Dear lovely readers, I am so sorry I haven't gotten back on the blogging horse. And I don't just mean that I'm sorry out of an obligation to the blog or anyone - I'm really, honestly, just sorry for myself.
Truth is, I've been pretty bloody depressed lately. Yep, it's possible to get depressed even living in a tropical paradise. Various people whom I care about are going through hard things like illness and outrageous family problems, and one died recently. And the bloody federal election didn't help any, let me tell you. Like life is worth living under a Tony Abbott government. Pfft. At least my late friend didn't live quite long enough to see that come to pass.
And I've really been missing the blogs so much, mine and all the beautiful ones I love to follow. But you know how things seem harder to catch up on when you're already depressed. But this morning, as part of my ok-I-really-have-to-pull-myself-together mission, I made a deliberate point of turning on the computer, waiting patiently for the slow connection, and reading through my blog list. I forced myself to keep reading until something happened, some spark, some inspiration, some clue or sign. I knew it would come if I let myself be taken up in the stories.
And it was there. It was Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippyshake who got to me. Oh Lucy, have I told you how much I adore you? She went to Lake Como in her travels, according to this lovely post here. And I remembered, oh, I've been to Lake Como. And I remembered that I have a story. So even though I was planning a 'My New House' series, because this place is at least as lovely as most of the wonders of the world I have seen, we will take a little detour through Italy, just because inspiration has struck.
It was February 2000, I'd been staying in Switzerland and I decided I wanted to go to Greece. My Swiss friend Ms A decided she would come with me, as she had never been to Greece. We had very little money, and our plan was basically to hitch and camp our way through Italy and then get a boat to Greece from the south of Italy. We had a tiny tent, a tiny gas cooker, and two big backpacks. We started at the train station in Luzern (Lucerne). Ms A had been given a gift of railway vouchers, and we took them to the counter and asked how far south the two of us could get for the value of the vouchers. The ticket seller consulted his charts and told us that we could get to Lake Como. And so, several hours later, we got off the train at Lake Como.
We didn't have much time to wander around, but it was so obvious that this was a stunningly beautiful place. I remember an unusual feeling of envy for the owners of the luxurious home on the crystal waterfront. But it passed. I knew my gypsy lifestyle bore stranger, more wonderful fruit, and it certainly would - as we shall see. It was already well into the afternoon and we needed to get out of the city and into the country where we could find a place to camp. We didn't have enough money to pay for accommodation. So we just found our way to the bus terminal, and to a cafe for hot chocolates. Here I got the shock of my life. Nobody had warned me about Italian hot chocolates. Oh My Goddess. I've seen plenty of very pricey, fancy cafes lately in Australia advertising allegedly genuine Italian hot chocolate, but it's not even a shadow on what even a midnight roadside truck stop would come up with in Italy. Real Italian hot chocolate is as dark and thick as mud, a little piece of viscous heaven in a cup. But I digress.
We found our bearings and consulted maps and timetables. Remember, all this was before smartphones and google maps. We found which road would take us out in the direction we wanted to go, and also that no buses would take us up there this afternoon. We shouldered our packs and hiked up the road. Up being the operative word - it was a distinctly uphill road. We climbed a long way, looking for a good spot to stop on the side of the road to thumb a lift. But there just weren't any. The road was narrow and without shoulders, there was no room for a driver to slow down and pull over. We kept climbing up that hill all afternoon. It was near dark when we found a strip that looked possible, and stood in position with our thumbs out. No one pulled over. Soon it was dark and the streetlights came on. All of them, that is, except the one that would have illuminated us standing on the side of the road. That one was out, apparently. This was clearly Not Working Out. We shouldered our packs and wandered off again, this time away from the road, looking for a spot perhaps under a tree where we could camp. We had come so far out of the centre of town that the buildings were not so close together up here, there was quite a lot of space. And by the glow of the light pollution we found a spot of grassy land, a reasonable distance away from the nearest building. We pitched our camp in the dark, made some tea and something to eat, and went to sleep in our tiny tent.
I woke up at daybreak and went outside to answer the call of nature. The nearby building looked a lot closer in the daylight. It wasn't a home, but a big block of offices or a college or something like that. I could see a small group of young men near the buildings. They were obviously looking at us, our tent. I woke Ms A. "There are men outside!" She sleepily poked her head out the tent flap, and then back in. "They're only young men," she said - and lay down and went back to sleep. I always wondered exactly what she meant by that. It's only now, typing this out, that I realise that she meant that they were too young to be any kind of authority figure, and therefore she wasn't fussed about what they thought. I had a bit more of a nap, too.
A bit later, one of the young men approached our tent. He was using extremely polite, formal, non-threatening body language and intonation as he spoke to us. He was also astoundingly handsome. Not just movie star handsome, but bloody Greek God image of absolute perfection. I was later to come to realise that the Italians are generally more attractive than people elsewhere, but still, this young man was incredibly exquisite. We roused ourselves from our sleeping bags and looked at him in response. He talked on a bit more. Our faces remained blank. Then he seemed to realise something and change tack. "(blah blah) parlo Italiano?" We knew what that meant. We shook our heads. "Ah." It took about four seconds for he and Ms A to establish Spanish as the common language that they could both understand. And the whole spiel was repeated. Ms A then explained to me that we had apparently found ourselves in the backyard of a rehabilitation facility for drug addicts. The young men were the inpatients.
They were thrilled to find themselves with unexpected visitors, and took their roles as hosts very seriously. They snuck us into the kitchen, explaining that they couldn't let the staff see us here, and made fresh espresso coffee and squeezed juice fresh from blood oranges for us. They raided the kitchen and put together a bag of food for us to take on the road, such a big bag that its weight was a serious hindrance until we could eat it up. One of the young men asked us if we would take his boots. He explained, through another who interpreted, that he could not go anywhere because he had to stay here in this facility. He would like to think that his boots could travel, even if he couldn't. We were really sad to say no to his request, but the boots didn't fit us and we couldn't take on that kind of useless weight in our packs. Still, whatever that place was doing for those young men, I was sure it was something good. They all looked extremely healthy. I never would have guessed them for heavy drug addicts. They were obviously all doing very well in there. The handsome one told me in very slow, thoughtful, broken English how he couldn't believe his eyes when he had seen a tent in the yard when he had woken up this morning. He thought he was seeing things. Those dear young men were so incredibly thrilled with the whole adventure of having these exotic, foreign young women turn up in a little tent in the middle of the night. I'll never forget that man's face as he tried to find English words to describe his experience. They hurried us on our way before the main shift of staff arrived for the day, but I daresay there's a good chance those young men will never forget us, either.