The coastline salutes me as I finally made it to the top of the hill. Although you will never hear me admit it, I must be getting old now. Old... just a silly number game, invented for the sheep. Spirit is all that matters, and even on my 80th birthday, I feel as bright and determined as in my early days. It seemed like it was only yesterday I blew out my twentieth birthday candle
Where did I cross over so far to the other side? I can’t recall at all. It doesn’t matter now, it never did in the past. So what did matter all that time? My path has always been one unusual wild river, from the Alps’ mountain source until the welcoming sea. I am almost at the finish, still a few turns to go. An unknown number of crossroads ahead.
La Vita di Castro e Bella, it had always been smiling to me in a certain way. The scent of La Primavera on a beautiful April evening smelled so familiar. Home, it’s good to be back. Even after 50 years, I still call you home, Castro As I take one step closer towards the edge of my favorite cliff, I felt something wet dripping on my face. Tears are balancing on my blushing round cheeks, folded in this enchanting smile of relief. Memories took hold of my whole appearance.
I made it back home. Just as I promised on that day, the day I chose air above suffocation, the day I lost Love and found Life.
I never get emotional, I am Marisa. I keep on going, no matter the odds or stakes. So, what is this then, why now?
I gambled and I won. I chose and I unfolded I got up and walked away. But did I ever really leave?
I chuckled and thought about what my nonna once told me in my darkest hour:
“Bambina, a strada di Casa non se la perdo domani” Turns out she had been right all the time
Old Vincenzo, age 88 – Castro, 30th of April 2075
Not a day has passed this last 50 years that I haven't thought about that sunny afternoon when I saw her for the first time on the market square, that sunny First of May 2015. Labour Day outmatched every other Holiday in this poor and rural region and was without a doubt the highlight of the small and simple sea village called Castro. Every villager dressed in their best outfit, little children were playing on the streets, local squares and churches decorated over-the-top, the best food stalls, fairs and market stalls, local bands played the traditional music of the South, dancing young folks courting each other under a warm Primavera-sun… Beautiful Italian traditions, imprinted from the earliest age.
I arrived a few months before in town from Palermo to take over the restaurant from my uncle, a famous chef who was about to retire and who wanted to entrust the secret recipes of La Familia on to the next generation. An honour and a privilege I dreamed my whole life of being part of the chef-tradition in my family. Even on Labour day we had a food stand on the church square.
I was just preparing the evening shift as I felt a presence taking over the atmosphere. I looked up and there she was strolling through the main street. You should've seen her in that white dress, the most beautiful creature I ever saw. Moulded perfection, as if God himself opened the gates of heaven and put his masterpiece on earth. Flawless in all aspects, gracefully enchanting the whole marketplace in seconds. The way she smiled to everyone and vividly took part in dancing with the children made are almost glow like an Angel. When she saw the village elders, who sat in a line in the shadow she waved cheerfully, hopped over to them and sat down in the middle of their 'city council' for an enthusiastic talk. I was drawn to here immediately, resisting was not an option. I was defenseless against this natural force, she pierced through my reservations as a knife through butter. Her bronzed skin made me shiver, her incredible smile could even put a king to his knees, but her dynamic energy surrounded every person like the sun itself.
Instant intoxicated, I realized too late I was looking for ages at her like a schoolboy struck by lightning. I just wasn't able to tear my eyes away from her. While the old men were fighting as young dogs for her attention, she suddenly turned around, looked me straight in the eye, without blinking even once. I had the feeling she was able to scan my soul in a couple of seconds. It was as if she had been aware of my hypnotized dumb gaze all the time. She caught me red-handed. I never got caught... With no warning whatsoever, she swiftly got up and walked towards my food stand. Not realizing what was happening my reaction was turtle-like. I turned around fast and stumbled around with some pans but … "Shouldn't you look at your food instead of me, Siciliano? I wouldn't want burned pasta tonight." I turned around very slowly, leaned over and just looked at her dark playful eyes filled with magic. For four seconds, time stopped, the music faded and people didn't exist. For four seconds, she and she alone was my Universe. Words were expendable, even inconvenient. It took me 4 seconds and no words to truly know her, to connect with her. Yes… to Love her.
"I am going for my daily sea swim, but I see you tonight. Don't disappoint me, Capo Siciliano" I am Marisa, but the elders call me 'Bambina'. So choose wisely. And smoothly like a Tigress, she took off to her favorite bay.
