Part 10- Asolo, Italy
It’s morning in the foothills of the Dolomites. Thunder roars like some grand medieval beast above our heads as we climb, step by lumbering step, up the cobblestone pathways toward fortress Rocca. Carmen’s silver bejeweled flat sandals slide her backward across the rocks until they too finally catch her stride. She leads the way as we walk straight up into the forbidding clouds that threaten to open up and wash us down again. Down past the small vineyards that stripe the hillsides. Down past the farmhouses and olive groves to the valley floor. I feel like I’ve already been washed away in a landslide recently. I’m determined to make it to the top of this mountain today. It was not our intention to do this virtual trek when we started this morning.
We walked out of our lovely Villa Vega in summer dresses and earrings on our way to the village Asolo, but were detoured by newly paved asphalt on the one and only road. If we hike up to the fortress there might be another path down the other side, we reason. Off we go. It’s much higher and steeper than we think. We are nearly at the highest point, the fortress just looming above us. The air feels both thin from the altitude and heavy from the impending rain. It’s difficult to inhale. I think of the last song I wrote, the week my husband went away on business to NYC and never called. The time before I knew about his lover. “All the weight of your silent streak. Heavy as granite lying over me.” I try to sing it, but cannot catch my breath. Green figs crush between my feet and the stone. I imagine the purple pulp that will smear like jam under someone else’s sandals next month. I think of the grief she too will likely feel in the future. I squash another fig. This time on purpose and with feeling. In photography I look for patterns that repeat. I haven’t been so good at seeing them in men.
Earlier in the morning Carmen sleeps behind the green shutters on the third floor of our villa. I sit at the picnic table on the clover lawn and think of language. How I slow down my cadence and select my words carefully here. I learn the English words Elisabetta or my other friends know and use those selections when I speak to them. I also listen for their translations, butter – burro, and repeat them to myself. I practice rolling my R’s in a trill, but my tied tongue fails me. When I was young I worried that this flap of skin that connects my tongue to the base of my mouth like the webbed foot of a duck would keep me from French kissing. I spent most of my fifteenth year mortified by the possibility until one night, from out of nowhere, it happened. Imagine my relief!
Now I sit eating dry cornflakes with my tongue-tied tongue. Dry because there is no soy or almond milk, and I’m absolutely intolerant of dairy. No milk, cheese, butter/burro, yogurt, milk-chocolate or real gelato for me. Nothing good! Italy tortures me daily with delicacies I can’t eat and would surely have gobbled down otherwise. But this morning there is brioche. I know it’s full of butter, but it is warm and soft and calling me. I take one small bite very quickly. Perhaps I can fool my body if I eat it fast. Oh, the taste, the melting in the mouth goodness, the cinnamon-sugar apple goo, the pain I’m going to feel in five minutes. I throw the devil back into the breadbasket and cover it with a napkin. Damn temptation! The rest of my dry cornflakes and toast taste worse than before.
I finally push away the breakfast and watch the sugar ants on tiny legs scurry in unpredictable patterns across the long woods slats of the table. The gold and blue painted dishware says, “Made in Italy,” not China, on the bottom and is written in English. I think about the sweet foods I’ve missed here, but also the savory foods I’ve tasted. I eat bread, pasta, olive oil and green olives and watch as the hollows of my cheeks and the lines around my eyes begin to fill in again. Over the past four months I have become as thin as the professional bike racers who train in the Dolomites and travel the narrow valley roads I see below. Their brightly colored costumes of purple and red spandex stand out against the green fields. They, too, scurry like sugar ants as they pedal the zigzagged roads leading to the mountains. We’re all awkward climbers today.
This night ends with Amarone wine. Quite possibly the most delicious thing I’ve ever experienced. Our waiter for the past two nights here in Asolo, at Da Nino E Antonietta, swirls a small amount in bevel-bottomed glasses, then pours it out again, prepping the glasses for their most important hour. I put my nose into the glass. It’s so fragrant – chocolate, earth, something from my childhood I can’t quite put my finger on. You don’t have to drink this wine to become intoxicated, simply inhale. But the taste – the taste only enhances that amazing smell. It is like being transported to another level. I’m feel that dizzy, dreamy intoxication of love after only one sip. And there are many more sips after the first.
To Venice tomorrow.