19 September, 2012

Day 7: Italy – Cortona

It’s the final day of the trip. It was also the least yoga-centric, most travel-centric day in Italy, as we took a full-day visit to Cortona, another old and beautiful city. Everyplace I go, I think “This is the most beautiful place I have ever been.” And then, to the next place, “No… this is the most beautiful.” The reality is that everywhere I have been is beautiful, and Europe has some incredibly strong pull on me. I’ve never visited a city (in the few countries I have visited) and not been amazed. I think it’s because of my fascination with “The Old.”

Cortona was about 75 minute drive from Locanda del Gallo. We left at 8:30 in the morning, after a quick breakfast (no yoga in the morning this time). The ride there, I was once again navigator, even though my skills at interpreting road signs in Italy was marginal, and my Italian map-reading abilities non-existent (apparently, putting labels on the roads on a map is considered to be optional, i.e. it would be like if someone told you to take I-90 to get from Worcester to Framingham, but then you look at the map, and there is no road labeled I-90… there are a variety of entertaining Italy navigation idiosyncrasies… okay, I’ll tell you one more: If you see a sign that says “A1 – Firenze – 20 km” you might assume that means that this exit is for the A1 highway toward Florence, and that you will arrive in Florence after driving 20 kilometers. That would be incorrect. What it actually means is that the exit for the A1 highway toward Florence will be in 20 kilometers, but that once you are on the A1, it could be 8 million kilometers to Florence. I think that the underlying factor here is that nobody really needs to be anywhere in Italy, though, in spite of this, they all seem to be in quite a hurry).

The long drives, fortunately, were a great opportunity to get to talk with each other, and learn a lot about our respective lives. And the views were spectacular. And, as I mentioned, the road signs provided amusement. We would talk about the classes we had done. We would discuss our yoga studios and experiences back home. We would talk about future plans, such as whether there would be a repeat of this retreat next year, and would we come again? We talked about the struggles and challenges we’ve had in our lives, large and small. Because we’re doing this work together, on our yoga mats, every day, we are experiencing lots of strong emotions in the presence of one another, and I think that somehow makes it more automatic that we open up to one another about our lives when we’re not doing yoga.

Cortona is up a pretty big hill, with some switchbacks along the road to get there. You can see the entire city from the main road, but it’s still hard to access (we talked about what type of challenge it would be for an invading army marching on foot, or with horses – tiring, and nearly impossible to do without being detected well in advance of your arrival – a good location strategically).

This was the first day on which our “touring” was very leisurely. We didn’t need to be anywhere much, though Sue and a couple of the others did visit some Italian friends of Sue’s in the afternoon, while the rest of us continued hanging out in town. We went to the various shops together and selected gifts to bring back for ourselves and our friends.

After some shopping, the group split up, with Sue and I wandering up stairs, roads, paths, always up, into the secluded, quiet neighborhoods where the residents of Cortona live their lives. We could see clothes hanging on lines, cats wandering the streets. We could hear conversations inside homes that we passed, with the characteristic inflection that Italians have in every conversation, as if they are irritated and fatigued with whomever they are talking to. On these steep roads, we marveled at how cars were still actually driving on them, since they seemed barely safe to walk. The streets were quiet, mostly. We sat on a wall, overlooking the outer parts of the city, beyond the walls, and talked about our fears, and about how we arrived where we are today. When time started to run tight, and we were supposed to go back and meet the others for lunch, and we had gone up nearly as much as one could go up, we finally started making our way back down, through a different neighborhood. We saw young children wearing smocks, walking with their fathers, apparently having come from either a day care, or perhaps their equivalent of kindergarten.

We met up with the others at the bottom, and decided to eat at an amazing restaurant called Trattoria Dardano, where the host was a man that Sue has known for half of his life, since her first visit to Italy in the late 1990s. The specialty of the house was Ravioli Tartufo (truffles), which I was fortunate to get a taste of. I had a good tagliatele with ragu and some roasted chicken breast. But the Tartufo is what I am remembering most. After lunch, which was a late lunch, Sue, Joanna, and Linda went to visit “The Bruni’s” whom Sue has known for years, while Mary, Lola and I continued shopping and wandering around, and eventually eating great gelato and talking to a couple of nice guys from London and Bologna, who were visiting on holiday from Oxford.

Then, we met up again with the others, at the van, and made the drive back.

The evening consisted of an emotional, tired yoga class, and one final fantastic dinner of spinach and ricotta ravioli, followed by Tandoori chicken and a salad that contained pomegranate seeds. We chatted for a while with Jimmy, and with the British woman who had done yoga with us the previous day (I’m forgetting her name, though I really want to say “Helen” or “Elizabeth” but I am probably stereotyping). After dinner, we were all tired, and parting ways to go and pack our respective bags for the morning departure was a sad sensation. Once again, I did not want to sleep early, and set myself up for a very short night’s sleep.

Now I sit here writing this, in the Roma Airport, waiting for them to actually assign a gate to my flight. It was a 3 hour ride to the airport from Umbria. I am tired. I would really like to be going home to Seattle. But first, I have three more days in Boston. I feel like it’s a “neutral zone” where the huge experience I had in Italy will incubate and absorb, before returning to the “comfort zone” at home.

Whether I am ready or not, this is what is happening.

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