The city in which I now live is small enough that I can cross it by bicycle, and small enough that I already know where to find things I need. I’ve got my butcher, I’ve got my fish vendor. I’ve got my cosmetics emporium. I know where to get household stuff and I know where to find tea. I am absolutely delighted to find that groceries here are much cheaper here than in Dublin, as are meals in the event that I do choose to eat out of doors. There are upstairs neighbors who have offered to help me with anything I need, and a sea full of aquamarine waves to cool me off when it gets too hot. There is very little – if any – violent crime. There are no sharks in the sea. Eight days in, and it appears that the living here on the Italian beach will be easy.
Can I help but be suspicious? I lived in New York City for eight years. I was pickpocketed. I had my apartment robbed. Crackheads were as common a sight as pigeons. Merely crossing town could be an insufferable ordeal. The slush, the sleet; the smog, the heat. I spent half my paycheck on rent and rationed the rest like black market butter. Japan was a “safe” country, but there I dealt with racism and bike thieves. Living alone in prickly, expensive Dublin has made me nervous for my own neck again. Is it possible that now I cross the street and am on the beach, that there is no smog, and I’m spending less than fifteen euro a day?
Sitting on the beach this morning, wet and shiny from a brisk swim, I wondered if one can be grateful without becoming complacent. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose my edge, my gratitude, the knowledge of what it is to struggle to survive. Nor do I want to be unpleasantly surprised while I’m pirouetting around on the seashore in glee. It’s just when you’re most comfortable that things go wrong, after all. So I think: Let me root out the dangers. Let me find the hidden perils that lurk beneath the sand and the waves. Let me figure out, what could kill me in beachside Terracina?
Here in beachside Terracina, we have:
The sea. I’m not tall. There are high waves. So, all right. No swimming past the markers. Check.
The motorcycles, the cars. Zoom zoom, beep beep. I tend to weave as I walk. Okay. Stay on the sidewalk and keep focused. Right.
My bike. The seat is slightly too high so until I get this fixed, sudden starts and stops are a bit difficult for my stubby legs. One leg is already decorated with bruises from a fall I sustained a few days ago. Right. Get the bike fixed.
Mosquito bites. *Slap!* Must invest in citronella incense. The apartment will smell of summer camp and it will be wonderful.
Beach fever. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to hustle. All I want to do is go to the beach! But I have to write. I have to hustle. I sit inside at my desk, in the bare, cavernous “office,” and I look longingly at the window; breathe deep for the salt. So wake up early and hit the beach to get it out of my system. Fine.
The gas. My apartment runs on gas, and Leone the handyman has scared me good. Open. Close. Every day. Otherwise – boom! Okay. Okay. Open. Close. Open. Close. Oh, crap. I can’t remember if I turned off the gas when I left the house. I’ll be back.
So I get up. I turn on the gas and make myself some breakfast. I take a hot shower. Then I turn off the gas and I leave the house to go to the market. I watch the cars. I walk slowly and look around me at all times. I follow the rules. In the sea, I stand only where I can reach. I wear leggings and sneakers when I ride my bike, and leave my long necklaces at home. At night, in my empty but spacious bedroom, I think: Made it through another day in Terracina! Well done, me.
I walk along the dusty road, looking for the Orizzonte – the Italian version of Big K/Dunnes/Konan. I’m being safe. I’m being smart. I’m staying alive.
And then I realize that – after three years of living in backwards countries – I’m walking on the left hand side of the road and will have to kill myself anyway.