BOLZANO

Creative Writing Group entry for July topic –    HOLIDAYS

 

“They’re magnificent!”

They take in the vista,  the Dolomites spreading clean across the whole horizon, so near to them.

“Unbelievable, ” he answers.

  It’s the second day of the six day walk through the heart of South Tyrol.   Mid -September, no wind, 29  degrees now, and this.  Mountains – how vital they are – but these  are supreme.

“Has anyone ever found out why Leonardo had the Dolomites as a background in the Mona Lisa…?”

“I didn’t know that.”  

She’s seen the painting but can recall only the face.

They’re a warring couple, yet the remark he’s just made is what’s held them together. He knows a lot.  Of course he doesn’t listen, neither  does she after 28 years, but they’ve always been able to talk.

They walk on, past another shrine, they’re everywhere, and add a singular charm to the landscape. This plaster Christ is supporting his head on his right hand, which is clamped to his ear.
“T-Mobile?” she quips, but he is not amused.

They climb steeply up. Its nearing noon, becoming tough in the heat and she’s wondering if the six others on the walk are ahead or behind.  Bleep! bleep!  the GPS sounds from behind, and anger flares up through her, yet she shuts her mouth tight. Every five minutes he looks at the thing to check the route.

“There’s nowhere else to go, for God’s sake!” she rages inwardly.

It’s better than yesterday when it went off every two minutes – a sign, he said, they were on the right path. After a blazing row (“I can’t hear the bloody silence!”) he now sneakily gets the thing out while walking behind her, at the same time remarking on something in front to divert her. Yesterday, after narrowly avoiding being written off by a huge articulated truck on a tree logging road (“It was working  this morning….”) she has forbidden him to use it except in extremis.

 They are more than two miles high now, above a small Tyrolean village they’ve just walked through, hoping to find lunch  and heading into a heavily wooded area.  From down in the valley , all that can be heard is a baby’s cry, clear as glass. A church tower, shuttered houses, no cars. Life is going on inside somewhere away from the heat of the sun.

“It’s a school day, where are all the kids?” she wonders.

“I’ve got a black curtain in my eye…..” he replies.

“You’ve had it since your eye was lasered.”

“Yes but it’s slipped down, blocking the light, it’s bigger.”
“Painful?”
“No….”

“We’ll go and check it out in Bolzano.”   

Up they go again, onto more even terrain eventually. No restaurant though, so they keep walking.

  They’ve done seven hours today and by chance end up in the right place, facing backwards,  on the ancient train going down the mountain to the cable car which will take them to Bolzano. There are all nationalities and languages aboard, but the view when they start moving, compels everyone to fall silent. The light has changed again, what is the message those beautiful shapes are willing us to understand? The cable car takes them down the steep valley.  She sees him blinking, he’s quiet. The last leg of the walk takes them up an extremely steep hill to a convent. In the 4 pm sun it is dead still, dusty underfoot, a huge concrete building, nicer from a distance than close up. There’s a Jeep from the second world war parked on an angle near a wall.  Opposite on a sort of high mound,  are three stools, a bucket and a large sack of potatoes.

“That’s an original,” Philip says running his hands over the khaki, hard used but perfect Jeep for the tenth time. 

“1948 it says….we have to take a picture, just lean on it will you, it’s beautiful. This has been used for what it was made for.”

He’s looking inside under the seats, thrilled. He backs off to get the best angle, the sun on his back.

In those few minutes, three nuns have sat down on the stools behind him, rolled up the sleeves of their habits and in full gear have set about the potato sack, each with a peeler. They are unsmiling, feel intruded upon.

“Smile a bit, then.”  

She feels like a sociopath putting on a grin while the nuns glare and keeps her eyes unfocused.

Their baggage was sent on to Hotel Stiegl and is waiting in reception.  The room is cool, they shower and change and are out again within half an hour.

“I need a beer or three,” he says cheered by being in the town centre, smelling good food and desperate to lounge on a terrace with the locals.

“How’s your eye?”

“Well, the curtain is bigger…..”

“Let’s go to an optician first then.”

They wander into the ancient busy centre, and happen across an optician almost immediately.

An efficient local lady asks him some questions, looking serious.

“You must go to a specialist” she says. Its 6.15 pm and looking at him, she sees that nothing will stop his quest for a beer – now.

“Maybe tomorrow?” he smiles but the lady says.

“No, I make some calls.”

“Are you eating pasta, or a big steak?” he asks, completely focused on the feast to come.

She doesn’t answer, watching the optician dial six different numbers, and fail to raise a reply.

She understands enough to realise the non-responders are all sitting on terraces drinking beer and why not?

“Ah, bene!”

The optician has found an eye specialist, who will see him at 7.30 a.m. tomorrow. He’s thrilled not to be cheated out of his beer, yet the mood has changed and they have two drinks each.  At  8 a.m. next morning the specialist invites her in to the consulting room where Philip has been for half an hour.

“So sorry, signora, but your holiday – finish.”

