I wrote a post a few weeks ago listing some of the things that make me happy and for me happiness often correlates with beauty.
FIREFLIES were on that list. In the interest of writing about happy things, I thought I would tell the story about the first time I saw fireflies.
ITALY has always been a dreamland for me. Until 1994, my travels had not taken me there. I had written numerous stories as a teenager about Italy. They were short stories of romance. Love lost and found, love found for the first time, but always love and joy and human connection. Italy radiates so much passion that it can inspire romance in a young girl who has never been there.
When I knew I was finally going to Italy, I pictured myself kneeling on the ground upon my arrival like a long lost refugee weeping with joy at coming home.
After navigating the Roman airport, I boarded a train to Florence. I sat in the dining car at a table with a pristine white table cloth, silver flatware, and a crystal glass full of champagne. I raised a toast to the fields and fields (and fields!) of sunflowers rushing by. I did not weep at all. I was filled with joy and an unrelenting smile. Hello, Italy! I’m finally here.
I was met at the train station in Florence by a friend of a friend. He whisked me very quickly from the heart of the city in his Alfa Romeo, top down, blasting loud American music from the 1970s. I slumped with travel exhaustion in the passenger seat. We spoke very little due to the language barrier and the noise created by the warm June air rushing through the car, but I got the gist that we were going to his friend’s house just outside of Siena to meet more friends for dinner.
I dozed off and on as we wound through tiny towns of old stone and vineyards. The car skidded to a stop in a gravel driveway under an olive tree.
We stood in front of two monumental wooden gates. He pulled a cord that rang a distant bell. The gates creaked open revealing a courtyard surrounded by three stories of a house, the walls covered in bougainvilla and jasmine. In the middle of the courtyard was a long table and another pristine white table cloth. Candles ran down the middle of the table and were the only light source. There were probably fifteen people seated at the table, someone was playing soft guitar music. As we approached, everyone got out of their seats. We were greeted with CIAO, CIAO, CIAO, BELLA, CIAO SUSANA, CIAO. CIAO!
Kisses. Hugs. Kisses. Complete strangers to me, but so warm and welcoming.
I was ushered to a seat and given a glass of red wine (the villa was an old winery, but that’s another story). My plate was filled with penne pasta mixed with tomatoes, olive oil, and CINGHIALE (wild boar, killed on the property).
We toasted to my first time in their country. I listened to them speak and joined in when I could, but speaking a foreign language when you are tired is really, really difficult. My translation synapses were completely dead. They laughed and forgave. I finally sat back and listened to their lyrical language and drifted into a haze of travel weary bliss.
They talked and joked as old friends will do forgetting, not unkindly, the English speaking American in their midst. I wandered from the table to find a way out of the courtyard. I pushed open a small wooden door that took me through a short tunnel of stone. The end of the tunnel deposited me into a wonderland that was the villa’s rose garden.
It was a warm June night. The stone walls of the five hundred year old house behind me radiated the heat that remained from the day. The roses gave off their night perfume. A full moon was halfway up the indigo sky, illuminating the sea of vineyards rolling out below me. I slowly moved through the rose garden and then – there they were.
FIREFLIES. For the first time in my life.
It was as if someone had shaken the immediate world in a snow globe. It was as if a magician had waved his wand to create magic trails of glitter. They were all around me, rising on the aroma of the roses. But what were they? My mind fuzzy from jet lag, exhaustion, and red wine could not place these magical lights. They touched my hands and I imagined them getting tangled in my hair, not an unpleasant thought.
The tolling of a distant church bell came in waves across the vineyards. It reminded of good things and life and magic and here it all was as if captured in a bell jar. I did weep, then, from exhaustion and beauty and the possibilities of the days ahead in a new country.
The door burst open behind me.
SUSANA, DOVE SUSANA, COME STAI?
I recognized a few other words; RAGAZZA, BELLA, VINO, FORTUNATA, ROSA, LUMINOSO.
And heard a new word; LUCCIOLE. Fireflies.
The group had come to find me. And they found me wandering in moonlight through an ancient rose garden, hands outstretched, surrounded by fireflies, with tears on my cheeks. As a hopeless romantic, I had come home to the mother ship.
And they completely understood.