I suppose it’s fitting that I am traveling alone to the northern parts of Italy. You could say I became who I am here a long long time ago – an adult, but with clear leanings toward child’s play.
When I graduated from college (I finally finished things up in the winter of 1974), I packed my bags and came to this part of the world. I rented an apartment in the Dolomites – a very difficult feat in years when everything had to be done through correspondence – traveled to it and waited. For what? For a male friend from New York to come visit, I suppose. He never did and I got terribly lonely up there in the Italian mountains and so I got in the habit of taking the early bus to the train that would eventually put me in Venice. I took about a dozen such Venetian trips that month and I have to say, seeing that city in the cold and drizzly days of March was eye-opening. In a good way.
Occasionally I would overnight in a small hotel not too far from the Piazza San Marco. The owner was rather romantically inclined (even as this was a family operation – the wife, the son, they all worked there) and he would show me various parts of the hotel leaning suggestively next to me, talking of romance and Venice and it all rather swam in my yearning 20 year old soul. I’m sure I was offered wine, I’m sure I accepted. And still, the story goes no further than that. In the end, I was suddenly adult enough to stay away from trouble. Despite Venice.
The little hotel is there, in Venice still. The owner must be ancient. Or dead. I don’t ever stay there anymore. The memory is more mine than his or anyone else’s. Youthful games in adult places.
My destination now isn’t Venice, nor the mountains really – it’s Lago di Garda – the largest lake in Italy. I’ll be staying halfway up its coast, in the small town of Gargnano. D.H. Lawrence paused there back in 1912 or 1913. Indeed, the Italian lakes of the north were once a favorite of the British literate folk. They have their own lakes, of course and they pranced around those as well, but the Italian lakes have a micro-climate, a Mediterranean ambiance and a pleasant relationship with the sun and so the writers who could, went there.
And I’m heading there as well. Same reasons in the end – the quiet beauty, the climate, the feeling of calm.The walks.
Not that the journey thus far has been especially calm. Before my last law class, I checked my email only to see that my flight – the first one – was cancelled. A fast scramble ensued. Pipes in the Law School developed a leak and at this very moment our building is flooded. Water drizzled from nearly every direction, threatening the building’s power supply. A class had to be taught, a flight had to be found.
As always, it all worked well enough. So I’m flying through Paris instead of Amsterdam. That’s fine. So I get into Milan a few hours later. Equally fine.
But with all the rush and unexpected activity, I never had a chance to eat my peanut butter sandwich back home. I’m traveling to Italy with half a peanut butter sandwich in my bag.
KLM has this new program for its frequent fliers: you can provide your Facebook profile and then connect, no, not just connect, sit next to people of like mind.
Well now, I find that to be so not me. I like to shut out the world on long flights. I like to read, write, think and if all those fail – watch a dumb movie.
I am on a flight from Minneapolis to Paris and I have next to me a person who appears to like to talk. This is not a good sign. I am not chatty up in the air.
But suddenly, I learn things about my seat mate that are uniquely fascinating! She is a physician at Mayo. She is Serbian. She lived in Yugoslavia in much the same way and in the same years that I lived in Poland.
I understand her childhood and she understands mine. We are American, very much so, but with this curious twist.
And high school, you know how in high school...
And, isn’t it true that Americans have just no idea...
And, isn’t it wonderful how in the States...
And so on.
Eventually, she goes back to her papers and I lose myself in mine. But we are now solidly connected -- all this transpiring at 35,000 feet above the earth. These are the good flights. One has to remember that for every bad one, there are ten like this -- completely wonderful.
Arriving in Paris
I’m not pausing in Paris. My attention is focused elsewhere on this trip. But my oh my, am I always happy to have that interlude here, biting into their pain au chocolate, sipping their very strong coffee. Thanks, Paris. Now let’s move on.
(posted from Paris airport)