunk of coconut which he artfully and responsibly served on a palm leaf. No utensils needed. No cleanup needed.

Mom & I snacked, chatted, napped, and swam again before it was time to catch the 18:00 return shuttle to Park Hotel Napoleon. With twenty minutes to spare, Mom & I waited at the bottom of the steep hill at the only roundabout at La Biodola. We were a bit unsure of what we were looking for since the taxi had been an unmarked utility van. For about 10 minutes we waited with another family for the shuttle… until it turned out the family was waiting for Dad to bring the car around. At 18:00, it was still just Mom & I... still waiting...
We tried to be patient but at 18:20 we were positively flummoxed. Since my hair was straggly, my eyes had black bags under them, and my swimsuit was soaking through my clothes, I chose to stay behind & wait in case the shuttle showed while Mom walked back to the reserved area to inquire with the hunky hotel employee about our ride. Ten minutes later she returned up the walkway. Neither the employee from earlier nor Mom understood why the scheduled shuttle never appeared!? Nonetheless, The Hottest Man Alive called back to the hotel and one was en route. Once again I felt like we were in an alternate universe where no one seemed to mind the time or general guidelines.

Mom & I successfully returned with 30 minutes until the hotel restaurant re-opened for dinner. The little cafes at the bus stop downhill from the Park Hotel Napoleone were boarded up until tomorrow. Our location was rather isolated so we decided to sup at the hotel regardless of how outrageous the cost. After all, it was our first – and last – night on Elba.

Like the usual freaks, Mom and I passed on the wine. Our server was very sweet and translated the Italian-only menu for us as well as gave us more detailed descriptions verbally. Course #1: the fruit & vegetable buffet. Course #2: antipasto. I had linguine with pesto while Mom chose rotellini with tuna. Course #3: the main entrée. Mom received pork tenderloin with potatoes and I had fish fillet (The fish tasted delicious but -- as an American -- I was crestfallen and annoyed to discover tons of sharp, white, little bones in the fillet. Yet when I looked around, all the Italians took a bite then pulled out the bones nonchalantly. I guess my expectations were too high). Course #4: dessert. Chocolate le bombe with a sweet, dark sauce and tangy orange. All in all it was an experimental but tasty dinner.

By now the sun was completely set and a cozy vibe overcame the Park Hotel Napoleone as the tiki torches were lit to ward off the airborn bugs.  It reminded me of camping because everything in the distance, away from the hotel's grounds, was blanketed in darkness and silence. In a way I was glad Park Hotel Napoleone's atmosphere was so tame because that meant Mom and I could go to bed at 20:30 without feeling like we were missing part of the action.  Running around the train station at 4:30, wrecking a motorcycle, baking in the sun and braving fierce waves was enough action for us both.

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