We are here! After a year of planning, months of wrangling with paperwork, and an uncomfortable but uneventful flight, we have arrived in Italy. We collected our copious amount of luggage and found our friends waiting for us at the airport. They graciously didn’t widen their eyes at the sight of our bulging bags but proceeded to cram and stuff them into the trunk and backseat, and we were on our way to our new temporary home by the sea.
We now reside in a beach community north of Anzio in a cute, little efficiently-furnished, semi-independente house just steps from the Mediterranean. It is essentially a duplex, with another family living in the house attached on one side. While Giorgio says they live there year-round and we see them outside, their shutters seem always to be closed. The street is narrow with access to houses only on the right side of the road; on the left a long wall demarks the homes on the next street over. All the homes are walled or fenced off from the street with tall gates giving seclusion and a sense of mystery to the dwellings behind. Giorgio threw open the shutters and showed us the house and the particulars about living here: how to light the stove, where the gas line comes in from a bombola (a bulbous propane tank just outside), the bedroom we’ll occupy, bathrooms, the little service building with a shower and washing machine -where we are to take our showers as the water heater in there is electric whereas the water in the indoor bathrooms is heated by the bombola, which is apparently very costly to refill and thus used only for cooking. A little rustic perhaps, but the beach is only a block away and the house is free.
The first thing I notice is the sweet, strong scent of honeysuckle perfuming the air. The small secluded yard is well-planted with flowering shrubs and annuals, as well as fruit trees and herbs, all neatly bordered with small rocks. From the upstairs bedroom window I looked out over the surrounding walls and notice that our garden is by far the nicest. Birds sing and call as I breathe in the honeysuckle and lemon blossoms. Potted cacti line up along the wall just outside our front door. There are two varieties of palm trees. Francesca, reminding me of my friend Lynn, is a gardener at heart and has taken great care to create a lovely atmosphere. The garage, a small guest house and the service building form a wall and make the garden feel sheltered.
I lie down for a short rest, much-needed after the long, sleepless flight, hour drive, and unceasing motion sensation that is beginning to make me feel queasy. I notice that the bed and linens and even the velour couch all feel damp. I admit that my first thought was, “we need a dehumidifier,” then I realized how very American that sounded, even if the thought only occurred in my head. Of course it’s damp; we live a block from the sea! Being a desert-dweller for nineteen years has given us a different perspective on humidity and we are aware of the moisture in the air, which makes our skin feel clammy.
There are also accompanying bugs – the dreaded zanzare, mosquitoes, which like to eat me alive. I am sure that by week’s end I’ll be covered in the characteristic welts that balloon up on my skin when bitten. In New Mexico mosquitoes are not much of a problem (lack of moisture) and I tend to forget the bothersome buggers exist. The other bugs which love me, and which I loathe and are present here, are what we call “no-see-ums”, the miniscule, irritating insects. I was once swarmed by these creatures in the mountains in NM, bitten all over me; I was covered with extremely itchy welts for over a miserable week, so their presence here is not a welcome sight to me. Giorgio is happy of my presence, which draws the blood-suckers away from him as no bug can pass up the opportunity to attack me if they possibly can help it.
While Giorgio naps Bryan and I walk the short distance to the sea, and down the long, curving, covered staircase that leads to the beach. There are a few people scattered about sun-bathing, and three or four who are brave enough to swim before la stagione has officially begun. I think the water is still rather cool, but the sand is very warm beneath my feet and I immediately find three intact shells to send to my grandma as I’d promised to do. We listen to the tide, breath the salt-cleansed air and say, “we’re here!” as we smile at each other.
Later Giorgio takes us into Anzio to show us around. He points out the general direction of the closest train station, about 1 ½ kilometers uphill from our house. He shows us the closest supermarket, which is in our neighborhood but which we probably would never have found on our own, tucked away among the houses and apartments, which he says is convenient but piu caro, more expensive. He drives past the fish monger, the produce vendor he prefers, the supermarket where he normally shops, all of which are reachable only with a car, which we do not have. There is a bus, he says, but doesn’t know the schedule. We hope we can figure out the timetable quickly.
In Anzio our trusty local guide takes us to the centro where we stroll about. He shows us where local fisherman sometimes sell their catch to the public if they have anything left after fulfilling their commercial orders. I see a hair salon and am reminded that I desperately need a haircut, which I didn’t have time for before I left, but find that I’m suddenly, completely intimidated by the prospect of going into a salon and trying to communicate what I want in a foreign language that I can barely speak. A bit of fear grips me unexpectedly. I need to “get over it” if I’m going to get anything accomplished here; now is the not the time for timidity. I decide that my new mantra will be, “don’t be a wimp!” and I hope that it will give me courage when I falter.
After a grilled dinner with a little bit of vino we go to bed to sleep off the effects of jetlag. The shutters plunge the room into total darkness, which I like but Bryan fears he’ll have to get up in the middle of the night and slam his toes into something, so he opens them a crack. We sleep soundly until about 6:30. We open the shutters to the sound of the birds and the scent of the honeysuckle. We are here in Italia.