It was our first night in Formia, the Italian coastal town that became our first home in Europe. After another in a long line of sleepless nights and eye-stingingly early mornings, A’s afternoon nap went into overtime. The cat slept too, curled up in the crook of A’s knees, shielding her eyes with her asymmetrical feet.
Through the open window, I could hear the sea breathing, as though it, too, was asleep. And I alone was awake, in an unfamiliar town with nothing in the house to drink. Pulling the peeling front door of our new home shut behind me, I went for a walk.
The Gulf of Gaeta glittered. Emperors used to vacation here. The ruins of the villa belonging to Tiberius were discovered in the 50s, just up the coast in Sperlonga. And now we live here.
The corner store was closed, as I knew it would be on Sunday evening. Outside the pizzeria, a crowd fragmented. A wedding in Formia, the warm night air bright with confetti and staccato Italian. I walked on.
The sorceress Circe could turn men into pigs-though some might argue that’s not such a difficult trick to pull off. Lions and wolves roamed around her house. When Ulysses and his men arrived, she drugged them and transformed them into animals. Ulysses, spared by divine intervention, drew his sword and threatened the witch, freeing his men, and becoming her lover. For one year, the mythic wanderer stayed with Circe on the mountain that bears her name, overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea near Formia.
Along the beach, the street pulsed with life. Old couples walking silently together like pair-bonded birds. Families taking their children to the playground near the beach. Teenagers smoking in bored-looking packs. Everyone was out, lit by streetlights against the black sea. You’d never see that in Canada, where nights belong only to the young and the destitute. Respectable people stay home in front of their screens.
I followed Via Tito Scipione along the shore, drifting like a ghost through the locals. This, if I’m honest, is me at my most comfortable. In a tower. On a boat. At the top of a mountain. Observing but remote.
There was some event at the harbor, right beside the villa that once belonged to Cicero. A huge white tent, glowing in the dark night air. There was a bar inside. I could see the ubiquitous red and white Peroni beer company logo through the open entrance. But I wasn’t invited.
The boats jostled one another gently, the soft slap of the water against their sides like a kiss. Flies swarmed in clusters around the streetlights, and bats swooped silently in and out of the darkness to snatch a meal. I watched a fat yellow moon rise slowly above the sleeping ships, distorted by heat and warm air to look twice the size it should.
The first time I moved to a foreign country, I used to look at the sky a lot. Everything was different. The weather, the food, the customs. The accent, though not the language. I was alone, 6000 kilometers from home, not knowing where to go, or how to live, or what the future would hold. But the stars were the same, the same stars that still shine in my father’s garden, showing over the crumbling century-old buildings of Hastings Street, sparkling in the broken glass, and shining on the dulled points of discarded needles. It was comforting, even though I knew my night was day for everyone back home. The same stars. The same moon with its haunted, mournful face. The same swirling sky. It would surprise me sometimes, swinging into view between the buildings on either side of a vacant lot. Outshining the crown of floodlights on the brow of Grouse Mountain.
I turned for home, our new home. Walking back along the shore, I watched over my shoulder to make sure the moon was following. Like a faithful dog, it came with me, pushing a band of golden light across the bay in front of it as I led it home to show to A. Silently it rose behind me, climbing over the rooftops, high enough to be seen from our south-facing balcony as I unlocked the iron gate in front of the apartment building.
Inside, A was still sleeping. I took up a pen. Insulted, the moon went on its lonely way.