This morning I made myself a cup of coffee and warmed a powder sugar-topped pastry after I had fed the cat I’m sitting. The two of us enjoyed our Christmas breakfast in silence, other than the crackling fire (complete with holiday tunes) playing from my iPad Mini 2, compliments of Netflix.
Once we finished our breakfast. Nox (the cat) munched on some treats that his parents had left for him in his stocking. I sat before my host’s tree, decorated with ornaments of their first Christmas together and images of their wedding, and felt very thankful for my solitary wrapped present.
Slowly I opened it, savoring the feel of the paper and the moment of joy. It was from one of my new friends in Scotland. She gave it to me the day before I left there. It was a drawing of The Kelpies in Falkirk. I had expressed admiration for it when we all went together one perfect rainy Scottish day. I cried when I opened this lovely gift, even though my friend would tell me I was being daft if she knew. But I cried just the same.
My mother had sent a care package full of cookies, chocolate, and even a tiny Christmas tree with all the trimmings, but it remains lost somewhere in the Italian postal system. I had walked down the mile to the post office twice in the past ten days, grasping the paper in my hand on which I had written the situation in Italian, courtesy of Google Translate. Yesterday, Christmas Eve, was the last time I tried, and I cried as I walked out of the post office. My mother would be disappointed her thoughtfulness didn’t reach me in time, and she would be sad knowing I was sad. So I tried not to be.
My hosts had left a lovely box for me, filled with wine, coffee, chocolate, polenta, and pasta; however, I had already enjoyed most of that over the past 10 days. Only the chocolate & coffee remain.
A dear friend in Colorado sent me a lovely card. It’s a miracle Poste Italiene actually delivered it. Inside was a lovely story written just for me about a perfect Christmas moment beneath Big Ben on the banks of the frozen Thames, sharing mulled cider with a traveling companion.
Perhaps next year that will be my true story.
For now I cried.
Last night on Christmas Eve I contacted a divorce attorney. Things have been difficult since I arrived in Italy 17 days ago. Although I’ve seen some remarkable works of art and magnificent architecture, I’ve mostly experienced condescending, rude, cruel people (or downright predators), trashy towns covered in graffiti, and a confusing & overly-crowded transit system.
Every romantic notion I have of Italy has been permanently erased.
Still, there were two or three kind people, like the patient lady at the Cresole Poste Italiene who did her best to find my package and wasn’t rude to me when I tried to speak in broken Italian. Like the nice lady who gave me a ride into town so I could catch the train into Venice on a day the buses didn’t run out where I was. Like the taxi driver who got me home safe later that day and waited while I got the cash I had forgotten.
Besides him, Italian men displayed nothing but cruelty or repulsive predatory behavior. Like the man on the street who kicked a dog in the face. Like the man in Florence who sexually assaulted me, groping and refusing to take no for an answer until I made a scene, then stalked me until I made another scene. Like the waiter in Venice who somehow thought because I was dining alone it gave him the right to make sexual suggestions and propositions.
And yet, there was beauty. There was joy.
Alone, I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, and the Coliseum in Rome. I saw Michelangelo’s La Pieta. I saw magnificent cathedrals and ancient Roman ruins. I saw beauty between the filth, wonder amongst the graffiti. Alone, I enjoyed a gelato before the great Trevi Fountain.
Alone, I saw Michelangelo’s David in Florence. Breathless, I cried at the sight of such beauty, such perfection. I gazed and gazed at every curve, every vein, taking in the most magnificent statue on earth. I saw original Bottecellis, like La Primevera and The Birth of Venus, and I studied each brush stroke, drinking it in.
Alone, I gasped at the frescos, walked across Ponte Vecchio, and sipped a cappuccino in Piazza San Giovanni before the great Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Alone, I wandered the lovely streets of Florence and found a Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce, at which I enjoyed a cup of mulled wine on the steps of the beautiful Gothic Franciscan church.
Alone, I wove through wonderful waterways of Venice, twisting and turning beneath tiny bridges. (Yet, I was too afraid of being trapped on a gondola alone with the driver on one of those watery streets, so I didn’t do the one thing I wanted to do in Venice.) Alone, I listened to Christmas Music. Alone, I cried in Venice, the city of lovers.
Alone, on Christmas Eve, I contacted a divorce attorney. It was after nights of remembering how good we were. How in love we were. How we shared that gondola in Las Vegas, dreaming of one day visiting Venice. How we wrote books together, toured the country together, traveled together. How we’d cuddle beneath the blankets on a crips winter’s morning. How we’d sit before the fire. How we loved each other with everything we were, passionately, completely. How he was my entire world, and I his.
Past tense. All past tense. It is now only a memory, fading with the frescoes, crumbling with Roman remains.
For today, I am alone on Christmas.