Tuesday, February 20, 2007

travel writing (5)

by the way, everyone, i'm not currently in italy. the story that i recount (which i begin here and conclude below) occured in the spring of 2002 and was written as part of a 1 credit writing course. indeed, i'm an adult now, and the problems that bother me today are much more profound than anything that i may have imagined as a college youth. for instance, i recently agreed to review twilight innings for imageupdate, a book that i borrowed some time ago from the editors at image, and after a long day at work, i settled in for a first glance. but the book was nowhere to be found: not in my library, not on my desk, not in the cute kitchen nook that lacks pretty pink pillows to make it properly homey, not under my bed, not in the truck cab, not between the boxes of cap'n crunchberries and honey bunches of oats, nowhere. i suppose that moving from lost train tickets to a lost book of essays isn't really a great leap of maturity after all. well, read on, perhaps you'll see something of yourself in my foolish antics, i certainly do!

...Hustling uphill toward the train station, I am reminded of the tortoise and the hare. We laud the tortoise’s persistence, training each new generation of young folk that “slow and steady wins the race.” But really, what choice does the tortoise have? He’d like to hotfoot it into the sunset, but he faces the hapless logistical nightmare of running around with a third of his body weight strapped to his back. Nonetheless, I awkwardly try to sprint up the stairs to the station—unlike the tortoise, I can’t curl up under my load and call it home.


I am not alone. The departure schedule suggests a surplus of night trains. Assuming punctuality, I’ve got about twenty-five minutes until the arrival of the 9:05, more than enough time to find a telephone booth and save the sinking ship of my first night in western Italy. It seems that the rest of Italy has the same idea. Actually, the line to use Vernazza’s only detectable phone is like a little dose of Americana. Inside, a young teenage girl can’t wait to get off the phone with mom and go grab a few drinks. Ahead of me, a pair of twenty-something women from Virginia, giant packs on hand, anxiously scramble through a list of possible accommodations. They look as a frazzled as I feel. We compare notes.

They might have the inside track on a room here in town—an apartment with an extra bed. If so, they’ll let me know. I explain that I’m considering a last ditch effort in the small town of Riomaggiore. Then, I’ll either wind up under a bush somewhere or catch the late night train to the larger, out-of-the-way city of La Spezia.


My train pulls wearily into Riomaggiore. The Virginians were unable to make contact with their Italian associate, and my phone card didn’t work. I exit the train into the warm Italian night. Like Vernazza, Riomaggiore is a curious little town of many-hued buildings that spill dangerously into the sea below. Unlike Vernazza, Riomaggiore fills two tiny ravines, not one. According to my guidebook, the station is banished in the ravine opposite the city center. Thus, I merely need to take the station elevator up the hill that separates the two slices of town and then make my way down Via Colombo, the main street, into a Mecca of vacant hostels. No such luck; orange cones encircle the elevator—construction! Just like home!

Adjusting my pack, I pick a random set of stairs and start chugging uphill. “This feels like the Alps,” my legs protest. Occasionally, I see arrows painted along the path. Optimistically, I assume they’re representative of more than uninventive graffiti, perhaps even signs of impending sleep. Finally my stairs terminate in a little parking lot at the apex of the hill. Trees, dark buildings—where’s the city center? Uh-oh. In times of crisis like this, I turn to prayer and the always-infallible travel guru, Rick Steves. There must be a map of Riomaggiore somewhere in here…

“Where are you going?” a voice bellows from another staircase.

Turning ninety degrees, I search the night for the voice. There—leaning on an iron railing some twenty feet above. “Ummm…” I struggle to recall that street name. “The main street. Via Colombo,” I shout back.

He turns slightly and points through some thick brush in the direction I was headed. I better not have to hike through that, especially in the dark. “But where are you going?”

What’s with this guy? “The Via Colombo. Riomaggiore.”

“Si. But where are you going?”

I try an address of one of the apartments: “Via Colombo 94. To sleep.” Remembering the supposed similarity between Italian and Spanish, I try and recall my junior high Spanish class—what’s 94? Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco…

“Roberto Fazioli?” he asks.

I think so. Fumbling through my travel pages, I search for the listing again.

“I am Roberto. I have one bed. Do you need a place to stay?”

Do I need a place to stay? Of course! “Si, signore!” We walk together to the little apartment, sharing a setting sun and simple conversation. At the apartment, I slump down on the bed, toss my bag aside, and sigh. Like the old tortoise, I finally made it. I’ve been stumbling, bumbling, teetering, and generally miss-stepping from one place to the next, but despite Rick Steves and in spite of myself, here I am.

this ending always makes me frown. it strikes me like an oreo--forgettably fine. in fact, if writing were a works-based faith, i might consider the 17 point scale as my work of atonement for the conclusion of this very essay. the massive let-down of my 9 page italy tale is one reason why i blog. but more on that later, i just found twilight innings, and it's time to get to work. (by the way, it was carefully packed in my laptop carrying case.)


Matt Basinger said...

GREAT story Andrew, I felt like I was there!

- matt

andrew said...

hey, thanks matt. i'm really excited that you read the whole thing for fun and liked it! i only wish that i could have ended it with something more sublime, something that would have made you say "GREAT story Andrew, I felt like I was there! And then I realized that in a sense I have been there." and of course you would have meant that second THERE as a sort of reflective affirmation of whatever self-discovery i wound up making by the end of the revised conclusion.