The Toremar ferry we took from Piombino to reach Portoferraio; below, the snacks Sarah and I shared in the ferry's bar.
Trying to describe Elba--with the same words I've used to describe gnocchi, buses, hunger, fatigue, and other trifles--is like trying to paint without pigment, cook without salt, wash without soap. A series of images: the sun, glinting off the water so sharply it burns my eyes; the swimming blues and greens of the ocean and the beige, yellow, pink reflections of the buildings in the water; the rocks, rising haphazardly from the water as if they were the boney elbows and knees of a goddess, languoring in her Tyrrhenian bathtub.

I could have died a happy death in Napoleon's gardens: the tended shrubs and statue, the shifting azules and turquoises of the seas, the wind ripping at my hair and clothes. But it wasn't so much the going but rather the coming back to Italy proper that really got to me.

Marciana Marina; our apartment was straight ahead

Seeing the Tuscan shore from the deck of our Moby ferry, smelling the sharp asphyxiating sulfur of the Piombino iron refineries, watching the smokestacks belch their reeking refuse in the thick, cold air—was like falling back down from heaven and hitting the earth with a shattering thump. It knocked something out of me, or rather into me.

Back in Firenze, I felt Elba's claws on my back everywhere I walked. Suddenly there were fewer things to bother me: the rain and clouds were not bad weather, I had merely been wearing bad shoes; the food was not so expensive, I had just been shopping at the wrong stores; my commute was not interminable. I hadn't before taken the time to observe the teenage boys cajoling the old ladies, the tiny dogs chafing in their tight muzzles, the men who stood for the whole ride and read their free newspapers.

Oh, Elba... ti voglio bene.

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