April 27, 2015
Poppies spring from the old stone steps.A wind blows as I clatter down all 100 of them to the village “drawing room.” But in the piazza there’s warmth: we’re cocooned by the cathedral and buttery palazzi all around. The sun keeps my foamy coffee warm.
An old car gleams with nostalgia out on the street.
Two carabinieri saunter by in suits with a bright red stripe. They always travel in pairs. Brioches bake just inside the door. Bells roar. Umbrellas and birds flutter about. Even my hair is clean and smells good as it blows over my face. I scrawl in my notebook. Could there be a more perfect moment?
The piano teacher shuffles by and asks where is il marito, the husband? A constant concern of his.
Now all that remains in my cup is foam. I take the tiny spoon and scrape and scrape. I cannot bear for this moment to end.
Along comes Salvatore, 96.
He tells me stories, this time about how he helped to plant the towering palm trees on the piazza as a kid. I love(d) these palms with a mad passion; four of the six have just been chopped down. (Big brown bugs.) My happiness quotient drops to 90%, fretting about it (again).
There’s the clanking of glass as the barista with rock-like biceps plunks an ashtray on every single table. A pigeon swoops by, too close.
Three tourists labor up the hill toward the cathedral. “No! Go away!” I don’t actually yell this, though I want to. Out come the purple iPads, raised high overhead like golf trophies. My happiness quotient drops to 85%.
Here comes long-lost chain-smoking Giorgio, with his long grey ponytail. He helped plaster my old wine cantina. We kiss hello; talk 15 seconds; kiss goodbye–lots of kissing with a few cliches thrown in for good measure. Happiness quotient bounces back up.
Do I have a right to be happy? People are dying in earthquakes, sinking in rickety boats in the Mediterranean. Joy brings guilt. I get up to visit Suleiman, a refugee from Ghana being housed in the village. For five months he’s been lost in the Italian legal system. Will he ever find happiness?