Postcard from Yurp

I used to pass the time making up fake Salon travel headlines with a friend of mine. His favorite was:
‘Under An Inky Sardinian Sky, A Mysterious Stranger Made Me A Woman.’

Now that I’m here in Sardinia it seems even sillier. I feel lanky and pale beside the compact natives. I can barely fit in the shower stalls without bumping my elbows as I shampoo. When we drive through the old towns in our teensy rented Fiat, the wing mirrors graze houses on both sides of the street. Teenage girls stroll ahead of the car, arms linked.

Yes, I’m turning Texan as I note the smallness, the cuteness, the cheapness of everything here in Yurp. But it’s hard not to. Dinner for three�Camparis, antipasti, pastas, fish, panna cottas, coffees, wine, brandy�is less than sixty bucks. They even humor my parents by serving cappuccinos after dinner; a barbarism. And the beaches are nothing like the frigid Atlantic of my childhood, where mortification of the (white, goosepimpled) flesh was daily penance. Here, Italians, Dutch, and Belgians baste themselves in the sun, and every day is a perfect 82 degrees with a breeze. The water is warm and waist-deep no matter how far you doggy-paddle. To compensate, I caught a cold the first day, just for old time’s sake. It wouldn’t be a holiday without shivering and sneezing on the beach.

‘Ah, Irlanda,’ people say with a happy nod when they discover where we are from. In Europe, there is unspoken (and unfair) approval for not being English, especially when they have already assumed the worst. No one here speaks English, but it turns out my Spanish is good enough to produce a mangled dialect that they pretend to understand. I can also read Italian, though not yet without moving my lips and practicing Italian gestures. Today there was a mournful newspaper article that discussed emigration from the island. The photo was captioned: ‘A young Sardinian emigrant at the Fiat factory in Turin.’ Turin is a few hundred miles away on the Italian mainland. My mother, lonely for two daughters who insist on gallivanting on the other side of the world, scoffed.

Back in New York, a week here had seemed luxurious. Friday to Friday, then to Dublin and back to London. But Italy is set up for proper vacations. Apartments rent from Saturday to Saturday, two weeks minimum, often a month. You can see it in the faces of people lying out by the pool, untroubled by flights and arrangements. All they worry about is whether to get the pizza menu or the restaurant menu. Instead, I’ve saddled myself with catching three buses to the airport on the other side of the island, and because it’s midweek I must leave a day early to do so. This means my week here turned out to be Sunday to Wednesday, or barely the length of a respectable trip to the Hamptons. And I haven’t managed to relax yet. I plough up and down the pool for exercise every morning, and do yoga in the shade. I slather myself in factor 45 sunscreen and then lecture my mother about wearing a hat. I rush through book chapters like lengths of the pool, calculating each book as half a pound I won’t have to carry in my pack. I make little lists of phone calls to make and things to buy.

I hope that when I’ve lived out of my backpack for a few months, I’ll have grown out of this urge to schedule briskly and grown back into my native European dolce far niente ways. Life’s too short to be lived on American time.