first days of Sardinia

After three plane rides, a three hour drive through the heart of Sardinia, navigating our way through Italian streets so narrow we would have scraped the walls if the side mirrors weren’t turned in, a few nights at a noisy Bed and Breakfast in Doragli, many cappuccinos, five days spent fighting jet lag, and a few glasses of Cannanaou, we are finally settled in to an apartment in the picturesque town of Cala Gonone.

Cala Gonone is right on the coast of the Mediterranean, and our apartment couldn’t be any closer to the water. We can hear waves crashing on the rocks below our balcony, there are olive trees lining the steps to our front door, we can walk to get an espresso or a beer or a plate of pasta, or to go climbing. We pass the mornings reading, writing, drinking coffee, eating mangoes, doing yoga, and lounging on our balcony that overlooks the sea. The apartment is tiny, smells like wood, Italian as can be. I adore it.
We haven’t found the gumption to get out of bed early enough to have any early morning climbing sessions, so we wait until afternoon shade to go to the cliffs.
We are renting the place from a woman named Vinchesia–Chensia for short–and I try to be especially charming around her with the hopes that she will invite us over for dinner. She is just one of those people that you want to be around, she’s friendly but doesn’t sugar-coat anything and I bet she makes some really good pesto.
We haven’t met any other Americans. We met a couple from Canada but that’s as close as it gets so far. This is different from the mainland of Italy, where you can walk up to just about anyone that looks like a tourist and they’ll probably be from the US. There is also less English here, I really have to try to speak Italian if I need something. It’s not like when you’re in Florence and the bartender knows perfect English but pretends not to, just to humor you a little so you feel like you’re really far from home, somewhere foreign.
In fact, the longer we’re here, the more I notice how different Sardinia is from Italy. Sardinia is actually underpopulated, the vast majority of the land is wild. The coastlines are rugged and steep and cliffy, which makes for spectacular seaside climbing.
Ah, the climbing. It’s just heavenly. I have always had a special place in my heart for limestone, living in California we don’t get much of it, and this rock is some of the best quality and most unique I’ve ever seen. It also offers a wide variety of angles and terrain—yesterday we climbed on low-angle slabs with tiny holds, the day before we were on almost-horizontal roofs, hanging like bats from huge stalactites and tufas.
The pace here is sloooow. The vibe, mellow as I’ve ever seen. I guess living by the ocean does that to people. Lots of folks walking around in hiking boots and shorts. This is different from the bigger cities like Rome, where cars zoom around corners and women glide through the streets in high heels and tight skirts.
Summer of 2009, I am twenty and hungover. We just arrived in Rome after a four hour bus ride from Montepulciano, the teachers are lecturing about staying together and when we’ll meet, but none of us are really listening. Our heads spin and throb. The summer sun is suffocating. Katie’s head is on my shoulder with a water bottle pressed to her temple. I am wearing jean shorts that are fraying at the ends that I’ve had since highschool, a striped tank top, and Chaco sandals. My wavy hair has turned to frizz and I haven’t worn makeup in months.
She walks with perfect posture on the other side of the street, gliding glamorously in shiny black stilettos. Her deep brown hair is pulled back into a neat bun, with big sunglasses propped on top of her head. She carries a small black leather purse, and her lips are the richest shade of red I have ever seen, like a ripe cherry. Her nails are painted the same color. I bet she smells like Chanel and cigarettes. These kind of women have always fascinated me, the glamorous, fashionable ones that I’m sure wear expensive lingerie everyday of the week. I wonder about them because I am so unlike them. I wonder how it would feel, walking through the streets of Rome freshly showered and manicured, wearing a tight dress and dark mascara, knowing how to walk in heels. I start to feel the slight tug of wishing I was more like this woman. She’s so beautiful, I think to myself, so fashionable, so womanly, and look at me. I’m sitting here looking like a total ragamuffin. She can feel me looking at her, her glance darts in my direction. I don’t have the energy to pretend I wasn’t staring, so we catch eyes. I smile faintly. Her face stays serious but she winks at me, holds my gaze for one moment longer and then looks forward again, stomping like a runway model as she carries on with her day.
A fraction of a second, such a small gesture, that taught me a whole lot about what it means to be a woman. It’s all about self-love in a culture that encourages self-abandonment. May you never self-abandon again, I told myself, this is who you are and it is just as beautiful and womanly as anyone else. If you want to put on red lipstick and walk around Rome, do it, but don’t think for one second that doing that makes you any more beautiful than you are when you haven’t brushed your hair in a few days.
I was having a really hard time in the Bay Area these last few months. I was in a funk, the kind of funk whose depth you don’t even realize until it lifts. I think it grew from fear, from insecurity, from self-abaondonment. And this time, I didn’t have some Roman woman’s wink to tell me, hey, don’t go talking all that shit to yourself, you’re doing just fine, you’ve still got it, stay true.
This time, it wasn’t wishing that I was the kind of woman who could rock a pair of heels, but wishing that I was the kind of woman who had her shit figured out on some level, someone responsible and mature, with direction. I spent the entire summer climbing rocks. That’s silly, I told myself. Get real, Georgie. You’re so out of touch with reality, you’re being stupid and irresponsible.
And that’s the funny thing about wishing you were someone different than yourself—it doesn’t change you into the person you yearn to be–it backfires, drains your power and makes you tired and depressed, because you’re living based on fear.
Then, I arrived in Sardinia, and it was like I took a magic pill that made me okay with myself and my lifestyle. In fact, I was psyched all over again about myself and my lifestyle. It is why I am here, it is what brought me to this amazing place.
Well, that, and the generous grant from the American Alpine Club.
And I know this all sounds very cliche, very Eat Pray Love, very predictable. We all know this story—Girl Goes to Europe and Finds Herself. It is kind of like that, except I already know who I am, I’ve never not known, it was just a matter of becoming okay with it all again.
Maybe this is just something we have to do every once in a while.
I am someone who falls in love with places—town and cities, mountain ranges and seas, streets and cafes. I feel a connection to certain areas of this earth that is strong and obvious. Everyone has at least one place that feels especially meaningful to them, probably somewhere that they’ve evolved on some level, that is home to their most cherished memories, that when visited makes them feel brave and spontaneous and wild again. For me, that place is Italy.
I am so glad to be here, I didn’t realize how bad I needed this.
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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. webtennis
    Oct 08, 2014 @ 06:05:15

    And one day you’ll be doing the winking to that lady in high heels and SHE’ll get the same feeling you do 😉

    You’re cool G. Love you … Dad

    Reply

  2. kim carley
    Oct 13, 2014 @ 08:52:08

    Wow. Just loved reading this and wish it were longer because you took me back to Europe…so missing that time in my life. So glad you are experiencing this wonderful culture and life… Much love, Aunt Kim

    Reply

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