Marcello had just pulled up the last tent stake with a hammer and Monica’s ice ax when he saw something on the stake that left him stunned. The stake, like the others, was thirty centimeters long, metal, and pointed on one end and slightly hooked on the other, so it could be pounded down with the hammer. After he’d pushed the stakes through the elastic loops on all four corners of the nylon tent, Marcello drove them into the ground with the hammer, and now—exactly nine hours later—he was using this same hammer and Monica’s ice ax, pulling on the stakes with the handle of the hammer, loosening the dirt around them with the ax-blade, prying them up, one by one.
Marcello had hammered the stakes in at ten o'clock the night before, with Monica’s help, and now at seven in the morning, with Monica's help, he'd pulled them back up. Marcello and Monica were in Brusson, but they weren't sure where they'd pitched their tent in Brusson, if they were outside Brusson or near the center, if they were south or north of town, if they were east or west, if they were close to where they'd reserved their campsite, or if they'd completely screwed up, if they were in Brusson at all or near Brusson or just within the town limits: they had absolutely no idea.
Marcello and Monica, ages nineteen and eighteen, had reached the Brusson train station the day before, at around four in the afternoon, their backpacks stuffed with their belongings, and they'd called their parents on their cell phones to let them know they'd arrived; then they started walking toward town, stopping at a tavern for some green-apple grappa; its brandy taste and high alcohol content warmed them up a little and took the edge off from the trip.
It was a cloudy day, chilly enough for cotton sweaters over their T-shirts, also cotton. The tavern, a bar-restaurant, had walnut paneling, with strings of garlic and peppers, tempera paintings, and deer heads mounted on the paneling, and even though it was only four o'clock, after their grappa, Marcello and Monica suddenly felt like ordering some polenta concia. They stuffed themselves on two enormous platefuls, because the owner and his wife liked them and filled their plates too full and also brought them a carafe of tap water, though it was good “mountain water.” Marcello and Monica ate the polenta with melted fontina and then grana sprinkled on top, and there were also some other melted cheeses they didn't recognize; then they paid, ten euros each, and they left, saying good-bye to the smiling owner of the inn (the bar-restaurant) and his smiling wife.
They went into a general store that sold postcards, souvenirs, T-shirts, ice axes, and Monica bought the ice ax that Marcello used later, along with the hammer, for the stakes; Marcello bought some postcards—six postcards—a Brusson sunset, a Monte Rosa, a Greetings from Brusson, and some with little pictures of Brusson's most beautiful things. He bought stamps, and then they sat outside on a dark wooden bench between two enormous stone planters filled with araucarias and junipers, and with Monica's pen, they wrote to some friends, to Marcello's parents, to Monica's parents, writing quite a bit to their friends, only a little to their parents. Then they put the stamps on, looked around for a mailbox, found one, and dropped the postcards in. Their vacation was so short—only two days: Saturday and Sunday, including the trip there and back—it was better to just get the postcards out of the way. Marcello and Monica also wanted to blow all their money, well, most of it anyway, and with the polenta concia, the ice ax, the postcards, the stamps, a good bit was gone already, so much that Marcello couldn't buy the T-shirt he saw in the shop window right next door to the general store, the T-shirt on a mannequin just his size, with his same slender build and even the same face as him, the same dark eyes, big nose, extremely white teeth, and even the same dark chestnut hair. The mannequin was wearing a red synthetic T-shirt, and Marcello liked it right away, but Monica didn’t, and in the end, partly owing to her, Marcello didn't buy it. Between one thing and the other, six thirty went by, then it was almost seven, and Marcello and Monica hadn't even gone to the campsite yet where they'd reserved a spot for a two-man tent.
They’d found this place just three days before, on a Web site for last-minute vacations. Marcello and Monica wanted to go to Riccione, which was really fun, or some other town on the sea, but not Rapallo or somewhere on the Ligurian Coast, where there wasn't much nightlife and the sea was polluted; they wanted to go to the Romagnola Riviera so they could eat piadine and wander the narrow budelli, the alleyways filled with bazaars, the tourists in their gaudy clothes, slathered in after-sun lotion, but they couldn't find any campsites in the Romagnola Riviera or Caorle or along the Ligurian Coast, and they wound up looking for places in the mountains instead, but Courmayeur was too expensive, and something always kept them from making up their minds, until finally they found the cheap campsite in Brusson, and they called and made a reservation.
