Our reasons for arriving were as varied as our departure cities. Each plane ticket printed with its own set of hopes and expectations. Each journal empty, but ready and waiting for our conceding wills.
I gave myself one week to indulge in the thing that brings me the most joy in life―the simple act of putting one word after the other to string along coherent and creative thought. One week to learn to be better at it, to go deeper, to stir myself out of tepidity. One week to figure out where I fit in as a writer in the creative non-fiction genre. And if I'm really being honest, I made the quest to see if what I sporadically do on the side is even worth it.
No one knows self-doubt like writers do. We wallow in it, wrestle with it, and sometimes, if we're lucky, we triumph over it in a published piece that is usually met with only mild applause. But we write to breathe, to know we're alive, and to matter to the world we write for, and so we trudge onward. Our individual steps making medieval time-travel in stand-still Santo Stefano.
The first shared dinner of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Writing Pants was something spiritual. Curiously described by one of the lapsed Catholics as, “The Last Supper,” our conversations flowed as easy as the local wine splashed into our glasses, surprising ourselves with the hasty candour and camaraderie amongst strangers.
I watched for three hours as one of the dozens of hanging candles dangerously dripped over our instructor's head throughout the evening, but I hesitated to say anything. Doing so would break the magic spell. I loved that waxy timepiece keeping record of our languorous meal.
With each course of food, came another revelation that we were brought here for a greater purpose. Serendipity had whispered to each of us, 'follow me.' We smacked our lips at the authentic cuisine and conversation and I revelled in my cherry wine and the joy of being surrounded by such strong and strange women. For the first time in a long time, and in this ghost of a town, I finally felt not alone.
In an instant, these women left an impression on me that will be forever marked in the “Dear diary” of my soul.
Dayle, unforgettable, Dayle and her camouflage-carrying Tabasco sauce ways. Her zest for basking in her very own Sunshine has left evidence in the smiles lines that edge her countenance. A road map that bears the untidy trail marks of a real and deep love―and a dare―to trek further into my own misadventures in marriage.
Kathleen will always be remembered as the woman who turned my water into wine. Less of a miracle and more of an accident in her attempt at vino generosity. She, with her beautiful shock of white hair and ever-familiar face. In one smile and wave, I knew I wasn't alone in Rome. I wonder if she has the same affect for others back home. I have a feeling she just might.
Monique, the L.A. Girl making it happen in Holland. A polished ebony stone that is not so opaque, but open and revealing. Beautiful and ageless, courageous and courteous, it's no wonder she's adapted so well to the Dutch. I only hope I can carry the same longevity she has in my own foreign Dutch land.
As both the hero and the heroine in her own living memoir, Gina has inadvertently become the leading protagonist in mine. Although she has not yet learned to strike that delicate balance in love and life, she has mastered the art of abandoning herself dutifully into one thing―writing. I cannot imagine a better lover than the constant surety of story. Complex and quiet, I long to see the world through her Prada lenses.
Liz. The mystic Aussie, who I think, doesn't know how to complain. Though her body is temporarily broken, her spirit remains tightly in tact―reaching summits before most have even stepped foot at the base. She laughs curiously, silently, unexpectedly. She is a rugged sprite that is comfortable living in the mystery.
There isn't a person Tracy hasn't met. And there isn't a person who could forget her either. Blue eyes that dance and cry easily. This is isn't a vice, but a strength. And an invitation to others that says you can trust me with your story. If only, she will let their stories out, not as a betrayal to their hearts, but rather as a gift to the rest of the world that says, “it's not always about you.” Sometimes, it's about the woman in the refugee camp on the other side of your world.
Laura, who hasn't met a country and a man she doesn't like. She is probably one of the sexiest sexagenarians I have ever met. With her slow and deliberate ways, she coaxes you, and most Italian men for that matter, into her. With each traveler's tale she spins, a wondrous web evolves wrapping you in it. And the funny thing is, you don't seem to mind.
Helen seems as Free as her surname and her hair. She is both untamed and polite. A helpless romantic that doesn't believe in soul mates. I get her and I want to make her my Aunt. The only regret I have from meeting her is that I didn't make more time to indulge in the “decades” of her story. Layered, languishing and lovely, she holds a treasure―and sometimes, words have something to do with it.
Queen Kathryn. The Seer of the Story. It seems she always has a secret and a smile hiding behind her eyes. Eyes that don't miss a thing and bedevil. Outwardly distracted, inwardly focused. She sends you reeling with her humour that both catches you off guard and puts you at ease. She is a beautiful riddle. Delightfully unsolvable. Although I can out-run her, I will never quite catch up.
We are the women who did battle with the cobble-stone streets of Santo Stefano. Whose lungs duelled with the inclines and elevation. Whose bellies ached from the over-indulgence of food and laughter. Whose hearts struggled to reveal themselves, and whose minds warred with the fiercest enemy of all―ourselves.
We arrived, some of us, in trepidation, but we'll all leave in triumphant descent from this wild and rustic place having conquered pieces of our crumbling castles, where our hearts hide in towers that loosen with each life-rumbling quake.
We'll descend back into our own burghs, full of their own shadows and secrets. Back to old familiarity that is sometimes comforting and sometimes not. Back to the places where expectation often clashes angrily with reality.
But at least we'll have our memories―and our words―and our pens―and the patient pages that await this new overflow in our hearts.
Rikki, who lives to write and writes to live, and who also writes to support her shoe addiction.