My Journal – July 14, 2004Prompted by my sister, I bought a journal for this trip. I'm on leave from an assignment with the State Department, working in Afghanistan to improve relations with the village leaders. Sis had told me that the war theatre had hardened me – she was right – that I should go to some beautiful place, somewhere out of the war zone, maybe on the coast of Italy, and forget the war and Afghanistan. And that I should write my thoughts down in a journal. She said that I could bring the journal back to my bombed-out house in the war zone and read the entries – “repeat as necessary” she said – and the memory of them would soften me.
So I bought this journal. I had only inscribed a few paragraphs in it before reaching the terrazza at Casa Albertina, and meeting Gaia.
We talked for a long time, past sunset, and we watched as the stars flicked on in the sky above us. She was alternately funny and serious, but her words and thoughts had an amazing depth to them. I realized several times that I was so focused on her when she spoke that I forgot that the silence meant I was supposed to chime in.
“You're funny, you know,” she said. “That's just what I need.”
“Why's that?” It seemed too serious a comment. She told me she was a student, so I asked, “What are you studying?”
“Really. That's great. I studied history; now I work for the State Department.”
Gaia offered a peremptory nod. It wasn't that she didn't like my response, just that it seemed to enter into dangerous territory. My first strikeout of the evening.
It didn't slow the conversation though, and we soon returned to talking about travel, what we thought of Italy – “It's unbelievably beautiful here” she said – and even what our plans were for the future.
“I guess I'll finish up, get my degree, maybe go on for a Masters,” she said, “and teach. Yeah, I think I'll teach.”
It was amusing, it seemed like Gaia was just deciding what to do with her life as we sat there under the stars over the Mediterranean Sea. I watched her eyes light up as she talked about her plans, and watched as a subtle shadow passed over her face at other moments. I considered the reasons, and thought hard about what signals she was sending that preceded each shifting mood, but then I let it pass. Part of my training as a translator was linked to my past life in military intelligence, when I applied techniques of profiling and psychology to tease out the truth from those I interviewed, and thought that now, with Gaia, maybe I was letting my old life intrude upon my new one.
I wanted to shut that life out of Positano, and did so deliberately.
After a couple hours of talking and the blaze of sunset had been replaced by the twinkle of stars in the Mediterranean firmament, the time was getting late and I feared that, if Gaia went off the bed, I'd miss my chance to see her again.
“Will you be in Positano long,” I asked.
I too was staying five, so that was perfect. I relaxed, figuring that if I could avoid making a complete wreck of the evening I would have more time to get to know Gaia before week's end.
We continued to share thoughts about Italy and, at times, open up about our lives. I could tell her some information, like my education and early career in the State Department. I couldn't tell her much about my service in Afghanistan – such commentary seemed to close her up – and I couldn't open up much about my time as a profiler and interrogation specialist for the American military. The psychological techniques I used then were unique to the small unit I was a part of, techniques that depended almost solely on recognizing facial tics and changes in skin temperature to differentiate between truth and falsehood. What we did, and what we found out in those closed sessions with suspects, could never be made public.
Just before midnight, she reached up to cover her mouth as a tired yawn escaped.
“I think I better get some sleep.”
“Unless you have plans for tomorrow, can I see you then?”
“Sure,” she said quickly.
We walked inside and down separate hallways of Casa Albertina to our rooms. So, here I am writing notes in this journal. They are not the entries that I had thought I'd be writing, about peace and serenity on the Amalfi Coast, but here they are.
Maybe this is the most beautiful place in Italy.