We met Maurizio on the main road in Vettica. He pulled a small green plastic bag from his backpack, slipped his flip flops into it, and began to run barefoot down the hundreds of steps that lead to the beach. We found our friend Alfonso in his tiny white speedo, moving kayaks into the water, the white speedo standing out like a cutout against his redish-purple skin. Maurizio and Alfonso directed each of us to one of the kayaks set out for us and we began paddling along the coast.
We had been introduced to Maurizio and Alfonso the first day that Tess brought us down to the beach at Gavitella. 5 minutes after we jumped in the water, Hallie got stung by a jellyfish. As soon as she got out a man wearing a tiny white speedo came over to treat the sting with olive oil and garlic. While Hallie’s wound was getting treated Tess introduced us to Alfonso (the one applying the oil) and his friend Maurizio. The next thing we knew, Maurizio was rowing us all over to a secluded beach where he said there wouldn’t be any jellyfish—or medusa as they are called in Italian. We pulled the boat up onto the pebbly beach—the six of us (Maurizio, Tess, Hallie, Jordan, Alfonso, and I) straining to push it through layers of wet gray stones.
Once we had secured the boat I began eyeing a big rock/cliff that hung out over the water—wondering if I could climb it. Without hesitating Maurizio motioned to me to follow him to the other side of the boulder and helped me climb up through a narrow crevice. As we neared the top the rocks were so sharp that I could only walk by placing my feet on the little tufts of grass that grew in the cracks. Maurizio walked over the rocks without a problem—“your feet get used to it” he reassured me.
I had no idea that Maurizio was planning to jump off the rock, but when we arrived at the top he plunged headfirst into the clear water below—rolling into a somersault as he hit the water. I hesitated for a minute and then I jumped as well.
As I was playing in the tiny waves that washed into the beach he told me that when he was a kid, he and his friends used to take big rocks in the their arms and then, using the rocks as ballast, walk around under water. “It was like walking on the moon,” he said, “but you have to stay completely calm.”
On the beach, we lay on our backs as the sun went down, piling pebbles under our heads for pillows. Maurizio showed me the 3 foot stretch of shoreline where it was sandy by lying down at the edge of the beach and rolling over on the sand—legs dangling in the air.
It’s difficult to know how old Maurizio is. He is balding, but he keeps his hair shaved close to his head. His bald head gives his eyes an even more dramatic effect—like two brown half-domes that dance with energy. The gray hair on his chest is the only indicator that he is actually much older that he might seem rolling in the sand on the shore of the beach. I realized it’s not so much that he looks young, but that he lives as if he were still playing his childhood game: calmly walking underwater holding his rock—as if he were walking on the moon.