Saturday, June 13, 2009

Travel Journal: Elba

The heart of the Mediterranean Music cruise about which I've been writing spanned the second half of the trip, from Palermo and Naples to the beautiful island of Elba to the gorgeous French Riviera. Our day in Elba was the first day "off" we had, as the previous days involved either recitals or rehearsals. Our final program was lighter fare, consisting of music theater favorites and standards, and was 3 nights away, so we decided to concentrate on relaxing.

For those readers of the Sunday NY Times, last week's travel section featured a front page article on Elba, the main attraction of the Tuscan archipelago. The cover shot of Portoferraio offers a glimpse of just how inviting the Mediterranean is on this Island getaway.

Before we arrived at the port, we heard the final lectures from our distinguished professors. Jim (Hepokoski, from Yale) delivered an informative and entertaining talk on the evolution of recorded music, from a scratchy record of Brahms playing one of his dances to the fabled recordings of the great Caruso. Alan (Fletcher, Aspen festival) spoke about his Clarinet Concerto, and whet all our appetites for hearing a performance of this engaging work. Treating the clarinet soloist as a real character, he quoted from William Carlos Williams:

I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely.
I am best so.

A sentiment every artist knows, at some level, through experience. I am now re-reading one of the best books on the spiritual life I know (recommended to me by my ultra-cool Lutheran minister cousin, Jeff Sonafelt): "The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality" by Belden C. Lane (publ. by Oxford). I will probably write more about it after I've had more time to process, but just this morning I read a passage that reminded me of Alan's talk and the quote above. In writing of solitude and its centrality to the spiritual life of the early desert fathers, Lane makes a connection to the creative life:

"To be a writer, an artist, a monk creating praise out of the stuff of his own being, one has to be able to endure staying alone in a room."

While I did want to be alone in my room upon our arrival in Elba, I did want to follow my own path and not accompany the group walking tour to the Vigilanti Theatre and the Villa dei Mulini--Napoleon's residence in exile.

So I took the proverbial road less traveled and hiked along one of the cliff's edges and climbed up the rough side of one for an even more stunning --and vertigo inducing--view of the sea and a panorama of the island. Gorgeous, clear green and blue water--diaphanous, luminous, beckoning: "Vieni qui. Dimenticate tutti degli lamenti, pieni e dolori." The sea WAS talking to me (and in my 2nd grade Italian): "Come and bring your melancholy to my pure bosom. Dissolve your hardness here. Be lost in me..."

The stunning vista was so inviting, and the call of the sea so vivid I had to find my way down that mountain and just go to the beach! The water was so cool, so clear, so cleansing. I have never been in water that felt better. It is difficult to describe with adjectives the physical and textural incarnation of the purity of that sea. It was more than refreshing; it was restorative. Julian of Norwich describes God's love as like a Mother's. God lets us fall like a watchful and loving mother in order to teach us. The loving embrace of the mother is even more comforting and cherished in such a context. Among other things, I was trying not to freak out about the fact I'd been sleepwalking on this cruise, for what I believed (hoped!) to be the first time in my life. The previous night I dreamt I was wandering around the ship, lost & confused, only to wake up in a hallway and realize I was not dreaming but literally wandering around the ship, and was now locked out of our room!

Anyway, my experience of the beautiful & invigorating sea was seconded by Amy and Scott (Beard) when I found them and shared my discovery (the beach was literally around the corner from the port, but the tour guides neglected to mention that!)

After the beach, I strolled along the boat-lined port, enjoying the mingling of history with the present: the medieval walls and buildings around a busy marina full of travelers from all over the world, some busy cleaning their skiffs, others enjoying a glass of wine and a chance to relax in the Meiterranean sun.


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