Here is the deal. It is February. Traditionally, February is my toughest month. I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. And the sad switch that turns off my happy has always been the month of February. I feel meh. I feel unmotivated. I kind of feel sad, but then I am simply distracted by the grey. I am fighting every urge not to write the dark, disgruntled or dissatisfied parts of my life. I would love to share the stories of recent fraud, gloom, late night tears, or how frustrating I find people who whitewash reality. Seriously. So, as I sit at my laptop staring out the window, and see little sunshine, the melting grey snow half-covering our brownish lawn, I will fight that urge to be dark. I know when February rolls around all of these things seem much grim, even our yard.
Instead, and maybe because I know the days are only getting longer, I have decided to share a happy February memory, a memory that often saves me, and of course often makes me a little melancholy.
My February Memory: Rome & The Amalfi Coast
Four years ago, Dave and I enrolled the boys in online school. He was working in San Francisco at the time, and we decided to finally make the move to the Bay Area. (Of course that move did not stick, but it was the plan at the time.) Nevertheless, because the boys were in online school, I had this genius thought.
“Why don’t we take them to Europe for a really long trip.”
Dave bit. While Dave worked, I would spend the first half of the trip with my friend Emily, and Dave would trade places with Emily and join us in Barcelona around Valentine’s Day (which is in February as you know).
We love Rome. The boys were very excited to be back. On the way to Rome we made an overnight stop in Dallas Texas at my friend Rachael’s, with Dave and the boys. Then we parted ways. Rachael stayed in Texas. Dave flew on to San Francisco and the boys and I started our overseas journey. I nearly lost my jacket in the Chicago airport. A man hit on me on the plane, about which Kyle said,
“Mom, that man is weird.”
“Yes. Kyle. Stay close.”
We both laughed. We ended up getting re-routed through London’s Heathrow airport, and finally landed in Rome. We made our way to our AirBnB, which was probably a VRBO at the time.
We settled in. Then, because the boys are really good navigators, they directed me to our beloved pizza place, and bookended our pizza (cut-by-the-slice with scissors) with two stops to Giolitti, our favorite gelato establishment. After visiting Giolitti twice that first day, with a fair amount of foreboding, Eli wanted to know if our gelato days were over.
“Mom, can we really get gelato EVERY SINGLE DAY?”
“Dude, we will get gelato every single day.” I responded.
“Are you serious? Really? Every day?” Eli incredulously asked.
“Maybe even two or three times.” I insisted.
“Won’t you make us eat healthy food too.” Eli tested.
“If said healthy food fits into our gelato schedule.” I proclaimed.
And to my word, and proven via our credit card statement, most of our food budget was spent buying gelato at Giolitti. (True to my word, we ate gelato once to three times a day.)
On the third day in Rome, and after no small feat, Emily arrived. We asked her if there was something she wanted to see.
“I have heard the Amalfi Coast is really beautiful.” She said.
“Well, let’s make that happen.” We assured.
Emily had not been there more than twelve hours, which was like two gelato trips, before we were on our way. Dave had rented us a car. We walked from our apartment up past the Spanish Steps, then past the Villa Borghese, to the Sixt rental car place, which was approximately a two and a half mile walk. Because Sixt was hidden in a crazy, underground parking lot, it also took like an extra half an hour to find.
I have vivid, happy memories of Emily, Kyle, Eli and me walking back and forth on this road called, “Viale del Muro Torto,” looking at the map on Emily’s phone.
“It says it is here.” Emily insisted.
As we walked and looked and walked some more, we all said, “But I cannot see it.”
For some reason we eventually decided to walk into a road we saw going underground. It was not clear that the road was leading us to a parking garage. And when we entered said parking garage, it was not clear that there was a Sixt Rental Car place. Alas, and by some early morning miracle, we found Sixt.
Between broken English and the .1% Italian I speak, which includes the words, “Buongiorno, sì, and grazie,” we completed the transaction. We all walked over to our PT Cruiser-looking rental (a Fiat 500) and threw our bags in. That is when I noticed the stick shift. When we are out of the country Dave always rents standard shift cars. Perhaps he was on auto-pilot when he rented the car. Perhaps he thought I would totally be down (I was not down). Perhaps that is all Sixt had. Considering the language barrier, I am really not sure. All I know is Emily was excited to see the Amalfi Coast. I heard the Amalfi Coast roads were treacherous, I had two eager teens ready to hit the road, and no Dave to lean on for backup so I said,
“I haven’t driven a stick in years, yet we are here. Let’s do this.”
