I can tell you that I spent a two week, most-expenses-paid trip in Italy, Italy for heaven's sake, feeling like my heart was being attacked.
OK, before even you get out the straight jacket for me, let me explain. That two week trip was the longest I had gone without hugging a dog and/or horse for forty-four years. If you count my first ever pets, my parakeet Birdie, and my cats Stripy and Blackie, (does this explain why my dogs now have names like Giacomino?) then it was the longest I had been without animal companionship in fifty years. I am fifty-four years old.
To see photos of the beautiful places we visited, and some beyond delightful plein-air drawings by my talented husband, check out his blog! (He'll enjoy the visitors, too!!!) We stayed a week in Tuscany, the glory of which has been the subject of great art and literature. We saw David in Florence, the Tower in Pisa, the Piazza in Siena, and vista after beautiful vista from our home base of Fonterutoli. (Font-uh-ROO-tuh-lee). There was a road, with its original stones, into this village built by the Romans in 900 A.D. (Bill has photos on his blog.)
We went to Rome and saw the sights. And we went to a wonderful village in the province of Puglia (POOO-lee-uh) where Bill's grandparents were born and raised. Twenty-one Renzullis met there for a family reunion. There were no other tourists (in fact at first the locals thought we were there to evangelize them! HA!) and the beauty of that place will stay with me for my life. Such was the magic in that town, that my heart felt the least attacked there. We could look out of our hotel window, see the 300 mile wide valley where most of the wheat for all of that Italian bread and pasta is grown, and far off in the distance see the Adriatic.
the view from our window
But through it all, I felt like I couldn't quite fill my lungs. As though I had been amputated. Not like I had lost a limb; rather, I was the limb, lying useless and severed. Disembodied.
Because of the immense generosity of my neice, Molly, I didn't have to worry about the health and safety of the dogs. They know her well, and adore her, and I trust her as I would no one else. I did worry that I had placed a terrible responsibility on her, and I overemphasized that I was leaving her with very fragile old dogs, whose every day was, at best, iffy, whether I was home or not. In my defense, it didn't help that we had very little Internet access during the whole stay. I went to a pay-and-show-your-passport place in the nearest town, and learned that Maria, who will be 14 in February, had been vomiting and had stayed at my vet's for the afternoon getting IV's.
There's not enough air in this country. Why can't I breathe?
Luciano had given Molly a black eye. His special self was jumping up to kiss her while she was bending down. Whippet heads are hard. Oh boy. Hang in there, Molly. Bill's daughter let me send some messages from her blackberry, but nothing came back.
No news is always good news. Molly was visiting with friends after the dogs went to bed. The computer wasn't cooperating with her and kept 'poofing' her messages. Had Maria died and no one would tell me? What good would it do to ruin my vacation? What, Bill? Oh yes, that is a gorgeous view. What the heck is wrong with the air? No matter what I do, my lungs feel empty. I'm drowning here.
I sent a blackberry message to my dear friends and neighbors, Lee and Dee. Is Molly all right? Were the dogs all right? Please! Were Molly and the dogs all right? Yes, they replied. Molly and the dogs were just fine. Maria was back to barking and begging, and she was eating well.
OK. I should be able to breathe now. Why do my arms feel leaden? So empty and useless.
In Rome for two days, if I sat on the bottom of the marble steps in the hallway, the WiFi worked. Molly was doing fine, the routine was less scary, and Maria continued to eat and be merry. They were all enjoying Molly's head-counting "biscuit meetings" immensely, and Giacomino was sleeping all the time.
There is something wrong with my heart. It squeezes too tight when it pumps. Or it doesn't fit in my chest anymore. Maybe some of it is missing, and it's rattling around in a too-big pocket.
Bill's grandparents' home town
No Internet in the whole town of Castelnuova. But such was the power of seeing Bill walk the streets where his grandparents had played as children, of seeing the town with his own eyes, which he had heard about all his life, my heart seemed to fit better again.
And I would be home soon.
The dizzying hour and a half bus ride rocking and zigzagging down the mountain into Foggia sped by. And the packed train, sardines for three and a half hours to Rome, was fast and pleasant. I felt a little giddy.
We got up at 5 AM to get to the airport. Rome to Milano, then Milano to Chicago, then O'Hare to Amy's house, then the seven hour drive home. Just over 25 hours of traveling. Molly wanted to get the dogs up and witness the whippet joy, but I just wanted their lives to return to normal. It was nearly midnight, and they were in bed. I went upstairs.
Giacomino was waiting at the baby gate at the top of the stairs. He was wagging, and his ears were standing straight up, but his eyes were confused. No so with Bill's Delia, whose soft-crate zipper has been broken for years. Her Bill was home! She danced and sparkled. Her Bill was home! I went into our bedroom and put all of me that would fit into each crate and kissed each dear occupant.
"I'm home," I whispered.
I know, from doing whippet rescue, that a whippet starts to bond to a new human after about a week to ten days, and by three to four weeks they are part of that human's heart forever. I had been gone for fifteen days. And I saw the confusion in their eyes.
For the first two days, Giacomino stayed asleep, and when he was awake, he had a blank stare, like he had gone someplace inside himself and couldn't see out. Maria had another episode of vomiting and we went back to the vet. Her blood work and belly xrays were great! I went on an errand, and returned to the chaos of Excessive Greeting Disorder. Molly, ever astute, said, "That must be music to your ears." Oh, yes. We said a sad, grateful goodbye to Molly and she went back to her own dogs, whom she missed as much as I did mine.
And now that I've been home for six days, Giacomino's eyes are no longer blank. Maria is barking more, though she's not back to her mouth of the south status, and Delia is Bill's extra appendage.
I am a foolish old woman. I have no problem with that. As I type, I am surrounded by eight somnolent dogs. My heart fits in my chest and I can breathe. I am who I am.
Hug your hounds