I collect the car outside Naples airport, chosen especially so I won’t have to drive through the chaos of the city. I immediately misread my GoogleMaps and turn on one of those Escher-like Italian spaghetti junctions right onto a cobbled Neopolitan street. Mopeds screech past and locals gesticulate angrily at me for my hesitant driving. I carry on, sweaty and stressed and desperate to get out into the hills.
The next day I drive right up into Basilicata. I leave summer at sea level and find myself deep in the most perfect autumn landscape- warm and coloured and sun-splintered and magnificent. I drive so high that my ears pop and even though I feel light headed I don’t stop because I am listening to some totally unrelated podcast about New York school gangs. And so I miss the silence and the skies and what I came here to feel and be part of.
Hours later I am starving and maybe lost. I drive past abandoned orchards and wild fruit trees. I take on the hairpin turns too fast and scare myself and so I stop the car to calm down and tell myself off for not living in the moment. But living in the moment reminds me how long ago breakfast was and so I carry on. It begins to rain and there is rubble on the road and I doubt my abilities at changing a tyre.
I reach a town. It is late and there are no women on the streets, just young men with unflinching, suspicious stares. And even though there is a hell of a difference between looking and acting upon, it is not the most comfortable experience to be a woman sitting in a bar and being stared at. And actually attempting to look relaxed and self-assured can be one of the most difficult things we do. And I know and I hate that if I were a man I would not think twice at sitting in an unknown bar in an unknown town in an unknown country, surrounded by the opposite sex. The beer goes straight to my head and I am tired and lonely in this nondescript, unfriendly town. I go back to my dated bed and breakfast with its cold stone floors and glass light fittings. The next day the incredibly camp proprietor fails to hide his disappointment when I struggle with his three-course meat-laden breakfast.
We collect the car outside Naples airport, chosen especially so we won’t have to drive through the chaos of the city. Colm immediately misreads GoogleMaps and we turn on one of those Escher-like Italian spaghetti junctions right onto a cobbled Neopolitan street. Mopeds screech past and locals gesticulate angrily at me for my hesitant driving. Colm puts his arm around me and we breathe and laugh. And we continue out towards the hills.
The next day we drive right up into Basilicata. We leave summer at sea level and find ourselves deep in the most perfect autumn landscape-warm and coloured and sun-splintered and magnificent. We drive so high that our ears pop and we feel light headed and so we stop and look out across the hills and there is nothing to hear except very faint cowbells and there is this huge sense of space, but not of emptiness.
Hours later we are starving and maybe lost. We drive past abandoned and wild orchards. Colm gets out of the car and scrambles up a pear tree. The fruit is unripe, so we resort to smoking the last of the Camels to curb our appetites. We take on the hairpin turns too fast and it begins to rain and there is rubble on the road and we brim with unfounded confidence about how we could definitely work out how to change a tyre.
We reach a town. It is late and there are no women on the streets, just young men with unflinching, suspicious stares. We sit in a bar with a beer which goes straight to our heads and makes us giggle at finding ourselves in this nondescript, unfriendly place. The more we drink the more friendly the town becomes. And even the strange 1970s Mafioso bed and breakfast begins to have a certain charm. Colm feels sick for the whole of the next day, having eaten all of the meat I was served, as well as his, in order not to upset the proprietor, who had got up hours earlier in order to prepare our breakfast feast.
Sometimes it is better not to be alone. And I feel uncomfortable, as a woman, to have to admit this. But it is not solely the security (still, in 2018) of travelling with a man, it is travelling with someone. I have taken on my fair share of solo journeys. I have seen the most wonderful things; a monk conversing with a peacock, stars so bright they all shone different colours, but I have also had men trying to break down the door of my hotel room in order to rape me, I have been lost and scared in stupid, self-initiated situations. I have been very lucky.
It can be exhausting to be a woman. To be strong, to be brave. But braveness comes in different forms. And it is brave to admit vulnerability, to strip back our armour and acknowledge a desire for comfort. I have proved my independence, and I know that it does not make me less of a feminist to admit that sometimes, I prefer to share.