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Report 1084: A Springtime Slow Travel Prize: Ten Glorious Days In Umbria And A Little Bit Of Rome

By Stella from New York, NY, Spring 2006

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Page 8 of 12: The Very Quiet Day

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On wobbly knees

Perhaps it was a massive food hangover that set the stage for the day to come, our last full day in Umbria. Perhaps we had just grown a bit weary of each other. Perhaps both of us were simply sad about the end of our time in Shangri-la looming ahead of us. Regardless of the reason, what happened was that we woke up and had a huge fight.

Things started out ok. We were both too full from the night before to face the loaf of bread, but we made a few pots of coffee and shared the paper as usual. C. then got up and said he was going to explore some of Silvana and Mauro’s property, did I want to come? I didn’t, not quite ready to do any exploring, so I continued to read the paper on the porch.

C. was gone for about a half-hour and came back for his camera. He had found some bizarre tree-house like structures in the forest surrounding Le Case Gialle, towards the road the led from the direction of Bevagna. He wanted to take pictures of them. I decided at that point to take a shower while he continued his adventure, and began to re-organize my suitcase. I packed some things and set aside laundry to do when we got to Rome, tidying up the bedroom and getting dressed in the process.

By the time C. got back, I was ready to leave for whatever destination the day would have in store. C. however, simply came back and planted himself on the porch with the paper. Now, knowing him as well as I do, and knowing he is prone to long periods of silence, I let him be, and retreated to the other room with my book. The problem arose after an hour, when he was still sitting there. I wandered out on the porch and asked him how he was doing, and he said fine. Then he got up, without saying a word, went into the apartment and flopped onto the couch, rolled over, and picked up a book to read.

Ok. Now, the girls out there know exactly how I was feeling. I know we had been loosey-goosey with our agenda each day before, but this was a bit much for me on our last day. The tension mounted. Didn’t he notice I was showered, ready to do something, and that it was nearly 11:30? Were we going to do nothing? Should I ask? Should I maybe take the car myself for a few hours? Is he mad at me? More tension crept in between us - silent, silent tension. Finally, I blurted out, “Uh, listen, are you going to just lay there all day or are we going to do something?”

I don’t feel I have to get into the exact dialogue that followed. Suffice to say the volcano erupted, and we proceeded to have one big, stupid fight; one of those fights that winds up being about nothing really, but seems like it is about everything when you are in the middle of it. The yelling ended with us in separate rooms, and me crying on the bed.

Eventually, I stopped crying and he took a shower. We didn’t make up, but we weren’t yelling at each other either. He took the map and the car keys, and simply said, “Ready?” We climbed into the car and took off, remaining very, very quiet. Eventually, I could surmise that we were heading towards Spoleto, which I was excited to see. The thing is, we never reached Spoleto. Instead, we spent the entire three hours exploring the roads in and around Monti Martani, stopping to take pictures when a beautiful vista appeared before us. We hardly spoke a word during that time, but it was probably the best we could manage. Traveling with someone is tough, whether it be a friend, a sibling, a spouse - anyone, really. It certainly tests a relationship, and we were in the middle of a long, mid-term exam.

Oddly enough, as we explored mile after mile, hilltop after hilltop, drenched in our “quiet,” we experienced some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery of our trip. The splendor of the Italian countryside acted as a soothing salve, helping to heal the wounds we opened onto each other. A cease-fire had been declared, and we had retreated to our own spaces in our minds, focusing on what we each saw separately, without sharing thoughts or opinions, or even sharing our experience. We were spending that day alone, but happened to be sitting in a car together. And for the time being, it was the best we could do.

Umbria laid forth her treasures, regardless of our mood. A true moment of Italian cliché came when C. screeched to a halt in front of the proverbial flock of sheep in the middle of the road. There was also a bit of excitement in the form of a bicycle team on a training ride; C. sped up ahead of them, pulled the car over, and got his camera out just in time to snap them as they whizzed by; some of the cyclists even gave us a wave as they passed. The best part of the day, however, was when C. pulled over yet again, and told me to get out of the car slowly. The road we were on lay just below a wide meadow, and in it I spotted our second set of magical horses. This time, it was five large mares, each with a brand new foal at her side. The mums were keeping close watch over their babies, who were struggling on their very wobbly legs, still learning how to walk and trot. Some of the babies slept in the soft grass, while their mothers stood guard over them, regarding us with suspicion. It was a beautiful scene, and we enjoyed it for as long as we could before the mares appeared visibly nervous, and we felt like intruders in a nursery.

Back in the car we went for more driving, exploring, and, um, quiet. I think we both developed in our minds what our favorite parts of Umbria we had each discovered, and we were both figuring out where we want to both return when visit again, which would mostly likely be with someone else or alone.

Pretty soon, I recognized the water tower of Montefalco on the horizon, and C. pointed the car towards it. We were returning to L’Alchimista, I assumed, to buy some gifts as we had planned. Cristina’s parents were there, and meeting them both was a pleasure. Her mother, Patrizia, spoke very little English, but I managed to explain that we had enjoyed our dinner there very much, and thought it was the best meal we had in Umbria. We spent the next hour chatting and picking out some gifts for our families and ourselves. I bought some honey, dried strangozzi, and berry jam to take back, and C. selected some nice wines by the famed Montefalco producer, Arnoldo Caprai. While we were there, Cristina called from VinItaly, and Patrizia put us both on the phone so we could say goodbye to her and wish her well.

Eventually, we realized we were hungry. It was past lunchtime and well before dinner time, but Patrizia’s kitchen was open, so we sat outside and with a bottle of wine and had a “‘tween meal” of faro soup; it was really more like risotto, and undoubtedly the best faro I had ever tried. To go with it we split a warm, stuffed and pressed sandwich of meat and cheese, and a selection of pecorino cheeses with mostarde. After saying goodbye to Cristina’s parents, off we headed for Le Case Gialle.

C. and I had spent the day in virtual silence. Eventually, it became too much for me, and when we returned home, I went quickly into the bedroom and closed the door. We had three days planned in Rome, and I had no idea how to get through them with things the way they stood. Just when I thought it would be unbearable, and just when I started to sniffle about it, there was a tap on the door, and C. came in and sat on the bed. He apologized; I apologized. He admitted he was wrong; I admitted I was wrong. We worked it out. Like that, it was over, and the clouds that hung over us all day passed.

We spent our last night, huddled on the couch, watching the movie Grizzly Man on my laptop, contemplating why a man lets himself get eaten by a bear. I have searched for an applicable metaphor between our fight and the grizzly bear, but there is none.

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