My husband and I had ticked off from our list the sites of Florence and Venice. We headed to La Spezia, an unremarkable town that was the base for exploring the famous Cinque Terra, a series of five small Italian towns perched like tiny gems above the Ligurian Sea.
The proprietress of our hotel, watching us pull on heavy boots and hearing our plan to hike through each town in one day, seemed confused. “Why not put on some sandals, take the train to see one town, have a long lunch and swim in the sea?” We shook our heads. We are Americans. There were sights to be seen and towns to check off our list.
We took a train to the first town and began our hike. The sea below us sparkled like an endless field of diamonds. Grapes hung like teardrops from vines. The smell of sage hung in the air.
By the time the noonday sun was directly overhead, we had huffed and puffed our way through two towns. Three more to go. Sweat trickled down our backs and our boots clung to our feet like cement blocks. We decided to grab a quick lunch, no sitting at a café, and bought prosciutto, bread and cheese. We hurried to the seashore.
There in front of us was a man who looked like he might be a grandfather. He was not far from my father’s age. He lay on a towel, then rose slowly and walked into the azure sea. He took a few leisurely strokes in the lapping waves, nothing strenuous, then came back to rest. He munched on a hunk of bread, chewing slowly and savoring each bite. He pulled out a bottle of wine and took a large slug. Then he lay back on his towel to let the rays of the sun drench his body. He repeated this pattern over several hours as my husband, exhausted from our hiking, slept next to me.
“What is this man doing?,” I asked myself. And then it came to me. He is enjoying himself. He is enjoying the cool of the water, the warmth of the sun, the taste of the wine, the soft freshness of the bread. He is simply enjoying himself.
I couldn’t imagine my father ever doing such a thing. There had to be a useful purpose to every waking activity. There was no purpose to this afternoon for this man but sensual communing with the elements of the day.
When I find myself caught up in the frenzy of life, I sometimes recall this man and the joy he took in the simple pleasure of a day at the sea. I convinced my husband to stay the night in that tiny town, by the way, and it is a treasured memory.
We threw away our list for the rest of the trip.
Kate Fuglei is an actress and singer who divides her time between Studio City and Brooklyn. She has appeared in over forty episodes of television, including most recently in one of the first episodes of STAR TREK/PICARD. She is a published author with two novels based on the lives of the physicist Enrico Fermi and the educator Maria Montessori. The greatest blessing in her life is her marriage to writer Ken LaZebnik and her two sons, Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik. They inspire her every single day.
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