31 October 2018
I bought a train ticket to Caserta to see the Royal Gardens, outside Naples. After a long walk to the station and two cheap pastries I discovered my train was cancelled. Trust me when I tell you this, do not attempt to explain to Italian train employee, anything. It’s fruitless. Just get on another train or go to Procida by ferry, but ask, if you have vertigo like I do, is it an open ferry? You’ll want to know.
Arriving at the port three minutes before departure I am hustled along, the ferry is leaving! Still docked twenty minutes later and this sickening discovery, the ferry is not open air but a darkened cocoon with movie style seating. I’m going to die. On both sides in the rear amongst ropes and smokers one can rock and inhale air fueled with diesel and nicotine. Having become bolder in my limited Italian I say to the man crowding an open space, “permisso”, and voila, he moves, giving me a breathable spot. I pray, Sweet baby Jesus, “let this too pass from me.”
Procida is in off-season. The warm sun of Naples has cooled and clouded. Released from the ferry I read text suggestions from my friend in Naples, what to do, Google translation, where to go, Google translation. Four minute later, fully frustrated I launch into a direction, any direction. It’s a small island.
Walking up, because when you are not walking up, you’re walking down, I am pressed into the walls of the narrow street I have chosen as school kids on scooters and tiny cars zoom by.
I move left at the top of the hill that opens to the sea while the groups of ferryists moves right. The island is gravely quiet and now it is after noon, time for shops to close. A man opens his front door holding a handful of bright green grapes.
I pass an ingress. An opening. No one invites me. I invite myself and stealthy snap photos of the interior courtyard. I think I’ve gotten away. A man calls to me. He is in his workshop. It’s a mess of wood, half built things, large bottles of fresh olive oil and on a singular bar stool sits a big jar of fresh olives. I want to reach in an grab a handful. These Italians, what they take for granted. He asks have I seen the interior of the courtyard. I feign ignorance. He directs me to look, “go”. I go again, this time with a lion's heart. Walking out he calls to me. He tells me he has summer rooms for rent. I ask for a card. He tears a piece of cardboard from a box. He has no pen.
I say, “WhatsApp?”
This is Mike. Mike la Scala. He asks do I want to have lunch with him, a theme.
I say no but I do want to see the summer rooms. Turning off the lights in the workroom he leads me to the Cistern.
This is how women die. We are in the lower portion of what I will discover is a three story house, not counting the mounded roof overlooking the sea. Mike pulls up the rope the light is hanging on. Fifteen feet below. A ladder. The cistern, now empty, my tomb. He explains during the spring it is full of water the way as it has been for generations. He turns off the light and nonchalantly passes from murderer to Airbnb host, showing me the rooms, a museum of low ceilings I must avoid. I calmly follow.
There’s another apartment above the first. Twisting stairs, I lower my head many times,“ Attenzione”, Mike calls. We pass into a bedroom, bright white walls, vaulted ceilings, a chandelier.
In the dining room are paintings of the sea and island. I step in to get a better look. “Are these you paintings Mike?” They are. Murderer. Airbnb host. Painter.
He wants to make me coffee. I agree. From the kitchen there is another set of winding green metal stairs leading to a small room where an unfinished painting awaits. We climb the stairs onto the mounded roof that overlooks the sea. The boats. The pastel houses. He tells me he has a country house where saffron and olives are harvested. He makes me coffee. I drink it appreciatively. We part friends. “Ritornerò”, I say, I will return.
Up a slanting walkway I find two tiny kittens small enough to fit in a large hand. The littlest gray one visits me, her nose dirty, she is a bit skinny. Later I bring them bread to eat.
A scooter pulls up next to me, I don’t recognize Mike in the helmet. He's stopped to tell me to make the walk up the very steep hill to the Palazzo D’Avalos Procida. He doesn’t mention it, I will have to discover the giddy-making view alone in a strong wind and overcast skies.
Waiting for the ferry. A dog, white with a collar seems lost. It follows me along the port.
I want it home, safe and loved. But it stays beside me until I move to board the ferry then moves soundlessly into the night.