After a too-long drive around the Gargano Peninsula (I have no idea why we did that), we pass the scene of a dreadful car accident spread across the highway in the northbound lanes, with ten kilometres of cars lined up behind it. The southbound lane continues at the well-over-the-speed-limit rate of 140 km/hr.
Signs for a Best Western keep popping up, and after several failed attempts at smaller, divier joints, we decide to just give in and try it. Two double rooms, the very classy-looking concierge says, will be one hundred and seventy-eight euros. Ugh, my face says. “How much did you want to pay?” We couldn’t just take one room? “No, too small,” he says. My shoulders slump involuntarily. It’s been a long day. He continues in wonderfully-accented, perfect English, “We do know a nice little bed and breakfast. Would you like me to call over?” He dials the number, rattles off some information, listens, then puts his hand over the phone and says, “You speak Italian?” No. “You will manage,” and he waves at nothing in particular. More speaking and listening. “How does eighty euros sound?” Great. “The man will come and pick you up. Please, we can wait outside.” He opens his palm towards the front door.
It’s not busy, so classy concierge waits with us, and soon our helmeted, muscle-shirted, moped-riding hotelier arrives. I exchange a hearty handshake with the concierge. I can’t help but think that I will never see this man again. His face is the picture of kindness as we walk away.
When we drive out of the city and into the countryside, I begin formulating a back-up plan in case this guy tries to lead us into the woods and relieve us of our packs. I make several jokes about why the guy is carrying an axe on the back of a moped, but Laura assures us that everything will be all right. Okay, but if he tries to take us down some desolate gravel road, we are NOT following. Stop it! says Laura.
About ten minutes into rural Italy - and again, could the sky be any more blue? - just as I suspected, we pull into a beautiful property surrounded by vineyards. He stops in front of what looks like a row of townhomes, then walks us over to the main house, passing by a large pool on the way. A woman comes out of the house and shakes our hands, ruffles Jonas’s hair, and pinches Matthew’s nose in that, “You are adorable!” kind of way. Several members of their family follow us all back to the townhouses. It’s fantastic, way better than a hotel. Mr. Moped, who in no way reminds me of a serial killer, is now our second-best friend in Italy (Rosanna will always be number one).
We awake early the next morning so that we can pack up, then spend some time in that lovely pool. Do I need to mention how blue the sky is again? It’s a perfect pool and a perfect pool day. I think if I’d know about this place a few days ago, Sulmona would not have appeared on this itinerary.
The entire family comes out to say good-bye, and we exchange some small talk about our trip. The son, probably in his very early twenties, has this faraway look in his eyes as though he’d like to come with us. “What are your jobs?” he asks. Today I understand full well the meaning of his body language and tone of voice. I’ve been so caught up in planning this trip, that I haven’t been able to think about it or see it from the outside. Until this moment, looking into this young man’s eyes. We had tons of questions and feedback at home, but here in rural Italy, what we are doing comes into focus, and for a moment, I feel a little pride about finally being able to step out of that shell of comfort, of marriage/mortgage/kids/work. Laura is a teacher, I’m an artist. He looks befuddled. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. We’re very fortunate, I say.
Looking around as we drive out through the vineyards, all I can think is, Man, if I lived in a place like this, I might never want to leave. But then again, I’m not twenty-one anymore.