Can you walk your way toward love?
On the tenth anniversary of Richard being free — both of his rare cancer and his former identity — we wanted to celebrate by wandering Italy. We saved money by renting our guest bedroom on Air BNB, and found a home exchange family who offered us their beautiful apartment, and we set out with a desire to go as slow as possible. There wouldn’t be any hairpin turns in fast cars. We chose to use trains, ferries, furniculars, buses, and our feet, and to travel in the same ways Italians mostly do, collectively. We wanted to set out on unknown paths, and to take time for the things we might rush by if we’d followed a guidebook. We didn’t know it, but we were about to walk our way right into our deepening love for life.
An ancient pathway on a sacred mountain beckoned. On the Amalfi Coast, the Sentiero degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, is laced with trails first used in the Middle Ages by mules, to cart supplies up the cliffs that sweep from the Mediterranean Sea to mountains lined with olive groves. We randomly chose a guest home run by four sons and their father that turned out to be steps from the trail. Nocelle is a little mountain village that perches on sheer cliffs thousands of feet above Positano. We walked through its old walls, past ceramic signs on turrets, and flowers that cascaded over craggy stone, and goat farmers who set up shop selling limoncello and beer and pizza to hikers. At the entrance to the trail is a holy site: the Virgin Mary in a cave with a spring nearby to fill our water bottles.
Once on the trail, we could see that families still lived up here, where terraced gardens and vineyards and churches line cliff faces. This path is one of land connected to a way of life that has been happening since the villagers tucked themselves into cave homes to avoid the Saracen pirates. As we climbed over narrow trails that dropped straight to the sea, we could hear goats on the ledges above us, and then climbing further, we saw primitive stone dwellings with twig fences, and dark grottoes with swimming holes and encountered groups of Italian teenagers picnicking, enjoying the last free days before school began. The sun beamed on our backs, but the scent of lemon groves and the scamper of chameleons over hot rocks led us on.
We were hiking toward Bomerano (Agerola), where we could catch a bus, or hopefully find food and water. But when we arrived there, we realized we only wanted more time together, alone, up here where the gods seemed to be showing us something. We stayed on the trail, and circled back, to see how things might look from the other direction.
Everything seemed fragile — the fading light, the scraggy bushes, the paper petitions cast into a forlorn cave. Richard was wearing what I called his ‘Norman-you-old-poop’ hat, and he was resting more than usual, and I had my own tired way of making meaning from these things. We ran into a newlywed couple from California, tanned youngsters taking self-portraits of their yoga poses on a boulder overlooking the beaches. They offered to take our photo there above the pink and white village, and I felt my man’s giant arms go around me, and I wondered in that moment how long we would have together. How many miles had we walked into love, just like this one day? Where might it happen, our separation?
But it already had happened. The death of everything I knew as him. The identity death. The only death. And here I was with this one, imagining our way into another kind of life.
That day, it wasn’t la morte, what the Italians call the dirt nap. At the end of the trail that day, there were sunburns and lemon granitas and a pisolino, the catnap, forty winks, a snooze. We dreamed. We might still be dreaming.
Photos by Sonya Lea, Richard Bandy and one very svelte young couple.