The first thing I did when I arrived at our apartment was open the doors to the balcony to take full advantage of having a room with a view. There it was: a magnificent view over the Sardinian Bay. For a change, the travel guide had not exaggerated. Before me miles and miles of glittering white sand encircling the bluest water I ever saw, except in Bounty commercials. The best thing about it was that it was nearly deserted.
A bit of peace and quiet was just what we desperately needed after going through the trauma of childbirth and the ensuing chaos of being first-time parents. At one point an unbroken night seemed the most valuable commodity in the world. Not to mention the slowly dawning realisation that gone were the days of just nipping into town or just zooming off to Paris for a long weekend. Any excursion outside the house needed the meticulous planning of a field campaign. Very nice of Granny to take over for a week and grant us this wonderful break.
While I was contemplating my lot, the doors to the balcony of the neighbouring apartment opened and out stepped a middle-aged woman with that blond, blue-eyed look normally only found in the more northern reaches of Europe. She smiled warmly at me and turned around to say something in Italian to whoever was still inside. Curious as I am I waited to see who it was and was not disappointed.
He, for it was a man, was an older very Italian looking chap. He did not say anything but put his arms around her and stood silently behind his, yes his what? Wife, girlfriend? They seemed very much in love.
During the rest of the week, we saw them regularly in restaurants, on the beach or pottering around the little village near our apartments. They very rarely seemed to be talking and were happy to keep themselves to themselves. She catered for his every wish and he treated her with that old fashioned courtesy rarely found now.
He used to go for long walks by himself, while she lay on the beach reading.
I was very intrigued by them and had already concocted a story in my mind. My husband finds this a rather amusing habit of mine. Just show me a man coping on his own in a restaurant with some children and immediately I imagine him a divorced Dad having his fortnightly weekend with the kids. While for all I know his wife might be a high flying businesswoman away on a job or even more mundane his wife might just be shopping on her own. Or he might be a nice uncle taking some nieces or nephews for a McDonald. I cannot look at people without trying to guess what they are all about. Why are they there? What their relationship is to the people they are with.
In this case, I was convinced she was a single school teacher from a Northern Country, who in the past had met this Italian man whilst on holiday and fell madly in love with him. Instead of this being just one of these dreary holiday romances, he had returned her feelings. For two weeks they were inseparable. But he was married and a staunch Catholic, so after a lot of tears and recriminations they gave up on a life together. Finding out they could not give each other up altogether they decided to meet once a year in Sardinia and spend a blissful week together and live the rest of the year reminiscing.
In the meantime, she too got married and convinced her husband that she needed one week a year to get away from it all and recharge her batteries.
That is why they did not say much to each other. Everything was said and argued about over the past many years. In the beginning, she was hurt that he did not want to contemplate divorcing his wife and leaving his two sons for a life with her. Having married herself, now the mother of a daughter, she understood why he could never make himself to hurt his wife, who had never done him wrong, nor disappoint his boys, whom he adored and had a very good relationship with. What sort of marriage would it be anyway to blossom based on so much hurt and sorrow? And then there were the practicalities of in which country they would live.
No, meeting once a year like this was wonderful. The sadness of never having a proper life together was always there of course. But the certainty having to separate after a week gave the time together a passion born out of desperation that was totally breath-taking and exciting.
I really revelled in my romantic fiction, whilst my husband just shook his head.
Then a few days before we left I saw my husband talking to the lady next door. It was quite a long conversation. When he returned to me he was grinning widely. First to tease me he did not want to say anything “ in order not to destroy my romantic soul forever”! In the end, he took pity on me and told me what they had talked about.
Of course, I had it all wrong. Apparently they have been married for 25 years. They already had grandchildren. They lived in Manchester. Of all the romantic spots! The husband was from Sardinia but worked in the UK. He had bought a piece of land in his country of origin. They were planning to build their dream retirement home on it. That is why they were there, so he could personally negotiate building permission with the local council. When I thought he was taking these long walks to think about the love of his life, he was arguing the pros and cons of having a fourth window installed in the north-facing elevation.
It all sounded terribly prosaic and I promised myself there and then never to indulge myself again in these wild imaginations. It did though add some extra flavour to our holiday.
Next time I will restrict my attention solely to the marvellous view.
Saying that. That elderly gentleman staying in the apartment opposite us with that teenage girl and a small baby……….?