“We have the next ten days itemised, prioritised and optimised, it’s the perfect plan”, I proudly stated, while doing my best to avoid getting our small rental car rammed by one of the daily commuters that had turned into Fangios. Jules, after warning me to get out of the way of a young lady doubling the speed limit while putting on makeup, expressed her doubts. – “Verne, we can’t boil down southern Italy to an Excel list. Reality will knock down our perfect plan with fancy colours before the sun sets.”
We wouldn’t have to wait that long. Shortly after getting to Pompeii, it started raining. Jules, while fashioning a poncho for Gabriel out of a couple of laundry bags, had her admittedly deserved I-told-you-so-moment. – “In which tab do we file this moment, ‘Singing in the Rain’, or ‘Umbrella’?”. – “Come on Gabriel”, I said sulkily, “let’s look at some wet archaeological ruins”.
Fortunately, both the weather and the plan’s standing improved as the day trickled on. Our next stop was the Amalfi Coast, a beautiful – and incredibly popular – stretch of coastline along the southern cliffs of the Sorrentine Peninsula. There seemed to be no end to the number of cars and fellow tourists squeezing down those narrow roads, but we had devised a cunning scheme. Instead of staying at Amalfi, Positano or one of the other trendy cliffside villages – and paying indecently for a room and obscenely for a parking space – we would spend the night at Bomerano – a decidedly less popular inland village – and take the bus down to Amalfi the next day.
“This was the right call, the plan is forgiven”, said Jules between spoonfuls. The three of us were sitting on the steps of Bomerano’s lovely main square, enjoying the sunset with gelato. As the last rays of light disappeared below the horizon, a fourth companion joined us. Strengthened by our words of appreciation, the plan left its Excel ether and materialised into a collective imaginary friend. The plan was now the Plan. Dressed in a drab brown suit and wearing thick prescription glasses, the Plan stood uncomfortably in front of us, unsure of what to do with his cup of gelato.
The next morning, we happily marched back to Bomerano’s main square to get on the bus to Amalfi, only to discover a long queue of like-minding individuals already there. When the bus finally arrived, fashionably late and already crammed from previous stops, only a handful a people managed to get in.
In his best Italian, the Plan asked the driver for the next bus, and was greeted with profuse hand gestures that could either mean “when St. Januarius blesses us with a new bus” or “when my colleague finishes his morning coffee and newspaper”. Both responses were unacceptably vague for the Plan, and he sweated profusely under the morning sun.
When we finally got onto a bus, things did not improve for the Plan. Gabriel, who was sitting on his lap, endured seventeen switchback corners but puked on the eighteenth. Both of them were at their lowest spirits when we finally arrived to Amalfi, so we sat down on the first restaurant we could find.
With the waiter approaching, the Plan lifted his eyes from the phone and read us one of the restaurant’s reviews: “Brought back memories of my school canteen: the cook seems to abstain from regular bathing, the tables are greasy and wobbly, and the food tastes like wet socks. The only difference is that it’s not cheap, far from it”. We quickly got up, muttered ‘scusami’ to the waiter, and followed the Plan as he navigated the narrow streets looking for something better.
Holidays were a rollercoaster ride for the Plan. When things were predictable, logic, and neatly followed the narrow path he had idealised, his eyes shone bright across his thick glasses. The Plan guided us through Basilicata’s beautiful rolling country roads, seeing no other cars for miles on end. We stayed at Tolve, a tiny village perched atop a hill, where we were the only tourists. We strolled through the narrow cobblestone streets of Castelmezzano – one of Italy’s most beautiful villages – again all by ourselves. And, every time we felt weariness settling in, the Plan announced a stop at one of his carefully curated playgrounds, with a bench in the shade for the adults and mighty slides for Gabriel.
Alas, the Plan was not one to enjoy rollercoasters. He anguished in traffic jams and at the sight of a plate of pasta cooked beyond al dente. But what truly sent him down a wormhole of nervousness was the sight of the Unplanned, his nemesis. The Unplanned would rear his ugly head whenever we made an unexpected stop to photograph something pretty on the side of the road, or took a left instead of the planned right.
Near the end of our trip the Unplanned nearly broke the Plan, when we decided to scrap the day’s schedule and freely roam around the beautiful Gargano National Park. At sunset, with no restaurant in sight, we bought sandwiches and a bottle of cheap wine at a roadside grocery store and headed down to a small pebble beach.
The Plan had spent the entire day fighting his unruly inner demon and seemed at his wit’s end. But, just as the sun set below the horizon, he got up, kicked off his shoes, rolled up his brown trousers, snatched the bottle of wine, and walked down to the sea. Wiggling his toes in the tepid water, he took a big gulp from the bottle, shrugged, uttered to himself “hey, this isn’t so bad after all”, and slowly disappeared.
Of course, the Plan had not actually disappeared, but merely returned to where he had come from: the heads of Jules and Verne. Hopefully, he had returned a tiny bit wiser, reducing our urge to dissect, structure and optimise everything.
It seemed that somebody else on that beach also suffered from the illusion of control. Gabriel was frenetically running back and forth with his bucket, attempting to empty the ocean. When he raced past us, Jules caught his arm, sat him down next to us, and proposed a compromise: “let’s plan what we can and enjoy what we can’t”.
You can find high resolution versions of these photographs (and many others that did not fit this text) here, under a Creative Commons license (meaning that you can use them freely but are required to credit the author).