It is almost seven years since the British Airways plane touched down at Pisa airport carrying with it 50kg of my baggage, what were to be my worldly possessions for the next several months, and I stumbled in the dark across the uneven surfaces trying to find the rental car, parked somewhere in the depths of an extensive car park on the edge of the airport.
That same morning had been emotional. A rushed cup of tea, ginormous hugs to the three dogs, squashing the baggage into the ridiculously small but chic and sporty car, being driven along empty streets in a bright sunny dawn to the departures section of Glasgow airport.
Checked in, we shared breakfast, an obscenely huge fry-up, after all it would be my last traditional British Breakfast, I was a Italy bound. Lots of holding of hands, smiles and tears across the table, how in wished we could hug and kiss, but we could not, two guys doing so in public even then in the Uk would have been frowned upon and caused problems. So much did I need to feel the touch of my then man. Queues to go through security, me looking back, he waving anxiously and tearfully, and so to the plane.
Touch down at London, grey, miserable, and one of those horrid long lay-overs, not enough time to do anything but too much time to do nothing. iPod on, and people watch.
Finally having used up all my UK phone minutes in tearful exchanges, the announcement came to board the plane for my Italian adventure. My then boyfriend/partner was staying behind to clear up things, to ensure a smooth transition of his business, close everything up in Glasgow, before selling the tiny flat he was, together with our three dogs relegated to, and then we would drive over here together to start our new lives together.
“this is your captain, there is a large electrical storm over Pisa which means we are unable to land, we will have to circle the airport until the storm moves, and we need to burn the excess fuel to be allowed to land. So the plane flew in circles over the crashing waves of the Mediterranean, the light began to fade. For an hour circling in madding contortions, before touchdown. My Italian adventure, like the plane, no going back.
It was raining, torrential, heavy, wet, the kind of rain that goes through your bones, and it was May, late May, this was italy and it was supposed to be sunny. I thought I could speak Italian, I had holidayed here since forever, we had done evening classes in conversational Italian, but no I could not speak the language….. I was tired and missing my partner and the dogs….. And I had kms to drive. Jump into the black Fiat Punto, soggy, wet, no drenched, did I think to bring an umbrella? Certainly not, this is sunny italy.
Find out where all the controls are, long gone the days when some impossibly cute guy from the rental company would accompany you to the car, and with you in the driver’s seat reach over ones lap and twiddle the various joysticks, guiding your hand to the controls, I had to do it myself. Radio? No.. iPod dead, phone, no SIM card… It was going to be a long journey, tears welled up in my eyes as I set off, why was I here what was I doing, a dream? Why did I need a dream? and why was the steering wheel on the wrong side and why are the Italian road signs so impossible to decipher?
Hesitantly I set off, managed to find my way to the superstrada and head for Umbria. I had booked a few nights on familiar territory, a delightful country house hotel where we had stayed on so many occasions, the owner, now one of my very best and dearest friends had told me that lights would be left on to await my late arrival.
Down the now autostrada, thunder crashing everywhere, loud, real loud, lightening desiccating the skies, the Valkyries were flying. No traffic at all, no white lines on the road, it seems that in Italy the white lines are painted with water based paint and at the first hint of rain they wash away. Kilometre after kilometre I drove, no lights except the huge crashing Valkyries flying with the car, a sign, “Autogrill” so pull off the road, into the truckstop, nobody but a depressingly unwelcoming person behind the counter. A stale panini re fortifying coffee and back to the Valkyries.
And so it was yesterday. After a spell of balmy sunny weather the clouds came and the skies emptied. Thunder crashed, lightning scratched the skies above Bellaugello a Gay Guest House. Jenny the last remaining Scottish dog is terrified of the thunder, she was whimpering under the bed, the pore went off reminiscent of last august the power went off, I thought another burnt out electric meter, (still waiting on the insurance payout) luckily not just tripped fuses.
Bellaugello sits in a very commanding position on a south facing ridge looking down the Chiascio valley towards monte Subasio, the hill behind Assisi, so the views are huge, and yesterday’s storm was also huge. It brought back memories of that first day here in Umbria. So much has changed, the then abandoned house is now one of the foremost gay resorts in italy, I can now speak Italian, and have learnt to drive through the torrential rain without the assistance of white lines. Then partner is now long time an ex, the Scottish Setters have passed away, their last years in the halcyon bliss of the Umbrian countryside, and I am firmly planted to the soil here, the new Setter, Abandonnato is settling in well, Jenny is still the boss and I have a wonderful job and get to welcome fabulous guys from all over the world…. But every time there is a huge storm, my mind wanders back to that first day here when I could have so easily turned back. I’m glad I didn’t.