As the launch date for the release of A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation book draws near (it's July 3rd, by the way), I thought it might be be enjoyable for you to have a sneak peak at the Preface. If you like it, feel free to send it to about 4,000 of your friends. If you hate it, well, keep it to yourself. Pretend you never saw it. Just go on about your business. And to all you beautiful people out there (whether you like my book or not), keep doing what makes you you!
The morning sun is strong now but partially shielded by tall medieval buildings. I rest casually in the shade on old stone steps with no schedule, no plan, and not an ounce of hurry left in my body. It feels strange. I strain to remember if I’ve ever felt this way before. In childhood, perhaps, but such memories are hidden beneath the dusty veil of time.
A wedding party is kibitzing about the steps on which I sit, breaking up and heading for some tour buses somewhere. I know this because one of the boys yelled it loudly, as if in command of the group, which perhaps he is. One young lady, in the early bloom of her maturity and obviously intending to be sexy, is wearing a dress so tight old women shake their heads while young men find reasons to stop and turn. She pulls self-consciously at the shortness of it in a vain attempt to cover more of herself. I can tell she won’t wear it again, and smile, thinking that virtue has found her through embarrassment. Or perhaps she simply hasn’t struck the right chord, struggling as she is in the space between a girl and a woman.
Pigeons flutter overhead and doves coo. Old men, as I’ve seen everywhere throughout this land, have assembled at their posts in little clusters outside bars. They don’t begin their card games until afternoon. The mornings are reserved for staring. I find it interesting how they dominate the tables and chairs in front of these little snack shops, but never, even once, have I seen any of them with a single item purchased from inside. They lay claim to the territory solely on the authority of their age, and I wonder if there is a rite of passage into their silver-haired gang. I daydream about finding out first-hand for myself someday—that is, if foreigners are allowed.
“There are too many Germans in Cortona,” I hear a German say in thickly accented English, and I watch as he and others stroll by with shopping bags swinging.
Employees of the museum next to me work lackadaisically to set up street signs in the piazza. A policewoman in navy pants with scarlet stripe, powder blue blouse, and bright white helmet, harasses cars that enter to park. One young man, tall and strapping with long curly hair, jumps out of a Fiat Panda and deploys his flirtatious charisma, promising he’ll only be a minute. She succumbs with a smile.
In front of a fruit store, a barrel-shaped old woman angrily sweeps invisible dirt with a whiskbroom, while some middle-aged men in shiny suits sit smoking at tables nearby. Next to me on the steps rests a little jangle of American college students, apparently in town to study something. A tall blonde girl flirts openly with a boy more interested in his schoolwork. He rises to leave and an- nounces he’s not quite ready for the test. She mimes disappoint- ment but watches him walk away. One of her friends swats her on the shoulder.
Someone emerges from a ceramic shop and shouts at a man passing by with a dog on a leash. The man turns, smiles, waves, and stops to talk to his greeter. They lean against the building and chat—all the time in the world.
I retrieve my motorcycle from its spot against the stone wall of the old theater and saddle up. I need nothing but its brakes as I descend steep, narrow stone streets and gain passage into the wide-open countryside just beyond the city’s ancient walls. I turn onto smooth blacktop and roll on the power, olive trees whizzing past as I head for no destination but just ride.
After an hour I stop along a quiet road and kill the engine.
The sun is hot on my matted hair, and a gentle breeze is too gentle. Digging a camera from my shorts I attempt to capture the scene in all its glory. A beautiful abandoned limestone farmhouse stands in splendor atop a bright tan wheat field. Dark green cypress trees trace the old lane up to the building and stab the clear azure sky like soldiers in formation. Canopy pines provide shade in a peaceful cluster around the top of the knoll. Rigidly neat rows of grape- vines slant across a hill in the background, their obviously manicured condition a stark contrast with the adjacent ruined house. Farther in the distance looms a dull grey mountain range, jagged against the sky. These images comprise a stereotypically stunning Tuscan landscape—the kind that arrests my attention and conjures my wonder again and again.
I zoom in, walk around, play with the camera but cannot get the lenses to capture the full measure of reality. Despite my best efforts the photographs simply fall short. I so desperately want to share this, to bottle it up and take it back for others. I wish to pour it out for them and show what they too could be seeing, to give them an idea of what is out there and what they could experience. But my efforts are in vain. Sometimes, quite literally, you simply have to be there.
I’ll just have to tell the whole story, I think, motoring away. I’ll have to tell it in a way that brings it to life for others: enough to inspire them to launch out on their own adventures.
The story is one of going slow in order to go fast; a story about rediscovering and bringing back into favor a lost art; namely, the art of vacation, and it is—or rather should be—a story about you.