Renée Bintje is a travel and leisure writer, whose professional work in the environmental and humanitarian sectors saw her living and travelling across Asia, Europe and Africa. In this column she shares some of her travel sketches, which is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
By Renée Bintje
Fiumicino was a completely different story. From the moment I touched down, someone always helped me with the luggage and my trip to Termini, and then the ride to Latina were pure bliss… Ahhhh Italian men are so cavalliero…, I thought, pleasantly surprised that a small woman with an absurd amount of luggage, covered in perspiration, still drew male attention…., in a country where the definition of feminine beauty is a rule of law, embedded in the constitution.
Liana was already waiting at the station and looked badly surprised.
‘’Mamma mia Bella!!! Much, too much luggage!!! I could hardly see you behind the trolley, only the luggage….!!!’’ she exclaimed, pretty stressed out.
I said that I had no trouble at all, since landing in Fiumicino, as someone always helped me, trying to justify the ridiculous situation I have put myself in.
‘’Maaaaa, of course they help you!!! They only saw suffering!!!” she snapped, in a very Liana style, sharp but not unkind.
I was happy to see her. A very dear friend from the past was present at the beginning of my new life. It made me feel that the very few golden threads essential to the tapestry of my life were the first weave on the present one. I felt secure, anchored and loved.
We spent a beautiful day together walking along the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was a crisp winter afternoon and I was ecstatic at having such a mild temperature, walking under a cheerful blue sky instead of cold, rainy, sombre Oxford grey for a change.
We ate supper at a seafood restaurant by the beach. A couple of men who were sitting at the next table fell into conversation with us. This happens quite a lot in Italy, and throughout Mediterranea, where diners at the next table would casually engage with you, more of acknowledging your presence rather than being intrusive, although there’s a thin line between them. They were elegant, firstly, recommending some of the best dishes, and then showed some curiosity about me. Liana was perfect as usual, being friendly enough with just a light touch of interesting highlights without giving a full biography away. To our sweet surprise, the men complimented us with a bottle of wine, a large dish of cozze al vino bianco and calamari grigliati, their selection of the best dishes. Before taking leave, they kissed my hands, and wished me all the best. They were charming, very charming indeed.
I smirked at Liana, “So, did they only see suffering too….?!!!”
The plan was to set off early in the morning the next day to the Sabine Hills, made up of a cluster of charming little villages tucked in the valleys, while others breathtakingly hanging by the cliffs, of the luscious, mountainous province of Rieti.
It was a complicated train ride from Latina and I wanted to make sure I arrived with sufficient daylight at the small village station, where Gianna would meet me. I arranged to volunteer at her retreat for a few weeks.
“You have to call Gianna, and make sure she comes with a car, with enough space for all of your luggage’’, Liana emphasized, more out of concern than sarcasm. “Make sure you don’t lose your connections as trains are infrequent there, and you don’t want to arrive in the middle of nowhere and be stuck alone with all this in the dark!” she warned.
I arrived late afternoon, with just a couple of hours of daylight left. As planned, Gianna was waiting for me at the station. As I had already called her in advance about my ridiculous luggage, I was so relieved to see her smile kindly, while I mumbled loads of apologies, and then we set off along the narrow winding roads to the retreat.