We can’t stop watching CNN. This happens when we travel. We hardly watch the news on TV at home in the States, but when we are abroad, CNN feels like our only link to the world outside our vacation bubble. Usually, we watch for a few minutes, catching up on the mundane, then shut it off and go to the beach or tour the sites or shuffle off to bed. This time, though, it’s a horror show that we can’t stop watching. Right now, it seems as if the world is exploding.
We take in the view of the Tuscan hills after a ferocious night storm. Juniper trees glisten, the ground is muddy and rough with tumbled rocks crunching underfoot. In the Middle East, soldiers are shot down, rockets fly, children die and we are grateful the road down the hill and into town hasn’t washed away entirely. We are only slightly stranded on the hill, waiting for the Italians to clear the way. There is enough food for a week and the water tanks are full. By late afternoon, the skies clear, glasses of sparkling wine sweat in the glittering in the sun. In the Netherlands, they bury loved ones in bits and pieces and I imagine teeth and wedding bands, blasted hands, strands of hair and intact backpacks scattered across a Ukranian field. My three-year-old wheels her mini Hello Kitty suitcase around the uneven stone floors of the villa. She transports books, her blankie, three lovies and a hand towel. I hear her coming from rooms away.
Heavy white clouds hang in the balance between clear skies and another storm. The sky is an impossibly bright blue, a Renaissance blue, a master’s blue. In Piza my oldest daughter poses with her hands in midair as if she’s pushing against a heavy object so I can take a picture that will look as though she’s holding up the Leaning Tower. Tourists everywhere stand like frozen mimes while cameras click. On patrol, a soldier takes a wrong turn through the streets of a terrorist stronghold. The stutter of a gun and he is gone. Suddenly the weather snaps and we run for the narrow awning of a food cart. A curtain of rain drives towards us. We watch, laughing and gasping, trapped under cover as the wind whips the rain into our eyes, drenching us. Sirens sound signaling an incoming rocket. Mothers clutch their children. A boom. Silence. Saved. I yank the three-year-old away from the curb as a speedy orange scooter beeps and whizzes by. My heart thumps through my ribcage, adrenaline surges. I hold Lilah by the hand, guiding her through the crowds. The uneven stones of the ancient road catch the front of my flip-flop, send me stumbling against the woman just in front of me shopping for frutta e vedure at the small corner market. “Scuzi,” I mumble. Sorry. She smiles faintly, carries on.
Back at the villa, the girls leap into the pool, laughing, playing Marco Polo with their cousins. We mix gin and tonics. Texts fly between countries – Italy, France, Israel – checking in, updating, worrying. After dinner al fresco, we turn back to CNN. The world’s death toll flickers endlessly across the screen: 298, 27, 45, 630. My blood is thick with stress, my head pounds. Decisions need to be made. Thunder claps later that night send my little one running, hands over her ears. Hearts break when we cancel our flight to Tel Aviv. There is nothing right about this decision. We are left stumbling around a digital map of Europe, discussing alternatives when really there is no alternative to Israel; just a different route, a biding of time until we wend our way home. We settle on Rome then Amsterdam. We are returning to California a few days earlier than expected. It is not the vacation we’d planned.
“This is not our normal weather in the summer,” says the taxi driver. “We do to mother nature and now she do to us.” Still, the Italians are impressive after a storm. Men in long shorts and orange rubber rain boots quickly clear away the sludge and debris. They dig ditches to drain away the floodwaters and slice enormous fallen trees into neat, manageable logs. We take the winding road slowly. Beyond the barrier, the asphalt has washed away finding its own path down the hillside, carving the dark red earth, crossing our path again at the end as we turn onto the paved road to Lucca. Half-heartedly we plan our stays in Rome and Amsterdam, scramble to find accommodations, hire a tour guide for the Coliseum. We want to salvage the trip for the kids, smother them with ancient history, pasta al dente, clogs, windmills, tulips and cheese.
The garden at the villa is fragrant. Lavender, thyme and sage glisten in the sun, waiting to be plucked for dinner. Large bees buzz lazily in and out of dusty yellow blooms, the hills roll, the sky breaks, hummingbirds beat their tiny wings in the olive trees. There is a war in Israel. There are body parts strewn across a field in the Ukraine. Glass shatters and buildings burn in France. Towers lean, soldiers fall, children scamper on a beach, planes explode in midair, mobs rise, bells chime the hour. Time for prayer, time for a cocktail, time for bed. I am terrified and hysterically happy all at once. The world is crumbling and here I am in the relative calm of Tuscany, wine chilling, focaccia warming, rosemary between my fingers, my family within arms reach. This is where we are right now, somehow still while the world spins out of control.