After my best, most Inspired meal and four dates, we knew we were madly in Love.
Marisa e Vicenzo. La 'Bambina' e Il Capo Siciliano.
We became a myth in Castro, forged for each other. Unparalleled Passion.
Those 3 years were the highlight of my life. Never did I see her again after she left. The Love of my life, still after all those years.
Marisa, Castro, age 23 – May 2018
Vincenzo is looking up just for a second, as I enter ' La Primavera' at primetime. His gaze crosses mine, reflecting some sort of restless admiration, before turning his head away fully focused on la Primi Piatti that is about to be served to the buzzing crowd of hungry guests. I watch him while he practices his restraint to give in to his unprecedented passion for details when it comes down to his restaurant. It is literally the extension of his heart, the pumping centre of his world, his alter ego. It drives him, consumes him even from time to time. That and.. well, me of course. Vincenzo always was a quite young man, introvert one might say. Even when he was a kid, he kept to him self but showed determination and heart like no one else.
Today we were 3 years together. And it is been a never ending rollercoaster.
There was a time that we were unbreakable, scorched together like inflamed matchsticks. Shared everything life had to offer: a small apartment, our bodies, our hopes, dreams, a shared unquenchable love for food.
We had it all, at least it seemed that way. He was my Rock, and I his Muse.
But these days the pixie dust seem to ran out and cracks were starting to show. What it was that floated us away from our original course, I still can't put my finger on. It must 've been a combination of ambition and neglect towards each other, spiced up with a rally of jealous incidents and torched with the inability to compromise. I called it ‘Macho overprotective’, he called it ‘the Italian Way’ Vincenzo's life was in Castro and would always be in Castro. But as I unfolded my life, I knew I wanted more out of it. So much of the world I hadn't seen, so many experiences I was drawn to naturally. He called me an eternal dreamer and said I had to be reminded more often what the values were of stability and tradition. "With dreams only you can't buy anything", he would say.
Something was bound to happen, it was written in the stars.
I tried to hold on, I fought the urge and supported him in his goals, I really did. But it started to drain me, the balance was gone. A natural instinct drove me always back to the same crossroad of conflicted interests.
Today we were 3 years together. But today it would end. I would break it, I would cut us loose. I would kill love and drift off. He only doesn’t know it yet. He doesn’t know that this would be the last time he would see me. He doesn’t know my bags were standing outside and my bus would leave this evening. I would go to my grandmother, Nonna, and I would figure things out.
Watching him one last hour, saying goodbye to him, to Castro and the past. One day I would return. One day far from now.
Ciao Amore, I have to go.
Marisa, age 23 – May, Castro-Cinque Terre
Once out of the restaurant, everything was a blur. It was raining unstoppably as I was about to leave Castro. As I was walking towards the bus station, everything came the reality of leaving without looking back came crashing down on me. Tears were mixing with raindrops on my face and I threw my bags on the ground and looked at the sky.
Where would I go now, what would I do with my life and did I make a mistake to leave Vincenzo and my life as abrupt. The sky was as dark and stormy as my life seemed now. Empty, alone without shelter. But as if a lightning bolt triggered something in my body, I felt a sensation of warm energy and determination manifesting itself. Like the first draw of fresh breath after a long dive in the lagoon.
Yes, I was alone and undoubtedly heartbroken. But at the same time I came back alive. I was in control again, back in my own drivers seat. Then and there, I made a pact with myself to never hand over the steering wheel again. Freedom was mine for the taking. And I promised myself to live up to my own dreams, whatever they might be and get the fullest out of every day. I would keep on going, no matter what challenge I would have to overcome Trust my natural instinct and never doubt my resilience. This would not break me, this will open me up.
So enough tears and on to the bus station, Bambina is no more.
A call at the payphone later, Nonna said she would be waiting and I was welcome. “Everything will be fine, you’ll find your way, Bambina.” There was my bus. Final call. I gazed on the beautiful bay that was my home… and hopped on the bus.
The 1000km drive through the Italian countryside to my grandmother gave me time to reflect and look ahead. Nonna lived in a tiny mountain village up North near the Cinque Terre. A magical place in the heart of Italy’s Green mountains. Nature was so beautiful and balanced over there, you could hardly hear the distracting noises of civilization. An ideal place to get back on my feet and get my sheep in a row.
