From Up There


I want to live in a walled Medieval town on the top of a hill, one that is surrounded by vineyards and green fields and the occasional dot of a house or a farm in every direction. I want to catch myself from slipping on the white limestone cobbles and I want to sit under a tree in the square near the old cistern—it still bears the symbol of the State, winged lions in flight—that’s been capped so kids don’t fall into it and kill themselves, and read a book under a tree all afternoon. I want to wear a blue flowered sun dress and when the sun shifts too far in the afternoon, I want to pace on the stone walkway between the inner and outer fortifications, perched above that view of the fields and the vineyards and the river cutting across them, and I want to think of things to write. And then I want to go home to my room and write them.

I feel like, if this could come true, if I could spend the rest of my life in town like Motovun, which is real, which I can see out my window right now—that same view but in darkness, the single houses and farms below just flickering lights in the distance—it might spell that perfect thing we all see in our heads. The Thing That Would Make Me Happy, if any such thing could exist for anyone.

And then I hear my mother’s voice as though I’m hearing it skip and crackle through the tiny cell phone speaker, and she says, “My God, you’d be so bored. What would you do there?”

Why, I would read books. And I would write them.

And then there would be an instant of silence and she would say, “No, I mean, What are you going to do for the rest of the time.”

Motovun is like other kinds of towns in other places. There are breathtaking hilltop towns in France and Italy and Germany, their details all subtly different—the cistern in a different place, a different kind of steeple on the church—but they are the kinds of towns that spin me like a top, that make my fingertips buzz as I touch their centuries-old stone, walk their streets that are sloping and shifting with the ages, molding to the shape of the mountain underneath them. What makes it special, though, is that its most famous inhabitants were Venetian, allowing the city some of the beautiful flourishes that are mostly seen drooping over canals at almost-sub-sea level. Even the air feels cleaner up here, and I say that as someone who frowns at the notion of clearly preceptible differences in air quality between downtown Manhattan and an outcropping of rock in the center of northern Croatia. I know that the differences must exist, but to complain about them seems like a colossal misuse of time and energy. But standing here, watching the cats that belong to no one dart from one stoop to the other, I can’t help but wonder.

What I could do with real time. Real quiet. Real space. While knowing that I would waste a lot of it, and not-write with a lot of it, and sit around worrying that the world was passing me by, like I did in the first 18 years of my life in a Massachusetts suburb that could seem almost as remote and ungrounded—something floating in its atmosphere—as a village on top of a mountain.

So I’ll leave Motovun tomorrow, the square and the cistern, the Venetian lions and flowers in stone, the terrace that overlooks the vineyards, its 300-year-old timbers the newest addition to the town’s architecture. Not because I have to. This is the thing that traveling has taught me. You don’t actually need to go anywhere, to do anything at all. But because Motovun is my happiness in two days, maybe three. In sun only. In a blue sun dress but not a yellow one. In a time where I’m not feeling lonely, when I have unlimited funds in the back. And how often would those things all happen at once? Not just seldom. Not just once a millennia. But never and nowhere, as fleeting as that fairy tale I might get to writing someday.

Travel provided by the tourism board of Istria, Croatia.

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