Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Travel Piece

The following is the final draft of the first half of the piece I'm preparing in Travel Writing class. The second half is due on Monday, so I'll share it when I have it completed! The second half is going to be about the generation stuck between the two I've observed below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

La Passeggiata

Don't be fooled by their futuristic footwear; the Orvietani are an old-fashioned folk. Don't assume that the expediency with which they shoot their espresso is any indication of a rushed existence. Life to them is, in fact, steeped in an intentional, historical slowness. It is to be savored. Orvieto's tenants observe set times of day reserved for sitting, eating, sleeping, ambling and eating again. It's a phenomenon that remains impervious to the generation gap and largely aloof to the inevitabilities of a tourist economy.

I find myself now in the midst of one such convention. I intended to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail at the sleepy bar I had walked by during my morning shopping. Instead, my prosecco and I are surrounded. It's seven o'clock and, rather than slouching in front of Wheel of Fortune, these people have emerged en masse to appreciate one another. There is a seamless interaction between young and old, learner and learnéd. Each has a part to play in this pageant down Corso Cavour and each performs that part with skill and grace.

By now I've risen to join the performance. From this vantage point, I can satisfy my curiosity about the contents of the countless baby carriages now rattling past me. A particularly extravagant carriage catches my eye and the bambina inside is no less stunning.

She won't pick out her own clothes for a few years yet, but she's Gucci from bonnet to booties. Skinny jeans squeeze her well-rounded legs. She won't walk until August, so for now she strolls with us aboard a private coach. It's fully loaded, having more cupholders than there will ever be sippy cups. She doesn't suggest Cafe Cavour for tonight's aperitivo, yet there she's parked. She is tucked among the patio furniture and the discourse.

Her role tonight is that of a student of leisure. She notes every ensemble; she hears every "Sera!"; she giggles at every terrier and pug on parade. Her hands flap to mirror her father's animation. All the details combine to form her bedtime preamble and induction into the culture of her future.

She rejoins the throng when the crodini have been drained. Excited for another round of moseying, she shares her newly mastered wave/"Ciao" combination with an elderly woman poking her head out of a window above. She gets the desired response from this nosey nonna and lays back into her cushions. Already, she's becoming an active member of this community of meanderers.

Eventually, the rumble of the cobblestones weighs on her eyes. The crowds are thinning and she is drifting. Tonight she will sleep for the final leg of her Passeggiata.

The woman in the window disappears from view. Not a moment later, she has joined us by way of massive double doors, which her husband closes by yanking with all his scant weight on one of the golden lion-head knockers . I can tell they have timed their emergence to coordinate with the later portion of the parade, when they can negotiate the cobblestones unrushed.

She dons a woolen skirt, nylons and practical heels. Always heels. She's laden with bags, some in the crook of her arm, some under her eyes and where a jawline used to be. She's regal in her wrinkles, somehow . . . or maybe she just looks a bit like Queen Elizabeth. The enormous onyx ring on her pinky betrays an enduring vanity—the result of dressing for decades in a couture country.

For now, her husband accompanies her up the corso. They have a shared tempo, an understanding established years before. At the first piazza, he nods to her and peels off to join his bench posse for their nightly quarrel. She, however, will navigate the full circuit, only stopping for a chat or a necessity.

She's out now in search of a bit of gossip as much as a head of lettuce. The grocer up the road is happy to oblige on both counts. She parts from him having added a bundle of greens and some juicy details to her baggage.

Back on the move, I catch her faintly nodding in approval at the families passing by. This ritual seems to rejuvenate her. She's pleased to see the congregation of her neighbors, her family. Now she has found the energy to finish preparing dinner for her own portion of this flock, who should be congregating by her doors any minute now.

She must make her way back to collect her husband and to stir the stewing cinghiale. She wends her way through the street towards home surrounded by Orvietani—her rhythmic limp is the pulse of this town.


  1. I enjoyed it "fitian" times more! It's a superb description... and WE know because WE been there, done that, wish we could do it again tomoorrow!

    I know you leave with mixed emotions but from what I just read, you couldn't have squeezed much more experience out of your stay in Orvieto. I'm so glad you both got to take this chance of a lifetime!

    Love, Southdad

  2. Grace,
    I am back in Orvieto when I read this. Thank you!

    You have captured so much of what I love about the lifestyle and the people who are living it. Maybe it's a fantasy that isn't true, but it seems from the outside like the connections that people make every day as they walk through the town keep them grounded and happy. I love what you've written.

    I kept wanting to take photos of the Orvietani sitting together, and talking together in the streets but I didn't want to be rude. There was one exchange going on, though, that I HAD to photograph so I tried to act like I was focusing on the buildings nearby, and got a couple of quick shots. If I were teaching a creative writing class, I'd ask the students to write a story to go with these 2 photos:
    and the one next to it.

    Enjoy your last week in Brigadoon.

  3. The only thing missing was the laundry! :)
    Wow girl. This piece really does transport us right back to the fan-patterned cobblestone corsos of your lovely city. I keep picturing our "favorite doorway", recessed from the crowded street, looking like a portal to a much earlier time.
    I'm about half way through Dante's Inferno. I am reading a nice translation that gives you a synopsis of each Canto, and has footnotes at the end, so you know who he's talking about. It's hard work, but is one of those things I feel that I have no good reason for not doing. If you see Signorelli's "Capella Art", you are somehow required to read the Inferno, or the whole Divine Comedy.
    I echo Southdad's sentiment about this experience you guys have been blessed with and blessed by. You are better people for having been there. I apologize in advance for the inevitable culture shock as you re-acclimate to your native land...all I can offer as a way to cushion the blow, is Sally's Pizza. Love you guys and can't wait to see you again. Enjoy your travels, and Godspeed. Northdad

  4. I hate to see your adventure come to an end! I am enjoying it nearly as much as you through your descriptions. Thanks for letting me share in it with you. Jan