It's All Saints Day and I'm touching down in Italy. At the arrivals of L'Aeroporto Internazionale Galileo Galilei Pisa I am met by a handsome man who will drive me to the train station in Siena. He is an immigrant of West African descent with deep black presence that reminds me of my desire to engage with what is provocative and flavorful and real. He speaks perfect Italian in a gentle way. He asks if I speak French and apologizes for his English. The ride is long, winding, sunny. I know now that he opted for the country roads instead of the Autostrada.
It's November 1st and the weather is cool but not cold. We sit close because the car is tiny. I tiptoe around our strained, clumsy dialogue. When it stops I use the quiet to picture us: two displaced or replaced persons tripping around a conversation, while the strange serenity of cypress-lined roads glides by. I have no mental map of where we are so the ride just plays with my vision. I sit in the front seat and my driver and I attempt to converse but time and again it is silence that works. I come with a lot of baggage. I packed one entire suitcase full of only books and journals. Some of the books I have with me will never return to America. Others sit with me on my desk as I write this today.
At the Stazione Ferroviaria di Siena, I meet Enrico, the brother component of my host family. Enrico and my gently driver transfer my bags from one small car to another smaller car. There is some confusion about the heaviness with which I've arrived. Typical American. Little do they know that what lurks in the folds of my crumpled wardrobe are beloved books of poetry, filled and half-filled journals and the bulky burden of disappointment. Little do they know of me and this truth overcomes me as I board the final leg toward my new home.
In the car with Enrico, life is very Italian. He tries his English on me and luckily the ride to his house is brief. At home, I am welcomed by Enrico's mamma, Antonella. She leads me up a staircase, which has no railing, to my room and acquaints me with the bathroom I would share with Enrico and his sister. Antonella takes a memorable amount of time teaching me all the technological ins and outs of the blow dryer; I nod and "si, si, si, si, si". This is what I know how to say. We eat dinner together and I am challenged to endure enormous amounts of instruction regarding bus schedules, meal time, school info, and undoubtedly a myriad of things I missed.
The next morning I'm alone in the house. I oversleep and wake with a need for caffeine. Not knowing there is a coffee bar below the apartment, I take a newcomer's a stab at the Moka caffettiera on the stovetop. Just hours before, I'd been stressed with hair dryer tutorials but this vital contraption was completely skipped over. To start, I put the water in the top instead of the bottom where it is meant to go. When making coffee with a Moka, water goes in the downstairs compartment where it boils and pressurizes upward through the coffee-holding basket. Via a vertical canal it overflows into the upstairs carafe portion of the pitcher. Having mistakenly filled the upstairs with water, I wait and wait for the coffee to make. To this day I cannot explain the phenomenon of how the water at the top became brown and coffee-like, but after a very long time, it did. I also know from a subsequent Moka explosion in another house I lived in in Siena, that I am lucky I did not injure myself or damage anything in the kitchen of my new hosts.
By way of some miracle, the coffee comes forth. In a state of stress and uncertainty, and after toiling for over an hour to make a cup of coffee, I seal the experience by adding salt to my precious cup of coffee. Salt instead of sugar. Is this some omen? I am now so in need of that coffee that I actually try to drink salted caffe' from the upside down Moka miracle. It's no use. I must venture out. I finally get ready to go out and brave the bus to town by about 3 pm. Evening is approaching. It's Day 2 in Italy.
I have some luck in choosing the right bus because it's Sunday. Less options, most of which eventually arrive in Siena Centro. I disembark in Piazza del Sale. Salt is my theme today. I have my backpack of books and journals, some money. I venture into the city. The walk, from where the bus left me to where I finally land in a place that has hopes of keeping me in a moment, is lost. The place that would keep me is the back end of the Duomo di Siena, just meters from the entrance to Piazza del Campo. I arrive across the lookout bridge that frames San Domenico from the south. If you know Siena, you know this place. From Piazza di Indipendenza, a little road cuts across to the backdoor of Siena's Duomo.
I am vegan and of course there are no options so, I go with a panino of mozzarella and pomodoro and a small bottle of red wine in a bar that still sits at the bottom of the steep steps leading up to the Duomo's main piazza. With my dinner, I sit on the bottom steps. Insecure and utterly alone, I eat and watch the bustle around me. I question everything including, if I will be able to catch a bus home since I don't remember the schedule or even how to find my way back to Piazza del Sale, the bus stop. I've landed on the steps of the saints. Today is All Souls Day but I've arrived without mine. I feel no sense of arrival. Everything is still all about departure and the ache of separation.
If any of the saints ushered me in last night, they'd have noted my homeless heart. What can they offer me? I'm no believer. My stepping stones are the words I scribble down in my journal. The railings I cling to: the books I can't leave home without. I'm not ready for immersion but the feeling of these damp steps beneath me will become a perennial part of my being. I lift heavy hands to mouth thinking only about breaking suddenly into from veganism to vegetarianism. I taste nothing new. The sensation of being relinquished and forgotten here, deep in the fall, will stay with me for years. Somehow, I find my way back to the bus stop, to the host family, and the bedroom. Tomorrow is the first day of Italian school. I am 22 in the land of Ognissanti. The view is spectacular but I cannot see it.
*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.