He gestures with his hands together across his chest, and flings them out, his fingers stiff in a salute to the seriousness of the situation.

“The retina is detached from the eye, very urgent operation. There is opportunity in Meranno, a good retina surgeon, I arrange now for you – you have the driving licence?”

They glance at each other. The car is in Bressanone for a week, they’ll have to return to collect it, then drive back to Meranno on the other side of Bolzano.  While they wait for it to be arranged, she is recalling the bag shop and two shoe places locked into her memory on the walk through town.

The surgeon in Meranno is on holiday, so the specialist tells them,

“Truly apologies. You must lie down flat and drive over Brenner Pass to Innsbruck to University Hospital where a professor is awaiting upon you.”

They  walk in silence back to the hotel, sick with disappointment they’ve been cheated out of this fabulous walk – in Italy! She clicks into gear phoning the travel  organiser and the health insurers who say they would normally fly him back but the condition means flying is forbidden.  They’ll take a taxi to Bressanone to get the car.

“I’ll have to buy you some pyjamas” she tells him.

 He’s never owned a pair but now decency requires it – he’s never been in hospital in his 56 years and didn’t expect this.

“Try being a woman!” she thinks as she goes back to the optician to thank her for her kindness.

“I thought it, but was not sure” she smiles, happy to be told her professional doggedness has had results.

They shake hands and laugh after she’s asked for directions to a pyjama shop. En route, the God of Bags and Shoes leaps up to torment her – these fabulous leather goods did not exist last night but now their smell, their hot good looks, lead her into temptation. She’s looking at 50 bags outside a shop and within a minute, narrows it down to two. Her mobile goes.

“How much longer will you be?”

 He sounds panicky,  so she turns her back, feeling the Bacchus of Bags laugh “Arrivederci, bella!” knowing she will drive over the Brenner, into a shoe abyss  in….. Innsbruck . The very name hurts.

The taxi driver can’t believe his luck. A 45 km fare this time instead of loading all the old nonna’s in and out around town.  Speeding along the motorway at 160 kph, he answers his mobile, waving his “wheel” arm in the air as they hurtle  towards Bressanone.  Only his feet are connected to any mechanical parts but somehow it’s amusing instead of terrifying.  

 

 

They’re in the waiting room of the eye department of the University Hospital, which is incredibly busy, at least twenty people ahead of them, but Philip is pleased reception knows who he is, what the problem is.  They wait for two hours.

“I’m fed up, how much longer will it be, I could have done without this….!”

She’s arrived back from the paper shop with the British Daily Mail and without a word, opens it up and he peers over her shoulder at the headlines

AIDS AD SHOWS HITLER HAVING SEX

A CURRY WON’T HURRY CHILDBIRTH

WALLIAMS ON AWARDS SHORTLIST FOR HIS TALE OF A CROSS-DRESSING SCHOOLBOY

DON’T IGNORE YOUR EARS POPPING – IT MAY MEAN YOU’RE ABOUT TO GO DEAF

“Why do you read such crap?”

“Well, you’re laughing and you’ve only read the headlines!”

“ Philip van Dam,” a nurse calls out.

In he goes, appearing 40 minutes later looking shattered.

“Ah, God, I’m going straight to bed, they said I can’t leave.”
“Well,  you’re in the right place.”

“Yes but I’m on holiday….”

“Health first, be glad I bought pyjamas.”

He sinks, immediately  fretting about her finding a hotel, driving there in this unknown town, but she stops him saying

“Look, we had a day here on our way down, I can manage.”

The receptionist at the Hilton remembers her.  It was only two days ago when she said “Do come back” and they agreed with enthusiasm,  though not much sincerity. They saw the sights in hours, there are very few wonders in this town. On that visit they noticed people were subtle, perhaps too subtle to know. The locals seem polite and distant. Hard to believe how man/woman/teenager will NOT cross a road on a red light, despite a road being totally empty of traffic in both directions. That first night they crossed such a deserted road against the lights and could feel disdain for their disrespect land hard on their necks.

The retina has been reattached successfully, and the surgeon is appalled Margot has bought a Sudoku puzzle book, without thinking about it.

“Absolutely no reading, tv, driving for 2 weeks,” he says removing the offending puzzle book as though it’s a dirty nappy.

“Please take this away.”

Her heart sinks. He’s in a room on his own, bored out of his mind. No reading is the worst of punishments for a book devourer. A nurse comes in, hears them discussing ways of easing the way to  lying totally prone for one whole week.

“Maybe you are here because you have to think about something and learn,” she says, standing by his head.

He’s already had a run in with her in front of Margot who she asked to go to admin to check whether their insurance had been approved.

“Why should she? The insurance is sorting the details out.”

He sounds offensive but after all these years she knows he feels she should be on holiday, not having to visit the sick/do admin.

The nurse stares at him, and continues.

“You’re here for a reason – nothing is an accident.  Find it out.”

He looks at Margot.

“She means look inside yourself, listen, don’t block it out”.

 He looks very bad tempered now.