We all laughed as the clutch ground and shrieked over and over again.
“At least this is a rental.” I said.
We all laughed. Then one of the boys said,
“Mom, are you sure you can drive this thing?”
“Of course.” I giggled.
The boys navigated us out of the complex underground parking lot/Sixt dealer and Emily navigated us to the Amalfi Coast, with a stop at a gas-station bakery and Pompeii on the way. With only forty-five minutes until the gates closed, we decided that looking over the fence was a much funner and more cost efficient way to see the result of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption and a spectacular archaeological dig. Not only was Pompeii epic, but trying to take pictures that made us look like we were inside the city was also a feat.
Within twenty minutes we were on our way (again).
As the boys watched videos on their iPods, Emily intently looked at her map and then calmly give me the next coordinate.
“Up here on your right, you want to follow the road until you see the sign for whatever…”
In what seemed like a few short minutes, we and our stick-shift car, were on a very windy, narrow little road. To my left was the beautiful, wind-swept Amalfi Coast, painted with quaint Italian villages and rugged coastline. Except for the stop we made in the tiny Amalfi Coast town in the rain, I did not see much of the coast that day. You will have to ask Emily, Kyle and Eli what is was like. What I did see (and maneuver), however, were several tetris-skill-inducing semi trucks in the opposite lane, life-ending narrow corners, death-drop embankments, third-world-styled washed out roads, cars coming straight at me (because that is how narrow the roads were). At some point, a sweet old Italian man, driving a fruit truck helped us find our way down the mountain as our vision was obscured with snow-rain.
What Emily, Kyle and Eli heard was swearing like they have never heard before. My typically prolific dialog was replaced with every sequence, some new, of all the bad words. In between, “Oh shits,” and the, “Holy-Batman’s-Ass,” were the apologies.
“Kids, I am so sorry, This car is hard to drive. That being said, I should not be swearing.”
To which the kids would said, “Mom, these roads are crazy. I get it,” and, “Mom, we hear all these words in school.” Of course Eli would follow up by saying something like, “But maybe not in this combination.”
We would gasp. I would avoid the next obstacle. We would laugh a sigh of relief. I would see the next oncoming semi truck. Then, in like .5 milliseconds, I would try to figure how we were not going to drive off a cliff while avoiding a head-on collision. I would push in the clutch, maneuver, and explicate some more. Around hour two of repeating this process several times, I specifically apologized to Emily.
“Hey, Emily.” I said, paused and continued, “It is your first twenty-four hours with us and all you have heard is a string of swearing, a.k.a., my sailor talk.”
Emily laughed and then became quiet. For a second I worried. Then she said something like this:
“Beth, I learned to swear in high school. I may not say the words out loud, but I am definitely saying them in my head. These roads are crazy!”
We chuckled. She took some pictures and then I asked her to take some pictures of my driving.
“I need to remember this moment. I need to remember how it felt to be driving these insane roads, in a stick-shift car, no less.”
As the snow-rain fell and I avoided the next oncoming vehicle, she snapped away and we laughed some more.
We made it back to the crazy Sixt underground dealership just before 2:00am. Of course Eli wondered if Giolitti was still open. Emily pulled out her phone and said,
“Let me check.”
“Mom, can we really go?” Eli asked, followed by Kyle.
“A deal is a deal, boys.” I responded.
“They close at 2:00am. If we run, I think we can make it.”
And then we ran. We ran a fast and breathless run, a run like I have never run before. We ran back through the edge of the Villa Borghese, back into the city walls, down the Spanish Steps, through the wet, dark, sparkly streets of Rome. In the distance we could see the Trevi Fountain. As we approached Giolitti, we saw them rolling down the big metal door.
“Please. Please.” We pleaded.
The gelato guys looked out the door. It was one of the guys we always see. He recognized us as well.
“For you. Come.” He said as he motioned us inside.
We climbed under the half-closed door, laughing. They closed the door behind us and we ordered our gelato and sorbetto.
Honestly, that was one of my best days ever. And it is even better because it happened in February.