For C. She knows.
In case I never mentioned it (ha!), the first few months on that great big skiff were a tad…difficult. I felt isolated and lost. I didn’t feel like I fit in, even with the people I worked with. I was unsure why I was forcing myself to play out an experience that was making me miserable. I wanted to cut my losses and go home to work on that forward momentum I so longed for.
And just to prove that maybe the universe actually knows what it’s doing, that’s about the time I started hanging out with a girl I’ll call Alice (because I can’t call her Bella.)
I met Alice at the beginning of my contract in June, but I don’t remember the specifics of our introduction. As soon as I met her I knew we would be friends. Every now and then my intuition kicks in.
But you can’t force these things. I know. I try way too often. Our friendship had to develop in its own time, and it took until August for us to really talk. I accept it, universe. I understand that I am socially awkward. I accept that my life is lived in the last minute, so only getting to know Alice three weeks before her contract ended is par for the course. This was my one constant on the ship: I befriended most of the people I loved the most right before they left. No point in fighting your fate. Slow burns gotta burn slow.
Alice invited me on a road trip she had organized to Montepulciano. I’d never heard of it, but was up for anything, group outing being preferable to magnetic cave-room.
Her reason for the excursion: they filmed the Volterra scenes in the second Twilight film in Montepulciano.
Let’s not get into my Twilight analysis, lest this blog drown in the splatter of my feminist rage. I didn’t recognize Montepulciano’s main square (sigh. Yes, I HAVE seen those movies) but wow! was it a beautiful place. Built dramatically on a hill, colored in beiges, muted yellows, and corally oranges, it made me giddy with its Tuscan quaintness. We had very little time there, as it was a monster drive from the ship, but I was so glad I had tagged along. It was off the beaten path. It was gorgeous and old and if only I’d known at the time that they are known for wine, the day would have been perfect…
I admired Alice’s perseverance: she had researched all public transit options to Montepulciano, rejected them as impossible, rented a car, secured herself a European driver, and gotten directions. She made that trip happen through sheer force of will. And all for TWILIGHT. Really?
And then! she wanted to go to the real Volterra! After much careful research, Alice had attempted the trip to Volterra, but was thwarted by a bus strike. But she just could not let go of her goal (She had put it on a list. She had to cross it off. Of course we were going to be friends). She invited me along for attempt two.
Everything went badly that morning – the ship docked late, the gangway was jammed, and we missed our train. Bleary-eyed in the pre-9am light (not a morning person, kids), I was fully prepared to go back to my cave-bed. But there was something in Alice’s jaw, an unyielding stubbornness, and I knew I wasn’t going to abandon her. Besides, it was two smelly buses back to the ship…
So between waiting and trains and buses, it took four hours upward to arrive in Volterra. There’s no suspense here: it was worth it. Volterra is even older and stonier and quainter than Montepulciano. I fell instantly in love with it. Unfortunately we again didn’t have much time to explore before the epic (!!!) journey back to port, but it was a beautiful summer day walking around narrow cobbly medieval lanes: how can you not feel good about life in those circumstances?
Maybe I should be turned off by Alice’s fascination with books I consider bad for women everywhere. But…I like obsessions. I like people who pursue with intention, no matter how silly. Alice is mildly apologetic of her Twilight fixation. But her ruefulness didn’t stop her from checking something off her list. Guilty pleasure or not, she (and I) saw some amazing Italian towns. I once made my parents take me to Prince Edward Island to see every Anne of Green Gables-related sight imaginable. I may not respect Twilight, but I love goal-driven mania. And at least she doesn’t have a half-sleeve tattoo of Robert Pattinson.
Alice got me out of my funk in ways she can’t possibly know. Even though she left just when we had finally found each other, and once again I was alone, she reminded me of my own goals for my six months at sea, my obsessions. I spent September checking things off my “To Do” list. By myself. I geeked out at art museums, finally seeing the Berninis and Caravaggios I discovered in college. I embraced my nerdiness after Alice left, and I took courage from her. She would have gone to Volterra without me. She reminded me to use my obsessions as a springboard to live my life rather than wasting away in the cave.
Honestly, if nothing else good had happened to me on that ship (oh, and I’m so grateful that many other amazing things came my way) I believe meeting Alice was the reason I went out there. She lives in New York and loves to travel. I think I may have finally found the travel buddy I’ve been longing for. We’re gonna take a road trip to Cleveland soon. To see the house they used in A Christmas Story. Kindred. Spirits.