Start with beautiful clear gray water, sparkling with gentle accents from the sun running in diamond currents just beneath its surface… Marry that water to a rocky shore made up of cliffs dropping into the sea; put some random terraces on those cliffs, and line those terraces with lemon trees extending along the cliffs. Wait, that’s not quite enough– yes there are lots of blank rocky spaces on the cliffs, but on the ledges and terraces, add many more lemon trees, aligned like citrus-bearing soldiers laden with yellow ammunition! Put rows of them on every terrace, every available scrap of earth on the mountainsides, broken up only by residences perched precariously on the cliffs, just off the two lane highway that hairpins over and around from Positano to Amalfi. As you negotiate this road, winding along the coast, you will pass through small villages, clusters of homes, and businesses and hotels. See the colorful stucco walls, the various shades of tile, the cliffs rising not only above you, but falling beneath you as well, either covered in lush green vegetation or providing rock formations that make for interesting interpretations as they interrupt your view of the sea. Occasional boats dot the water, although traffic is light since it is very early in the season… Every so often there will be an extension of rock out from the shoreline, creating a small peninsula and an advantageous viewing position. On these such vantage points, very old castles or forts still stand, attempting now to look like a restaurant or a residence, but failing because their shape and scale and massive gray stonework will never permit them to be anything but a castle or fort. At one time, hundreds of years ago, they enabled someone to control this coastline with some well-placed artillery, but today they are part of the scenery. The road along the Amalfi coast connects them, but not always efficiently. Two narrow lanes, hairpin turns, Italian drivers, unconcerned pedestrians, and scores of different sized and shaped vehicles make this road an adventure to drive. Nothing is guaranteed, and tourist schedules are reconfigured to Italian time, tempered by the realities of Amalfi traffic. Cars (small cars, mini Coopers, Smart cars), motorcycles, scooters and trucks of every shape and size grind to a halt. We are on a downhill space, overlooking a “T” intersection coming into the hairpin turn below us.Nothing from our lane is moving, and a 20-something man is blocking our bus’s path with a legal-looking hand signal that must mean stop! His presence is the only indication that something might be amiss with traffic flow. The scooters and motorcycles all zip around us and head down towards Amalfi, as do several small cars. After they pass, numerous vehicles coming up hill are allowed to zoom on past us, and still we sit, waiting for a signal to go… Trucks come by, other busses rumble past, and still we sit. Cars coming into our lane from the “T” are getting stacked up. Cars behind us are also deadlocked now. Finally, after about 30-40 minutes, a female Carbinieri arrives on a scooter from around the downhill bend, and begins to talk to the easy going young construction worker. Their hands fly, mouths move, and he talks to someone on his radio. She gestures and talks on HER radio. Some others nearby them join in, adding to the discussion. There is a big empty flatbed truck wedged comfortably into a space very few people in the US would have even considered trying to park such a truck, and they point to it, then point back down the mountain. Everyone seems somewhat frustrated, perhaps confused, but mostly are wearing their “what-are-you-gonna-be-able-to-do-about-it? look…He shrugs, they disperse, and she putt-putts back downhill around the corner. In awhile (10 minutes? Who knows?) she returns, leading a large vehicle obviously designed for road grading or material sifting, which crawls up the road slowly, large extended conveyor out over its cab, treads bringing it laboriously uphill towards the truck. Two guys in hard hats ride in it, guiding its ponderous structure along the narrow, twisted turns. It parks in its lane, looking wide enough from where we sit to block everything. “Ahhh!” we think, they will load this vehicle onto the flatbed, and clear some space, and THEN we can resume our journey. But no, there is another discussion, more gestures, more pointing… If this were opera it could not be more confusing! The carabinieri directs some cars this way, clears some from the “T”, motorcycles opportunistically race forward, cutting in and around other vehicles, and MORE traffic is allowed to come past us again from down the hill, then we are held up while some smaller cars come around us from behind us? The big road machine stays parked, the flatbed semi stays parked, and finally, for no apparent reason, our bus is allowed to move. We squeeze by the machine with about 2 inches to spare, and continue around the corner. There we find the source of this hour and a half delay, the reason that dozens of cars, trucks and busses on the Amalfi road were dead-locked and brought to a stand-still. Around another turn we encounter construction signs, one lane is closed and there are 3-4 workers with a bucket of cement and some bricks, repairing the guard rail. That’s it. “Aaaah! we think, “this is Italy!”
We are getting ready to go on vacation today– and it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” vacations, to Rome (the eternal city) and Tuscany, the heart of Italian wine country and culture. We have been thinking about and preparing for this vacation for over a year, and it seemed as if this day would never come! We have spent hours thinking about going, looking forward to our sojourn in Italy. But now we are killing time today at home, waiting for our evening flight and in the meantime trying to think of what we might need in Italy, or what we may have forgotten to pack. We are also readying our home for our absence– our dog Abby is at grandma’s, the timers are set on a couple of lights, the potted plants are all near sprinklers now, and the thermostats are programmed. As I walk through our home, I feel strangely disconnected, knowing that I am leaving for even a short while to reside somewhere else. Even though our home is warm and familiar, I am looking forward to the journey ahead– new sights, new places and food, new friends, and new adventures! We have been so looking forward to this trip that it has affected our reading, our conversation, and our priorities. It’s amazing how an upcoming experience like this makes an impact on what we do and how we feel– and today we feel the thrill of anticipation, knowing that we will soon look upon work by Michaelangelo, DaVinci, and see first hand the wonders of ancient Rome… that anticipation is so pervasive that part of me has already left this familiar home and is projecting my thoughts to the trip ahead. I’m ready to go!
Then it struck me… I will also be going on a trip soon, one to the “eternal city”, one that will involve new places and friends, where the work of Michaelangelo and DaVinci will seem insignificant, and where growth, friendship, and revelation will be continuous and inspiring. Anticipation will be endlessly fulfilled and surpassed, conjoined with even more delightful anticipation that will be again fulfilled and surpassed. And I wondered… is THAT trip affecting my reading, my thoughts, my conversation? Has it changed my priorities? Am I looking forward to my ultimate destination with enough connection and assurance that I am preparing to go, taking care of details, and not feeling TOO connected to this familiar home? Peter said that we are aliens and sojourners, people on a journey to a wondrous destination, and that as temporary residents we should take care not to get too wrapped up in temporal pursuits. We are never told to ignore our place on this earth, but we are reminded of its brevity– so we should smell the roses, and appreciate not only where we are going, but we should also enjoy where we are, even when the season is temporary. May our journey enliven and transform us, and may we recognize the wonder in our sojourn, even as we anticipate the joy in our arrival!