On my trip to Puglia, I picked up new vocabulary words in Italian that I never wanted to learn: pronto soccorso and scottata. Emergency room and burn.
When I bent over in the narrow hotel bathroom to dry my leg, the last thing I expected was the searing pain that lit up my right buttock. It was so shocking, this assault upon my skin and peaceful morning. Who knows why the towel rack was heated in July and to such a scalding temperature. I was trying to fight off the tears as I pressed an ice-cold mini bar drink to my cheek. The tears were not from physical pain, but from the mental discomfort that things like this happen to me all the time, and often in places of paradise where life is supposed to be perfect, that I could feel as jinxed on vacation as I do at home.
I had only just arrived. I had planned to go for a swim in the crescent-shaped bay that the hotel had claimed as its private beach. But that would have to wait. Before the beach, I had intended to go to the breakfast buffet, which would offer prosciutto and mozzarella beside the croissants. Now there were more pressing things to handle.
After pantomiming bending over and making a sizzling sound, the girl at the front desk drew a line on the map to the small hospital in the neighboring town. I drove there, concerned that I would lose the day to a long wait to be seen. But found instead an empty reception area and two nurses chatting. I mumbled the Italian phrases the hotel receptionist had taught me. And the nurse said, “Fammi vedere.” Let me see it. Then I dropped trou to present the three-inch angry mark that would most likely become a scar.
Soon a strange hand was rubbing ointment on my rump. I heard her coo in Italian, her words sliding down a shoot of pitch. “Non e cose male,” It’s not so bad, she said. And she placed a tube of something into my purse. Then holding her hands up and open to the room, she let me know I need not pay.
There was something in that gesture that took the sting out of the whole thing. The ease of finding care, the calm and reassurance that appeared as fast as the burn, turned my attitude right around. I climbed into my rented Fiat, feeling a little proud that I’d been able to find care. I was able to enjoy the heel of the boot of the country for the next few days.
I ditched the car for a flight from Bari to meet my friend Jennifer up north. There was only one thing I wanted to do in Venice. I had my heart set on taking a boat ride at sunset. Jennifer was going to come with me, but I didn’t find her at the meeting place, the end of the bridge that connected the Jewish Ghetto to the quiet streets of Castello. The boatman was waiting at the edge of the bridge. I asked him to not leave, to give her a few more minutes to show. It was my last night, my last chance to see the city lit up by the magic hour. Finally, five minutes later, I saw her sauntering over the bridge. And I called to him, waving frantically, neurotically, to say, “She’s coming. We’re coming.” I rushed towards the small vessel and the pinched-looking driver.
I heard him say, “No, don’t step there,” just as my foot hit the cement step that led down to the boat. Beneath my sandaled foot, the step was covered in a slick green moss. I saw my feet start to slide out from me down towards the water, moving below the length of the boat. In that instant I saw my hands were still gripping my leather purse that held my passport, wallet, camera, and phone, each full of my trip photos. I could not put my hands down to stop my descent without losing all of those precious things to the murky wetness. So I sat down, hard on the stone, to break my fall. I spent the expensive boat ride, embarrassed, angry, and stunned to be wet, scraped, with a new searing pain on my left butt cheek, the one that had escaped the branding by the towel rack a week earlier.
The next day, I shuffled through the serpentine check-in line at the Marco Polo Airport, wondering how I was going to sit for ten hours on the plane on the egg that had sprung, hard and blue from my otherwise fleshy backside. I was muttering to myself when two women in front of me turned around, thinking I’d said something to them. Laughing, I said, “Don’t mind me.” I explained my frustration at my misfortune and told of my bad fall.
They were sisters, deep into their fifties, heading back to San Francisco. They travelled yearly together, with or without their husbands. One of them said, “Oh, but you were lucky; you could have broken your tail bone.”
“Yes, you nearly fell into the canal. But you didn’t.” Her sibling insisted.
I said, “But I was so sad that the nice moment was ruined.”
To which the first woman said, “In travel there is always loss.”
And the other chimed in,” Travel is travel. It need not be perfect.” She reached into her bag and handed me her neck pillow to sit on. I soon found myself chatting with them about more pleasant things, grateful again for the kindness that followed alongside my bad luck. Grateful that travel always provided surprises.
BIO: Camille Lowry is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She has written for Juxtapose Magazine, Swindle Magazine, Huffington Post, and as a columnist for Black Voices. Born in Tanzania, raised in Berkeley, with past lives in New York and Rome, Camille is now based in Los Angeles.
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