a story in phases.

Phase I

When you step off the plane in your new home, you breathe in the muggy air and think with wonder: how different! The smell of smog, of garlic, of umbrella pine trees; the faint acrid nip of Vesuvio in the air. The crush of sweat-flecked bodies in the bus is an adventure. The babble of a language of which you know only about ten words is an inspiring new challenge.

The rundown villages, decrepit in their poverty, look rustic and charming. In fact, they’re rather darling. The pot-holed road that winds over the mountain is your own yellow-brick road to adventure. The food is so fresh, the air so balmy, and the views – ah, you’d give ten years of your life for the privilege of waking each day to those views.

The church bells pealing the hours and the call to mass; the chickens pecking under the lemon trees; the limpid, utterly brilliant light – all hold you in thrall.

Phase II

You’ve been in your new home for about six months. The views are still divine. It still makes your gut constrict to fling open the shutters and drink them in. You’re trying to ignore the mould on the damp walls. Sometime, the intermittent internet connection makes you feel a bit isolated. Your failure to learn much of the new language cuts you off from the local people. The friendly, the charming, the rough, the crude, the indifferent, the curious, the usual miscellany of people in any place. But how will you ever know who they really are?

Each day there’s pleasure in walking to the bar, drinking caffé in the sun on the piazza, which looks like the set of an opera. The glorious facade of the Duomo slashes above you; its medieval tower is rough, its coloured mosaic jewels flash in the high sun. The sky is an intense blue, the sea has many intriguing moods; the saracen towers bristle along the coast, crumbling on every headland. The traffic on the winding coast road chokes the village every day. At night the lights transform the small harbour.

Each day you sit, and think. There’s not much else to do; except of course to eat, and drink.

Phase III

It’s been a year now. The small electric bus is packed with old women with bulging shopping bags, and even older men with walking sticks and wobbly gaits. All talk and laugh and greet and gossip while you sit mute in the corner. The bus goes up the valley. You could walk it, but you’re sick and tired of dodging the traffic, the screeching motorinos, the dog shit, the litter, the dangerous crumbling walls; and then there’s the relentless heat.

But still, you go every day for coffee, because what else is there to do? Meals with friends, where you sit mute again, uncomprehending, forgotten in your language-less limbo. A few polite attempts to include you, your eager responses, then they slip back to their mother tongue. All that time and money on the language lessons and you’ll never be able to participate in this kind of conversation.

The locals know who you are, of course, but they know nothing about you, your roots, your history, your achievements, your disappointments. They’re not particularly interested. Maybe they assume you’re merely passing through.

You sit at your laptop and will the erratic internet connection to let you on. You want to find a flight home.

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