The bus drive cross-country was something I had never done before. I never saw so much of Italy before due to the secondary state roads, because Vincenzo hated those ‘slow time-consuming ‘strada statale’. But to me, it was a dazzling distraction that was most welcome along the way.
After 17hours crisscrossing through the country, I finally arrived at the village Nonna was waiting at the bus stop and started the wave joyful when she saw me. “Madre Madonna, que bellissima, you stay as long as you like” she said, when she hugged me and kissed me all over my face. She herself was as beautiful as ever, like if time barely had any effect on her appearance. Proud, strong-willed and independent because she lived on her own for 3 decades already. At her 78, she was still fill of life force and energy. She welcomed me in her small but wonderful authentic house on the mountainside. I felt home instantly. Nonna started to heat up an amazing meal (like only she could prepare), while I took a bath and got settled in my mother’s old room she prepared for me. I opened the window and looked over the valley. The Mountain View was simply mesmerizing, brought the emotions back.
But I was happy at the same time, some suffocating pressure fell of my shoulders. ‘I am going to be alright”, I whispered to myself. That night I slept better than ever before.
The next month I lived with Nonna, in balance with Nature and with myself. We took time for long walks, through the fields surrounding the mountain hill. Nonna told me time after time she believed in me, and this was a big challenge to overcome, but that I was the strongest spirit she knew. It took time to overthink my options during endless breakfasts or even just lying on her couch or garden. I revitalised completely, and got some fresh perspective what I wanted to do with my life Through an old friend, I came in contact with a fashion agency in Milano where I could do an internship and work as model as well. I never considered the option before, but I felt more confident and ready to bring something new on the table, where natural balance and a pure lifestyle would stand central. Something I always tried to achieve in everything, although I got distracted by Love and it challenges, it was pure instinct that brought us together and tore us back apart. But it made me believe in that natural balance even more. I would bring this to world, wherever I would be or end up. And on a beautiful morning, my plan was ready. I saw the twinkling eyes of my grandmother. “You show the world what you’ve got, Bambina, I believe you will” A list big hug and kiss, and I was heading for the city. Andiamo!
Big Citylights, la Vita di Milano! Once there, I looked around with big but confident eyes
So much is going on, people fly by like bees in a hive that is a quadruple times to small. All humming to get where they have to be, the artificial lights are welcoming but scare me a bit at the same time. But I came back so far not to be scared. I wanted freedom, I wanted more. Well, now I've got it and I'm not giving it away again. Besides, I have a mission now and I won’t back down.
The world expanded drastically, but it is still not mine. I want my balanced pure world.
Marisa,age 28 – Milano
Morningwalks at the harbor with my beautiful Vino are my best way to start off a busy day. It clears my head and gives me time to overthink my time-table and the decisions of the day. Every time I see the grin on Vino’s gigantic head when we go out in the morning, my heart melts. A huge Dog on the outside but a sweet baby all the way, and truly a mascotte of the company.
A quick shower and some muesli further, I’m heading to our main-office in the center of Milano. One quick look in the elevator mirror , and ready to rock it today. This office is my territory, but the atmosphere breaths our vision, my beliefs to push through as I promised to myself
Sipping from my ‘Cafe’ As i’m waiting for a client, I suddenly notice a middle aged man who’s sitting on the stairs of te building across the streets. I know this man... It was Vincenzo’s old uncle from the restaurant, resting and enjoying the sun. He didn’t notice me, so I got up, crossed the street and set down on the same stairs. He still didn’t see me, but just hummed an old song from Castro.
I sat down on the cornerstep and just listened. An overload of faded memories flew through my head: Childhood, Nature, My blue lagoon, the elders, the sun of Puglia and... my Love for Vincenzo. Emotions too hard to describe bundled within me, just because of a simple hummingtune. I chuckled a bit with my own thoughts:“Powerwoman brought down by a southern hummingsong” A warm burning emotion took the upperhand. The first time in my life. I came a long way, I had to sacrifice all that I knew and loved to get where I am today.
I said nothing to Vincenzo’s uncle, I just kept on listening for several minutes. As quite as possible, I got up and walked back to the office and planned to do something I had never done so far in 5 years. “Cancel the rest of my appointments today, Francesca, I’m going out of the office today” I said to my assistant who couldn’t believe what she was hearing, but just laughed and nodded. I left our gates, quite dashing and ... with a satisfied, thankful smile.
“I wonder if they have a good Sicilian restaurant in Milano” I thought as I walked towards the sunlight, brighter than ever.