Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Neither Here Nor There

A friend and I were sitting at a bar the other week having typical random bar chat when the discussion turned to time travel. He had read that the most accepted theory of time travel lies in the idea that the world exists in an infinite number of parallel universes. There is no past or future; just an infinite number of present moments lying on different planes. At this very moment, you are 10 years old. At this very moment, you are having your first kiss. I liked that idea, and thought it may actually explain the feeling of deja vu.

The idea that I'm currently living in other periods of my life intrigues me. It makes me think back to a time when I felt the most free I've ever been:

I was backpacking through Europe one summer, when I met these two guys from Jacksonville, Jon and Darrin, and two girls from Vancouver, Barb and Pam, while in a train station in Florence. Barb and Pam had read about a small, secluded area called Cinque Terra (Five Towns), on the Italian Riviera. It wasn't known to many foreigners and was described as a secret idyllic escape. Jon and Darrin had just met Barb and Pam 10 minutes before I showed up, and invited me along to explore. An hour later we found ourselves on a train hugging the turquoise waters off the Italian coast, the sea spraying our faces from the open windows.

The five of us became immediate friends, and it was as if we had known each other all our lives. Travel always seems to bring about a special bonding.

Darrin, Barb, Jon, Pam and me (I'm going through one of my many wild hairstyles--the oversized tie-dye the only clean shirt I had left).

We spent our days lazing on the beach and drinking cheap wine in the coastal town of Monterroso. We could have stayed forever. But we knew there was more of this area to explore. Monterroso was but one town making up the "five towns." Other towns lay hidden in the valleys of the Alps or resting against the coastline. So we dropped most of our baggage off at the train station locker room and hiked our way through the neighboring mountains to see what else we might find. Armed with nothing more than our sleeping bags and a few necessities, we set off.

After a couple of hours hiking along the mountain's edge, we stumbled upon a site that would forever be embedded in my mind. Off the steep drop to our left lay a small town perched on a cliff jutting into the sea. It was perfect.

You can see the cave. The wall jutting out to the left of the cave is the cliff we would climb. Also note the lighthouse at the far end of the village.

Hiking our way down to the town, we found a local woman who agreed to rent out the top floor of her villa to us, including access to the roof. We paid in advance for five days and applauded ourselves for this fortuitous discovery. There were no tourists in this paradise--just locals on holiday. Vernazzo was a cobblestone maze of alleys flavored with family-style restaurants and homey shops. We were immediately made welcome, and hung out and sang with locals who strummed guitar(surprisingly, it was always songs like "Wish You Were Here" and "Hotel California") on the beach and in the streets. Every evening we'd drink wine from our rooftop and watch the sun fade behind distant mountaintops, its golden glow shimmering on the Mediterranean below.

Each night we'd hike through the cave behind the town and climb on top of its cliff. We'd strip off all our clothes, lie back and just be.

This was the first time in my life I had ever taken my clothes off with a group of people. I had felt insecure about my body since I was a teen, having always looked a lot younger than I really was. When I entered college at 17, I only looked about 14. But those three years are more like 30 when trying to fit in at that age, and it left an almost indelible impression on my fragile ego. People would ask me at parties "how old are you?" and say, "God, you look like a kid." I used to pass up chances to go skinny-dipping at the local pool, making excuses for why I couldn't go.

But now I felt so free of worries and inhibitions that it only felt natural to take my clothes off. I was surprised at how easily I did it, and how great it felt. The waves’ spray left the cliff’s rocky floor cold and slick under my back. The winds blowing off the dark sea buffeted my body, and for the first time in my life I felt truly alive. We all knew how special the moment was, and we just lay on our backs and stared into the night sky. I could feel myself drifting up into the celestial void, being sucked into a swirling panorama of stars. As Jim Morrison put it so aptly, "we were stoned, immaculate."

I vividly recall thinking, "this is the best I've ever felt in my life. I have no worries or concerns. I don't need to think about the future. I just need to think about now, and how beautiful now really is." I thought of my four friends, whom I had just met a few days earlier, and how close we had already become. They allowed me to permanently discard my inhibitions, and to forever feel free and natural.

And as I sit here now, typing this very sentence, I like to believe that I am still lying on that cliff wall. And that I will still be there tomorrow, when I head to work in the morning.


Blogger ECphoto.-in-training said...

Wow, that sounds like an amazing experience. It has always been my dream to visit Europe, and especially Italy. You seem to have the heart of an adventurer, and the gift of being able to see moments with your soul. Gratefully, you're also able to use that passion and convey those wonderful memories through your pen (or keyboard :) ). I don't know to say thanks or what, just wanted to let you know how amazing it sounded and how jealous I

9:27 PM  

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