I am standing on top of a very tall hill in Italy.
It is possibly the tallest hill, if not in Italy, then for sure in Lucca.
No one can tell me this is not the very tallest hill of all, in all of Lucca, because every time I ask anyone how tall the hill is, no one knows. Therefore, I say it is the tallest hill in all of Lucca because in my sweaty disheveled state it frigging well feels like it.
This hill is so tall that there is a thunderstorm at my feet.
This hill overlooks the olive groves, which overlook the villa complex of Il Borghino, which overlooks the vineyards, which overlook the valleys and hills, which overlook the ramparts, which overlook the city of Lucca.
Because Lucca is surrounded by ancient ramparts, those of us in the know refer to it as the walled city of Lucca. (Lucca rhymes with hookah.)
Pieve Santo Stefano.
I may have gotten the order of the olive groves and vineyards mixed up but all that it is important to know is that olive oil grows on trees and wine grows on vines. And here I can go outside and pluck some olive oil and pick some wine any time I wish.
The cells of my body have turned themselves inside out in paroxysms of ecstasy. I have read the phrase “paroxysms of ecstasy” once or twice in a scattered bodice boiler, but never believed such a thing to exist.
But now I know it does exist. It is what happens when you are trying to inhale wine and cheese through your pores at the same time as you are doing a downward facing dog in yoga class. And you discover that such a thing is possible and that you are very very good at it.
While standing on the mountain a cloud drifts by. It hovers beside me. It begins to speak rapidly in Italian in such a manner that I almost but not quite sort of understand what is being said. It sounds like “Scusie, scusie. Come sta? I myself am very well, thank you for almost asking. I admire you greatly as if you are a little mollusk clinging impossibly upon this sun-drenched mountain. Perhaps you noticed me as I hovered above you in a highly desirable configuration of early morning mist? You would be perfect if only you would go eat more pasta.”
Then, a lemon tree, whilst doing tree pose, accidentally drops a giant lemon on my head.
The Nova Yoga Tuscanny Retreat group has arrived at Il Borghino. We have been treated to empowering yoga classes since arriving and are so enthused that some of us have hiked up this mountain-hill. We have followed along a steep yet delicate trail of white blossoms decorated with sacred offerings of goat poop.
There are promises of wild boars which may come charging out of the bushes at any moment.
Such is the magical combination of this place and this group of remarkable people that I feel surely we will magically levitate to the top of this gargantuan-glacier-hill.
But sadly, no. We still have to climb using our limbs. But we are hardy souls and filled with such enlightenment and wisdom that we pound ahead of some of our party and lose them along the trail.
How I wept on the way to Lucca. What was the beauty that moved me to tears? Not the lounging fields of farmland, greener than any green has any right to be. A most illegal kind of addictive green. Not the wild blooms that cry out to be picked for the fun of it. No.
It was the train.
Was there ever a Newfoundlander not moved by envy, resentment and grief when faced with a train? When all we have left at home are empty railroad beds, where now no trains do lie?
The train makes the trip from Pisa to Lucca a lovely 20 minute romp, and Lucca itself is as sunny and welcoming as any city surrounded by ramparts could ever be.
There are many places to drink wine and eat whilst up on the ramparts, and this mitigates the subtle feeling that Bonaparte might attack at any moment. As he did once before.
It is upon those very ramparts that we met the sunny Ceara Bee, fellow traveler and yogi, and luminescent human.
Perhaps if in Newfoundland and Labrador we had sensibly built some sturdy ramparts around ourselves long ago, we might still have our own trains.
Driving oneself around Italy is another matter.
The best way to drive in Italy is to hire a driver, get in the back seat and close your eyes. For variety, get in the back, lie down on the floor and close your eyes. Better still, get in the back, sit down on the floor, close your eyes and sip wine.
The twisty turning roads that lead to Il Borghino are so narrow that if one vehicle meets another one coming, one must back up until such time as there is space for both to maneuver past. How it is decided exactly who must back up is a mystery known only to the Italian taxi driver. Each vehicle pauses, a mysterious communication passes silently between each driver. One then proceeds to very slowly back away.
Otherwise Italian taxi drivers are not so silent. In fact, you will never have known extreme elation in your life until you have been shrieked at by an Italian taxi driver, who will only grow more agitated when you ask to have your picture taken with him while he is yelling at you.
Unless, it is surpassed by the unbearable happiness of being bossed around by an Italian waiter.
The only Italian restaurant you want to frequent is the sort where they speak no English, there are shrieking and yelling and crashing noises emanating from the interior kitchen area, they have no tourist menu (avoid any establishment with anything resembling a tourist menu.) they rudely put delicious food in front you that you did not order and miraculously can interpret any language when it comes time to sort out the bill.
As my friend the cloud said to me: Here in Italy we are drunk on life. And a little wine doesn’t hurt either.