Late afternoon at my hotel. Humid, hot. The sea was a dead calm. Just a hint of a breeze. I flipped through the brochure the concierge had given me. The town’s name, Camogli, might have been derived from Camulo, given to Mars by the Sabines and Etruscans. Ca de mogee in Genovese dialect is “wives’ houses,” implying husbands being away on long voyages. Camolio was a sun god of the Gauls and Celts.
The domes of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, at the far end of the beach, looked to me more Slavic than Italian, and the quarter hour tolling sounded more like a Chinese gong than a Renaissance bell. Strangeness abounded.
I was still tired from the long hike I’d taken the day before through the mountains from the alleged monastery of San Fruttuoso. I thought I had finally located the place where Vittoria’s father had locked her up to contemplate her sins. But no. The place turned out to be just another tourist stop, complete with a gift shop, museum, and a bar/restaurant facing the bay.
When the waitress returned with my espresso I asked her about the nuns and monks in the monastery. She looked at me, puzzled. “There are no nuns or monks here,” she said. I didn’t press her further because by then it was rather obvious.
A boat pulled into the bay. Thick white nylon lines were tossed, secured. Gangplank lowered. A crowd came ashore. I finished my coffee and walked over to where they had assembled. A blonde woman named Lucia, of Trumpy Tours, began a lecture. The tourists fidgeted. Some snapped photographs.
Lucia spoke English with a heavy Italian accent. The crypt of a 13th century family named Dorio was in the basement of the abbey behind her, she said, and was made of white marble from Carrara, and black slate from quarries in the region. A juxtaposition of light and dark stone. “Which is very unusual,” she said.
Lucia continued. “In the chapel—over there, see?—is a magnificent bronze statue of Christ. He stands with his arms open, his face tilted upward, invoking his Father’s mercy. Now, this statue is but a copy of an original that’s submerged in the water of the bay.” She turned, pointed to the sea.
Several in the group frowned. They did not understand. What was she saying, huh? What does it mean?
“Out there our Lord Jesus Christ stands underwater, put there many years ago to protect the fishermen’s boats,” Lucia explained. “Every year there is a special festival, and many people—including the Monsignor—put on scuba tanks and go down underwater, where a mass is said in tribute to our protector.”
“Click,” said the camera of a large man in a New York Yankees baseball cap.
A couple hours later, on my long hike back to Camogli through the mountains, I thought of that submerged bronze statue, of a priest celebrating an underwater mass. Perhaps it would be possible for a couple to marry down there. I could see it. Vittoria and James, hand in hand, floating. A ceremony of gurgling sounds and ascending clouds of air bubbles, with a school of fish as witnesses. I smiled. Yes, quite an appealing idea.
But how would we say: “I do?”
Maybe we’d use sign language.
Or maybe we’d each write “till death do us part” on a white board with a grease pencil.