“Only one?” you say, “Luxury” you say. Okay, no one has only one regret but, when you shine the light into that dark closet called LIFE and you see how much crap is piled up back there, you start to grade things, like success, failures and – yes – regrets into matter and don’t matter piles. So, with that in mind, my one regret is that I had a gift handed to me by fate and misfortune that I failed to capitalize on.
Most – no – everywriter has and will experience Writer’s Block in their career (maybe it should be Writers’ block). It’s like the flu or a pulled muscle or an embarrassing lack of judgement that ruined your reputation; you have to wait it out and hope it passes. The timing of an onset of Writer’s Block (capitalized because it’s a real thing) is always unfortunate but sometimes it can be deadly for one’s self-confidence.
This was such a time.
There was no good fortune involved. We were on vacation in southern Italy, loving every second of it; the coast, the sea, the food, the wine, the insanely erratic drivers. We loved everything about it. I could write forever about how much we bonded with the place, but that’s not the story here.
My wife became very sick. Our fear of this unknown illness was calmed marginally by the professionalism of the health care providers. Again, I could write pages about the real benefits of a social medical system over profit motivated ones, but that’s not what this story is about. My wife needed surgery, which she got immediately once the problem was identified. She had to stay in hospital for an indefinite time. We were stuck in a foreign country, my wife in hospital and me on my cell phone trying to look after changing travel arrangements, find a hotel and take care of things back home. Once I write that story, they can make a movie out of it, I swear.
Things are arranged, I find a place to stay within walking distance to the hospital. My wife’s surgery is successful and she is recovering. We have travel insurance – DO NOT TRAVEL WITHOUT IT- and cancellation insurance on the plane tickets. Fortunately, the cost of the stay beyond our original plans is covered by the insurance. While my wife is stuck in a hospital bed in a room full of people she can only speak to in broken Italian, I am diligently wandering around town getting supplies for her and for me. This is a small city off the trail of most tourists so I am a bit of an anomaly. English is rare here.
What about the regret part? Yeah, getting to it.
My hotel was on the main road, which was converted from a street to a pedestrian walk, past shops and houses with classic Italian arches, painted in muted shades of watermelon and rose and saffron, massive ancient wooden doors and courtyards with fountains. Streets teamed with small cars and vans, with Vespas squeezing through traffic like a school of fish, while they drive over undulating, multiple-patched roads.
The hotel itself was over 100 years old with tall,straight lines, high ceilings and balconies that overlooked the street below. The temperature during the day typically rose over 40C (110 F), causing everyone to go indoors and shops to close until the day cooled around 5:00 PM. During that time, people did everything possible to stay cool, including napping. This was a culture shock for me as that represents most of my working day. Still, it didn’t take long to get into the local culture.
During the hours I could not spend with my wife, I wondered around the old town observing, absorbing and photographing. My room in the hotel was pleasant but too small to stay inside. As I said, the hotel itself was quite old and had maintained most of its classic charm. The elevator had a heavy wooden door you pulled to go in and the stairway was wide and circular. The main lobby was high, bright and had palm trees and overhead fans. There was a piano and I was sorely tempted to sit and play “As Time Goes By”, except I can’t play and they would have asked me to stop.
The best part of the hotel was the large room off the main lobby. It was as close to a Hemmingway fantasy as you will ever find. All it needed was to be black and white. This was a writer’s fantasy, what anyone imagining a perfect place and opportunity to write could conjure up. I pulled out the laptop, sat at the massive desk, looked out over the luscious Italian countryside and – nothing. Oh, I typed and scribbled and pondered, but my creative mind was in a coma, not responding to stimulation. I was in heaven but failing as a writer to make use of it.
We stayed there just over a week before my wife was released, patched and medicated. We stayed one night together in my little Nirvana before taking three trains and two planes to finally arrive back home.
My wife and I had entirely different experiences during our extended stay in Italy but we both left with permanent memories and some regrets that our trip was cut short, having missed the our planned trip north to Venice. I was relieved that she is okay and we have that experience to talk about for the rest of our lives. I will always have that place, that room, that moment to go back to in my mind.
Being a writer is more than being able to sit and tap out a story. No, to be able to create one story, you need to see many of them played out before you. You need to see the world and its people. No moment is wasted as long as you are paying attention, and taking notes. Memories are fallible.