Nearly half of Italy is mountainous and, being a peninsula, it boasts long and varied coastlines. Italians will ask you if you prefer the mountains or the sea, the way an American might ask if you prefer coffee over tea, and sometimes it seems as if the two were mutually exclusive, given the strong preference of most Italians for one or other or their unambiguous ideas about which is more beneficial to one’s well being.
On Saturday, the first day of summer vacation, I drove my boys to meet their father, and off they sped, down to Piombino to catch the ferry to Elba, the little Mediterranean island off the coast of Tuscany where they will spend a couple of weeks.
On Sunday, the second day of summer, I got up at four o’clock in the morning and drove with some friends to a race in nearby mountains, the ones in the picture at the top of this post.
The scenery was your typical Northern Italian fare: picturesque trails under dense foliage, through which shafts of golden sunlight sneaked through to shine on the line of bobbing heads in front of mine, a merry river snaking through the valley below, abandoned caves and stone cabins whose roofs had long ago caved it. There were rocky climbs and scrabble on the way down the other side, now a narrow single track worn into the dirt, now some steps built out of logs, a patch or two of merciful grass in a farmer’s field as we neared the end and, when once again we descended to the valley and were reunited with the very river that had seen us off, there was a sandy path at its banks, and certainly I was not the only runner tempted to slip into its cool embrace and let the current carry me the last mile in.
The boys sent pictures of where they are staying: the spectacular view from their terrace of a rocky cliff that drops straight down into the wide, deep expanse of blue green sea, the dusky pinkish sky and the two of them, already brown in their new swimsuits, lounging before so much beauty.
Their annual trip to the seaside as soon as school lets out is becoming a tradition of sorts. For the past two years they have taken off with their dad on the very first day of summer, and this year they were ready for the break. I was too.
While I am so happy for them to have this precious time with their father, and when we kiss goodbye, it is lightly and with smiles all around, there is an emptiness to my life when they are not in it. In exchange, I gain two weeks of freedom to go where I want, do what I please, sleep alone, not cook dinner. Lou and I relish our quiet, early mornings that extend long past the hour when the boys get up. There are no messes to clean up and the bathroom is always free.
The mountains or the sea? A mother’s life or a single gal’s? Who says they are mutually exclusive? Can’t I have – and love – them all?