Part One – Trieste, Italy
I awoke to the sound of a woman’s orgasm. Really, it was beyond impressive. The scream followed by rhythmic howls echoed around the courtyard and up through my open windows. It’s as if she were saying, “Welcome to Italy. We are so glad you’re here.” I look at the clock, it’s 4:30AM. I’m pulled back under by a jet-lagged slumber. I awake again, this time to the smell of espresso. I stumble into the small kitchen where my friend of 20 years and hostess, Elisabetta, is standing at the sink. “I don’t know if you’ll understand this,” I say, “but last night I heard a woman….” She laughs so hard she knocks a bottle of wine from the counter and it shatters all across the kitchen floor. I sit still as she sweeps the shards from around my feet and tells me about the new neighbor. On hot summer nights like last night, when all the windows of the courtyard open to the cool air outside, she keeps the elderly residence awake for hours. I wonder if they are as envious as I am. The smell of spilled red wine mixes with my espresso as I start thinking of the adventure this trip will be.
I’ve come to Italy to heal, to photograph, to shake of the numbness from my body and find joy in the details again. I’ve somehow missed the past four months of my life. Not that I wasn’t there, surely I must have been. It’s just that I can’t imagine it all changed so quickly. More on that later. Now, I am here, on the Adriatic Sea in the very corner where Italy gives way to Slovenia.
I finally get outside with my camera, but I’ve missed the precious morning light. So I began scouting the nooks and crannies of the city. The narrow pathways between old buildings, the zigzag staircases leading up the hills to yellow houses and streets lines with scooters. I look at the sun, where is it now, where would it have to be for the photo I envision? I think of the woman who might walk up the stairs this evening, in her black dress and heals, heading to the cafes that line the sidewalk. I will return to this place several times during the days to come, as I will the other places I’m discovering, to watch the light, the colors and the people who pass. As I am walking by one of my small alleys at exactly the wrong time for good light, I see an old man with a bag of groceries walking through the archway. He’s backlit, so his body is a shadow. I put the camera to my eye, quickly adjust the settings and shoot three shots before he turns the corner and walks back out of my lens and into his life. I subscribe to the philosophy of carefully thought out shots, but when the spontaneous moment occurs – grab your camera and shoot!
When the light is too flat, and I am simply too hot, I decide it’s time to take a break and head for the water. I’m on the Adriatic coast, and from what I saw during the drive along the shore from the airport yesterday, the locals make the most of it. Especially during this May heat wave when we are all soaked with sweat. I’m told that Trieste is known for it’s separate male and female beach. The only one in Italy. Why would I want to go to a all woman’s beach in the land of Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome, I think to myself. Of course, that is exactly where I ended up today. It is also exactly where I needed to be.
Alone in Italy, surrounded by women. I don’t speak their language, they take no notice of me, but as I watch them sitting there in twos and threes or alone, talking, laughing, connecting. Mothers, sisters, friends, lovers. I know I’m in the right place and that these women have as much in common with me as the women who have held me up during these past few months. The ones that have cried with me, made me food and brought flowers, as if someone had died. The ones who listened to my same questions over and over, the ones who came to pick me up off the kitchen floor when I couldn’t stop sobbing. No, I don’t try to talk with these women on the beach, all ages, all sizes, sagging, bronzed, scarred, beautiful in their aged and sagging bodies. I don’t have to. I sit quietly surrounded by and feeling part of them even though I am from the other side of the world. Somehow I know, they get me.
I don’t take my camera to this beach for two reasons. 1) water and Canon 5Ds don’t mix, and 2) my soul sisters are mostly topless and would probably not appreciate their boobs on the internet. I do, however, spend time thinking about how I would shoot. What would be the two most interesting shots? I go through the technical aspects as well as the composition in my mind, then relax and enjoy. It won’t happen, but it’s worth the exercise to think about it.
I sit on the rocky beach, stones the size of plums, observing the mass of femaleness from behind my sunglasses. I imagine my wonderful Irish grandmother alongside the 85-year-old woman I see walking out of the sea toward me. Her great brown breasts resting on her round Italian belly. I can’t help but compare my body to those all around me. I win the prize for being the whitest of the white. I even surpass the babies that sit with their mothers under umbrellas. Unlike this olive-skinned flow of women, I am a neon sign. The first purchase I made when arriving was a bottle of sunscreen. “To avoid cancer,” I tell Elisabetta. The second was a bottle of self-tanner. “To give you cancer,” she tells me. If I’m imaging my grandmother on this beach, then it’s easy enough to bring my birth mother into the image as well. She would win the much contested, but justly deserved prize for the biggest boobs on the beach. I’m not sure of their size, but if there’s such a thing a Z cup then she’s a triple. Evidently, I inherited mine from my birth father. It occurs to me that by the time I return to the US she will have been surgically altered to a C cup. Sometimes bigger is not better. I suddenly regret not having photographed them before I came here. I could have taped the photo between the wide-open space on my chest, “Really, I am related to these.” I could have said. In reality, however, no one on my beach cares about florescent skin or genetic misfortune. I lie back on my rocky towel and close my eyes.
When I finally open them there is a little boy, perhaps two, standing in front of me. In one easy movement he pulls down his swimming trunks and displays his wee wily. He proudly looks around at the sea of women and smiles broadly as if to announce, “Have you ever seen such a magnificent sight?”