The nurse smiles at her while Margot thinks they could have a fruitful discussion, they seem to be on the same wavelength.

His food arrives, she can’t get the lid off it being famously bad with boxes, mobiles, microwaves and machines.

“Oh, yeah, of course it’s stuck.”

He gets out of bed and tries manfully to wrench it open. It’s a vacuum sort of thing, remaining solidly closed.

“Get back to bed, you’re meant to stay flat.”

“Pass the knife,” he says, but it makes no difference. He knocks, hacks, bangs away, lifts it up.

“Ow, that’s as hot as hell!” but it remains closed.

“I’ll fetch the nurse.”

“No, I just won’t eat it.”

She walks off  and tells the Philosphical One what’s happened. The nurse picks up a similar dish, they go back and she puts the locked one on top. Miraculously, it opens.

“See,” she says looking into his face closely “women can do miracles”.

They hate each other, these two.

 

 

Walking to the hospital she realises by day six that she has another life. She sleeps late, takes long deep baths, shaves her legs, and reads.  She is greeted personally at breakfast and begins to get a bit dangerous when passing a nail place, considering fake nails for herself. She’s going to make the appointment today but notices as she looks in that the girls doing the nails are all wearing face masks! She bursts out laughing, realising what an absurd idea  it is anyway. If flossing, kissing, sneezing, bug passing were involved, ok, but nails?

There is a dirndl skirt shop, prices starting from 250 euro upwards. Next to that is a crucifix outlet. There is nothing in it except every size, shape, colour and material that a crucifix has ever been made in.  Plenty of specialist tramping shops…..but no Italian shoes.  How is it possible?

 

In Italy she wanted to buy a Lotto ticket  but Philip said

 “No, we’ve got enough, let some poor broke farmer win it.”

This is a yearly ritual where she, to spite him, always manages to get a ticket anyway. Why does she not do it openly? She agrees with him really, but likes a risk, a small punt, a game of chance – it’s the romance of it, but forbidden by his scruples.  Now two tickets are lying openly on the TV for checking when she can be bothered….maybe THAT was the reason they came to Innsbruck, to win the jackpot and live in Italy forever.

 

 

A terrace full of people is laughing out loud as she wanders through the Altstadt, so she takes a seat, orders a drink. There does not appear to be anything happening, just a man in a smart linen suit walking to and fro, yet the crowd is totally fixed on him. Along comes a cyclist in serious shorts/helmet through the crowd. The suited man steps out, blows a whistle and holds up a red card. The crowd roars, the cyclist dismounts immediately, blushing and apologising to the man…..he does not recognise the wind up, or that he is the entertainment.  The whistle blower then halts all pedestrians with an Italian policeman’s dramatic arm waving and waves the cyclist through.  As he passes Laura the cyclist is scarlet having just recognised from the applause and laughter he’s been had.

A Japanese man hurries along with his face down, lips moving, map in hand. He does not see the man aping his walk and mannerisms exactly and walking next to him. The roar goes up again, the Japanese man looks around at the man and bows solemnly, stopping. The star of the show bows back to him, and after three repeats of this, the Japanese man backs bowing into the crowd and disappears into a shop.

Along comes a fellow with a huge backpack. The man stalks him from behind, perfect symmetry in their steps. The backpacker stops, adjusting the pack, and has a sneaky arse scratch, mirrored by his follower. People are clapping and howling with laughter. It’s so original, pure entertainment. The man in the suit is not after money, he’s just having a good time, silently reflecting human nature back in a beautifully acceptable form.

She feels this city has far more to it, some uniqueness. The very aged population and tourists suddenly look like bit players with a real role, they are all there for a good time and this clever man is delivering it abundantly.

Sitting on a terrace, the locals are well into their Friday night spritzers. There’s much flirting with the kind and efficient waiter. She has a glass of wine and sits thinking how, after a week here, she knows all the lingo. She says “Gruss Gott” entering the hospital lift and “Wiedersehen” when she leaves it. Same in shops, it’s bearing fruit.  Here comes a crocodile – vertical – across the terrace! The crowd all laugh and, to a man, drag cameras out of their bags – is it organised or what? An old lady sitting opposite  leaps up shouting “Krokodillo!” in a surprisingly strong voice. She tries to stagger after him but the croc picks up speed, his tail thumping along the footpath, out of her reach.

 

 

The drive back to the Netherlands takes two days.  Though it is only September, one of the worst storms she has ever driven in descends from nowhere on the motorway. It is impossible to see exits, signs, even the cars ahead . She is seriously worried but drives on.  He’s been silent for half an hour and is dozing.

“I want to thank you for your good humour and not blaming me  for ruining our holiday….” says a voice from  the flattened seat next to her.

She sees an exit suddenly and manages finally to get the car off the motorway.   As soon as she can, she stops the car, putting her head on the wheel.  

“…..we’ll go again next year.”

 He’s still dozy.

She starts laughing, he sits up a bit, they’re in the middle of nowhere, and within a minute they are laughing so hard they can hardly breathe.            

  

 

 

 

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