Every morning we wake up and jump on board the roller coaster of desire, ready for another wild ride. Our body with all its many appetites, our fickle heart of joys and sorrows, our restless flickering mind and its endless conversations, all searching for some kind of equilibrium, some moments of satisfaction. We’re hungry, we’re stuffed, we’re tired, we’re wired, we’re lonely, we want to be left alone, we need a hug, we don’t want to be touched—up and down we go, round and round we go. If the day goes well, we will have had some moments of happiness when the car comes to rest or been able to take the more gentle slopes on the daily ride.
But every once in a while, that elusive equilibrium, the sense of ineffable peace and tranquility graces us and finally, God is in his (or her) heaven and all is right with the world. And so it happened for me tonight, wandering about the island of Ortigia just outside of Siracusa in Sicily. It was approaching twilight, the air was a perfect temperature, where the border guard of skin relaxes and melds into the air, aided by a slight breeze by the water. My wife and I walked by the water’s edge and peace descended, dripping slow like a fine mist on a drought-stricken landscape. The town alive with the quiet murmur of tourists and locals alike out for the evening stroll, the twinkling lights on the water, the soothing motion of the gentle waves, the air fresh and clean.
And here I was, in my last week as a 64-year old man, feeling the years dissolve with each step. Ortigia with its cathedral-framed piazzas and narrow twisty alleys and sparkling waterfront walks was at once Barcelona and Granada and Florence and Buenos Aires and Havanna and all the many places I have walked in this life. Tonight I was again 23 years old again and 39 and 51. Without the lie of the mirror to assault me with the proofs of gravity, I could feel my true face smooth and tight and glowing with the light of belonging on this grand green earth. The people I passed sitting blissfully at cafés, in their doorways, in their windows, practicing the ancient art of just sitting and watching and delighting in the motion of the passing show. Nowadays we pay big money to attend Mindfulness Training or sit with pained legs in the Zen Center wrestling with our monkey mind to count our breaths, but really, this is an ancient art, just sitting on the front porch or the outdoor café or the window sill breathing together with the twilight to close out another miraculous day. Now our damn machines have robbed us of this pleasure and we get addicted to loud and fast, but here in Sicily, the soft murmur and the slow pace of the stroll still thrive.
And yes, some passing restaurants starting to crank up that damn disco beat, but also two young accordion players at different ends of the piazza filled the air with the Italian standards— Santa Lucia, Funiculi Funicula and more—and further down, two musicians played an exquisite Medieval repertoire with drum, lute and even (to my great delight) Galician gaita bagpipe. Just the right soundtrack. Found a cozy restaurant with a delightful waiter instructing us on wine with sparkling sweetened water and an egg eaten beforehand to aid digestion. A delicious capatona appetizer, eggplant parmesan and my mistakenly-ordered Sicilian pizza. Far too much food, I took it away for tomorrow’s lunch.
Back to our B&B on an odd street with way-too-much traffic, but the perk of a piano in the room. Well, as I suspected, it’s out of tune. But having dismounted from the roller coaster of personal desires satisfied or disappointed, I am not complaining. The only little wrinkle in this evening of perfect and welcome tranquility was not being able to think of a better title than this dubious pun. Oh well.