Back in June, New York City essayist and public relations consultant Bob Brody wrote a letter (which we published on BoomerCafé) to his 2-½-year-old granddaughter Lucia Antonia, who lives in Italy. He told her, “I’m coming over there. I just need to tie up some loose ends.” He’s done that now, and he’s staying. You’ll see why.
Oh, I’m out there now, a city boy gone rural, an American gone Italian.
Need proof that everything has changed?
The streets have no sidewalks. You can smell the earth, the actual soil, the trees and plants, all around you. You can hear birds warbling and insects chattering instead of cars honking at rush hour and police and ambulance sirens screaming.
Want more? A tractor passes on the road carrying hay piled high. A horse whinnies in the distance. A farmer driving around with freshly laid eggs stops at the house to deliver her goods. Almost every driver, whether in car, truck, or bus, either initiates a wave or returns one. The neighbors in the house across the street, encountering you out for a walk, welcome you to Italy.
Yes, I’m really out there now, as out there as ever before, almost off the grid, maybe at its very edge, right in the thick of nature itself. I’m in the town of Martina Franca, in the region called Puglia, the most popular destination in Italy among Italians themselves.
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Before, living in the heart of the city, I had to go through six doors just to get outside my building from my apartment. Just to circumnavigate my block, in fact, I crossed no fewer than seven driveways, the cars entering and exiting. I had to stay hyper-alert, ever vigilant for any risk.
So went my adult life in New York City, from age 23 to age 69. Now, no more.
I’m in transition now, out of the metropolis, away from the crazy and the frenetic. I abandoned it all for life in the countryside, among the fig trees and the skittering gekkos, seeking that elusive special something called tranquility.
Consider this: Every few days I take a walk in my new neighborhood. I go along a road east that leads who knows where. It starts off paved, but only barely. Trees and bushes hug the sides.
The road curls south, past a wire fence with a wooden post. Once in a while, it branches off into a path, the grass flattened to create a clearing. No houses are in sight for at least a mile. A car or two might pass, but then again, none might. Once in a while I might see someone, but more likely I’ll see no one.
It’s a lonely road, evidently the road less traveled that Robert Frost immortalized.
It’s close to a mile before I come across the first residence. Chickens and roosters prowl an enclosure. The other day I came upon three horses grazing in the yard there. I stopped in my tracks to admire these stately creatures, so large and powerful, glossy and muscular in the sun.
Each time I venture a little farther than I had before. What I’ll come across next, what may lay around the next curve, I have no idea.
The road rises and dips, swerves right and left, the gravel more dense. I pass a large field, wide open, mostly grass, dotted everywhere with manure, probably from cows but maybe horses. It’s now hundreds of yards more before I reach the next house, then hundreds more before the one after that. A dog behind the gates barks at me— no surprise— I get that here all the time. And then his companion joins him in a chorus of snarling warnings.
Here the road appears to fork. It’s hard to tell which direction extends the road you’re walking. The first time I approached the fork I turned right. The road was lined with telephone poles, so it seemed to be public space. Three small dogs came out into the road yapping at me, and I decided to back off, just in case someone might follow bearing a shotgun.
The last time I walked the road, I turned left at the fork. It was rougher than before, much rougher, the pavement all but gone, mostly stones. I treaded a little more carefully to prevent a twist of the ankle. Chances are, I had gone farther from what we call civilization than I’ve ever gone on my own. It went okay for a hundred yards or so, but then became harder going. I turned back and went home.
But the next time I take the road, I’m going to go a little farther still. Who knows where the road might take me? Even a blind person has to take those first steps to get anywhere.
Bob’s memoir is, “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”