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Michele Willens Headshot

FACE IT: We Can Turn Off the Noise

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I always wanted to be Diane Lane. (Especially when she was still married to Josh Brolin) Now, as I sit under a Tuscan sun, I sort of am.

I arrive at this house a week before my visitors will. I have only seen it once, so naturally, it is a bit smaller than I recalled. This is a house, not a villa. But it is a sweet one, the kind we would be lucky to live in anywhere. I am a tad haughty in my ability to do this alone. Well, until I can't figure out how adapters work.

That one takes me at least half a day, and finally, I end up on the phone with the house's owners in Boston. Amazing, how frustrating life can be when you can't get online and can't recall if it's 001 or 011 when you call back home. I was close to tears at every Italian operator's automated voice. I truly don't know when I have been happier than when I figured out how to get that plug in that hole. I probably should have been concerned rather than relieved.

Then there was the coffee maker. It looked basic but the first morning, I was drinking darkened water and found most of the grounds still waiting to descend. I confess, I finally had to call the caretaker, Peter, (a married Brit so don't even go there) on that one and even he had trouble. We both shouted with glee when we had the problem solved. Every day, there have been a few of those and slowly, the dilemmas have been faced and overcome. Ah, that flusher is way up there!

I had looked forward to using this solo time to binge on Arrested Development, only to find Netflix does not come overseas. (Though I am told there is a way and I may succumb if I can beat the tech odds without my kids around) Nothing to watch? What in the world would I do all day? What was I thinking, coming here early?

For starters, I picked up Anna Karenina, which, truth be told, I had never read. A thousand pages suddenly seemed less daunting and more comforting. Vronsky is no longer a Russian name I can't keep straight. He is the man I currently go to sleep and wake up with. I do check the news online, but even that is subsiding.

As far as I can tell, only one clock in the house is functioning, which seemed to matter for a couple days. The first morning, I lumbered into the kitchen and was shocked to see the oven reporting it was 10 a.m., This morning it was six. My first thought was, Oh my god, what am I going to do for the next 16 hours? And here's the answer: I read until eight, had a bowl of cereal, then Peter came by for the fix-me-ups and drove me into the local town. I strolled, bought fresh mozzarella and great-looking fruits and vegetables. Then I sat over expresso with Peter and his son who was visiting from Australia, where he is studying to be a vet.

We talked about Italian small town life, what it was like for Peter's son to start school here at age 6 without knowing Italian. We talked about how difficult it is for Americans to learn to truly destress and survive without a lot of noise. I gazed around at the wonderful old faces as they drank their coffees and told old stories. A few small children ran by and I had to wonder what are their hopes, their dreams? "Most of the people in this town have probably never left the region and probably never will," said Peter.

It seemed bravely unique when Diane Lane made that movie based on that book. But now, I contend that women choose to travel alone -- or with female friends -- more than men. Men may have the egos and even greater success, but most still need a multi-tasking woman to make things work. Exceptions are rampant, of course, but I have to wonder if men are as curious about, and willing to embrace, new things. And alone just doesn't quite mean what it used to.

Neither does "watching," as in on a screen. I find the character-filled faces of the locals and the wide variety of wildlife (I saw a wild boar the other night, to which I say, 'some of my best friends are...') interesting enough. At home, I would be ordering takeout for no reason except it's easy and close. Here, I have made creative pasta combinations every night. I would have the TV on because it is there. I would be clicking something and looking down at the response. Here I am honestly looking around and listening -- to the natural sounds of the birds and right now, to the classical music pouring out of the house down the road.

As I sit on the small terrace with a glass of Pinot Grigio, I think that I may actually get what life under the Tuscan sun -- or hopefully anywhere else without boastful busybodies and all that incoming noise -- can be.

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