Two days before they left, the day after they reserved the site, toward evening, a few minutes before dinner, Monica's father asked Marcello to come over; he offered him a glass of Barbera d'Asti in the kitchen, then smiling and squeezing Marcello's bicep in a strange way, he said that he trusted him, that Marcello was a good kid, sharp, strong, and he had his head on straight and wouldn't get into any trouble; he wouldn't do or make someone else do something—Monica’s father didn't mention anyone by name—that someone might regret later. He said this was the first trip he was letting his daughter take with a boy, and not just any boy, her boy, and if he was letting her go, it was because he could trust her and he could really trust Marcello, who, at one meter eighty-one centimeters tall, with his big shoulders, quick eye, and good manners, inspired that trust. Monica's father, who taught middle-school Italian, and Marcello, who’d just graduated from liceo, finished the Barbera d'Asti; Monica's father walked Marcello to the door, gave him a pat on the cheek, gave him a few pointers on keeping safe in the mountains, and while he was talking about the mountains, it seemed like he meant something else, and then Marcello left, a little scared.
Marcello organized the trip himself, without any help from his mother or father, or from Monica's mother or father, or from Monica—like she'd help! Marcello had suggested they take this trip one evening while they were eating a prosciutto mushroom pizza and a margherita without mozzarella, just tomatoes, no oregano, washed down with a medium beer and a can of orange soda. Marcello had checked on the Internet, Monica looking over his shoulder, and then he picked up the phone and called the campsite. Marcello spoke to the camp owner/manager and got walking directions directly from the train station without taking a bus or taxi. In short, Marcello took responsibility for everything, all with the blessings of Monica's father, who thought he was a good kid, polite, and above all, sharp.
And yet—only the day before they left—Marcello still hadn't figured out how to get there. They started walking from town, the sky darker, the air cooler, and they were surrounded by mountains as they walked along that narrow, winding, crumbling road filled with potholes, and now and then a car went by with Aosta plates, and they walked past the wood houses with their sloping, stone-shingle roofs, the grass, the woods, the pine groves, and the wood picnic tables in the pine groves, where they stopped when they were a little tired—very tired—to eat some sandwiches, Marco’s with tomato, egg, lettuce, Monica’s with butter, salami, chunks of parmigiano, and they drank their mineral water and discussed whether or not they were lost and if they weren't lost, whether or not they'd manage to find the road to the campsite. In the pine grove, the needles smelling like rosemary, Monica told Marcello to call the campsite owners for better directions; but Marcello, extremely tired, took this as a criticism of his sense of direction, so he wouldn't call, and he wouldn't let Monica call, either, though Monica didn't know the number, so she couldn’t call, anyway.
They walked for an hour, kissing now and then, giggling now and then, feeling like they were really on an adventure, especially after they'd had their sandwiches and water, which, added to the polenta concia from a few hours earlier, had fortified them. But little by little, after an hour, this sense of adventure, and so the rush they were feeling, was growing ever dimmer along with the last glimmering in the sky, and they felt tired, discouraged, and Monica said they should admit they were lost, damn it, there, she finally got up the nerve to say it, and at this point Marcello didn't even feel like arguing, because it was true, damn it, they were lost, and it was dark out, and with the dark and being lost, if they kept looking for the road to the campsite, they might wind up even more lost. Things were getting a little too risky, and Monica's flashlight (that her father had made sure to slip into the pocket of her backpack), together with the few street lamps casting cones of yellow light among the pines, oaks, and beech trees, just wasn’t enough light in this risky situation that, in fact, was getting riskier by the minute.
Marcello and Monica took a gravel trail to the left of the unmarked road they'd been following, past a beech tree or some kind of tree with a white, dented tin sign that said in red letters, “Private Property,” and below the sign was another sign, also white, with “Beware of Dog” written in blue and a picture of a German Shepherd next to the words. A short distance away, they passed a black gate, open, half-hidden in the trees and weeds and wild growth, and arrived in a clearing, just mowed, with no plants or bushes or trees, and it really looked like an English meadow, at least by flashlight: the perfect place to pitch their tent and settle in, except for that private property sign, which from that moment on, made two trespassers out of Marcello and Monica since, with that sign present and their decision to stay and pitch a tent and sleep, they were only confirming, only aggravating their present state of trespassing.
But Marcello and Monica could feel the muscles of their legs, their thighs and calves seizing up with lactic acid, and they felt young, and without saying it out loud, they figured if someone found them, it wouldn’t be much different than it was with the innkeeper and his wife some hours earlier who were so friendly: the owner of the clearing, his wife, and even the German shepherd would hold back. When they caught sight of Monica, her big eyes set too far apart and her dark chestnut hair pulled back with pink barrettes and her gracious figure, lovely, not too full, not too endowed, they, the owner, his wife, and the German shepherd would all hold back. And so, in the end, given the fact that they were lost and given the time, nine thirty, they decided to pitch their tent in the meadow and then pack up early the next morning, around six, seven at the latest, to avoid getting caught.
Text by Marco Candida
Translated copyright 2010 by Elizabeth Harris from Diario del sogni. Copyright Marco Candida.
First published in Words without Borders and reprinted here with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.