The city has a way of making a person feel inconsequentially small. From my office in the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago I look across a towering skyline. The streets below, the bustling arteries of a great city are untiring and unstoppable. Here the sky is at an absolute premium, the quality of a day, or the commodity of a moment isn’t measured from horizon to horizon, but in narrow avenues of light and shadow waxing and waning with an unseen sun, where a rainstorm can seem sudden, falling upon streets with little or no warning. Here, a tree is hardly more than an amendment to the cityscape, hardly more than an unnoticed comma to monumental steel, glass and concrete.
From a hilltop beside a sunny olive grove in Tuscany, I could open my arms to embrace the rolling hills and farms, the hilltop towns and villages clustered in folded valleys. Clouds on the horizon provided a template for a lazy afternoon, provoking the luxurious choice between an evening at a cafe or a casual restaurant somewhere should it rain. The wind comes naked and free, swelled with the scents of wild herbs, grass and the sea.
The narrow country road was winding and narrow, with precipitous shoulders, hairpin turns, and curves blinded by banks of trees or white-washed buildings, their plaster walls blistering artfully with age, crept across by vines and seeming to have grown organically from the countryside. As expected, Italian drivers took the curves quickly, and without apparent consideration for what may be coming at them from the other side. Not that there was a great deal of traffic. In fact, the blessing of the road was in how few people we saw, the silence and solitude inviting all manner of thoughts and musings.
“Baby, we are driving the back roads of Tuscany!” I exclaimed, squeezing Ana’s knee.
“I know,” she smiled, her attention fully on the passing sights. The wind through the open window swept the hair from her face. Tuscany and the blur of passing fence posts and orchards was reflected in her big Jackie O-esque sunglasses.
The smile faded a bit, and I could see she was caught between two worlds. I could see she was living her European life, the one interrupted by a war, her heart breaking just a little at having left this Europe behind. The other world was the woman’s world of private fairytale dreams, of throwing it all away and running to Tuscany and a romantic forever.
My heart broke silently with hers, indulging that dream myself and wishing we wouldn’t have to return to the city or our regular jobs. We could come here and find a little place with a garden, olive trees and a lemon tree in the yard. We wouldn’t have to live well, just happily and content. I squeezed her knee again, this time to stem a sudden rush of emotion. Ana looked at me lovingly and we smiled. In a week or so we’d be back at home and at our jobs once more, but for now there was the open sky. For a moment we could pretend and indulge that little fantasy. At least we had that.