Sunday, March 31, 2013

if it's Sunday, it must be the park

Such a quiet day. Foggy somewhat. At least in Milan. Early breakfast, alone this time...

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...then a walk across town...

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... to catch the city bus to the airport. Diane will be traveling her own route much much later -- heading into Florida sunshine even as I'm heading into the still melting Midwestern snows.

It's as if Milan is holding back. Not ready to hand me that brilliant sunshine. No, Italy never once offered up a sunny day in the whole time I was here. Well okay. Fog will do. It adds mystery to the Duomo. Because if I am in Milan, there must be photos of the Duomo.

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May I use this opportunity to wish a Happy Easter to those who celebrate this typically spring-like day? Happy Easter, happy spring. Happy -- that's a key word.

My flights today are convoluted. The cheapest routing takes me from Milan to Amsterdam and then from Amsterdam to Paris. So that the usual hour or so it takes to get from Milan to Paris is taking five times that amount. And here's an odd thing: On the first flight, we have an almost aborted take off (the engines fire up and then the pilot comes on to say that there was an odd noise and he is turning back) and -- I kid you not -- as we are finally en route and approaching Amsterdam,  we have a medical emergency on board. Please -- is there a doctor on board? No doctor. No diversion this time. We land and then wait as the medical team comes to carry away the ailing traveler.

I think there has to be a message in all this -- perhaps it's as simple as this: we're all vulnerable. Stuff happens. Or, another version -- we're not taking care of ourselves well. We're stressed, harried, we move too fast, we don't take the slow road anymore.

I took the slow road in Paris.

We arrive just a little late. And the first thing I note is that it's cold here! 42 degrees -- just like in Wisconsin!

Nonetheless, it is Easter Sunday and the parks are swarming with people who actually do take care of themselves, at least in this way. Families, lovers, friends. Children, grandparents, sisters, cousins -- all here.

I walk the park even before checking into the hotel. I want that stroll so badly and now here it is and the buds are bursting and the flowers are blooming and people around me are chuckling and holding hands and just enjoying the occasional two second flash of sunlight.

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At the hotel, the proprietors again are kind and take me out of the wee single corner room that I pay peanuts for and place me in a slightly larger, front room. (The place is pretty empty this weekend.)

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And even though it is now evening, it is ever so light in northern Europe (it is their first day of daylight savings time). So I go for a walk. Sort of. The fact is -- I am exhausted. Early mornings, late nights, active days, worrying -- this just proved to be quite the full week. So I do a small walk.

To the park again.

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And up and down the streets of my neighborhood (where, despite the cold, outdoor cafes are absolutely packed).

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And though I had had the foresight to make a dinner reservation for this last meal in Europe, I decide now to cancel it. I pass a cafe where you can order savory crepes. I have one of those. With goat cheese and walnuts.

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And then I go to Paul -- the bakery that produces the most crusty of the crusty loaves in Paris. And I buy a sandwich and a tart for later, in case I'd be hungry.

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I'm eating this now and I have a 3 Euro bottle of rose on the windowsill. In France, wine can still be cheaper than water.

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I think I'm close to breathing normally again. I think the tension has ebbed. I hope this night I'll sleep more than the two or three hours that has been my norm lately. I hope spring comes quickly to Wisconsin. On my clock, it's after midnight. Happy April, happy spring.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Venice, in the end

And so we leave Venice under cloudy, misty skies. Still,  I can't let those dark, damp tones take over Ocean. In the bleakest frame, there has to be a warm tone somewhere. A painted shutter, polka dots (it is the year of the polka dot), glass work in window displays, Easter candy, anything!

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...your eyes are drawn to color. Mine are.

My last Venetian walk. Taken right after breakfast...

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... and after the painfully long payment process at the hotel (remember? I have a blocked credit card). I walk through the quieter, tamer Dorsoduro/Santa Croce neighborhood of Venice.

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And then the book closes on this Venetian interlude and maybe that's a good way of looking at things: whether it's offered to you or not, there is always closure. Onwards and upwards, I used to say to the girls when we were getting ready to leave.

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Diane and I take the train to Milan -- we have to overnight there and so long as we're doing that, I thought it would be good to do something important. Like, for example, to see Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper. On Easter week-end. (I purchased tickets for this four months ago: for some things in life you just have to commit.)

You have to know that it is really raining in Milan. Not just showering, like in Gargnano, or in Venice, but raining. So that moving from metro to hotel, then from hotel to Santa Maria delle Grazie (where the Last Supper is displayed) is painful. We pause at a cafe to ease the mood. Even though we've spent two and a half comfortable hours on a train,  we both admit to being tired.

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But, the coffee is good, the lemon cake is very good and watching others come in, order a shot of espresso, show dismay at an unfortunate soccer play (the TV with a game is on) -- is really good for the spirit.

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We leave somewhat refreshed.

Viewing the Last Supper is certainly not a taxing activity. You wait (with 19 others) until it is your designated turn, you go inside, you look at it (in awe -- it really is magnificent) for fifteen minutes, you exit.

No photos of course, but here's a replica that will give you an idea in case you're not up on your Leonardo material.

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Walking back to the hotel, we pass Pasticceria Marchesi. I had only by chance stumbled upon it last year on Easter weekend and now here I am again, looking at the dove cakes and the chocolate eggs a day before Easter.

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We buy a wee handful of chocolates for our sweet guys back home.

Evening. I thought I touched the bottom rungs of the ladder of life just days ago and now here I am again thinking that perhaps staying in bed for the next 72 hours (or more) is not such a bad idea. But, things turn around. In life, they often do. A few good phone calls. A meeting with Diane in the lobby for one final truly Italian Aperol Spritz.

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And a wonderful last meal together (at ZeroDue).

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The rain has stopped. My playing of Chopin (something I have done incessantly since March 25) surely will soon stop. They say tomorrow, sunshine will stream through Europe and everyone will surely come out in joyous celebration. Easter. Don't forget about Easter.

And spring. And life and all that it entails.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Venice, continued

Brooding Venice cracked a smile today. It wasn't a full blown cheek to cheek smile, but it was a nudge in that direction.

Right around our breakfast...

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...the rain stops and, just as promised, we even have a few hours where a faint ray of sunshine tries to poke through.

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So I walk. Diane and I decided to go solo again. My pace cannot let up just yet and you should not really compromise when you are so far apart on your goals for the day. [This is my fourth trip to Europe with Diane: she and I are the perfect match exactly because we know that we don't always have to match.]

And so here's my ramble. First, the left bank -- which actually is the right bank (looking at it from the station, for example), but with the overtones of the Parisian left:

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Then, over the Accademia Bridge to the 'main bank' and San Marco.

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It's when I stand and watch the crowds on this most perfect communal space that I remember my first trip to Venice. I was with my dad, my mom and my sister and we were returning, via Venice of all things, permanently (I thought) to Poland. My dad had just finished his incredible run at the UN (incredible because, among other things, he was such a young ambassador -- barely 34 when he began his term). We were heading home. Done with the west. But before we said goodbye to it all, we stopped in Venice.

I hated it. Smelly, I thought.

But I loved San Marco Square. I think if you really let the miracle of this city to enter your soul, you cannot help but love at least portions of the place.

My dad was a curious sort of  traveler. When I left home (following his lead, I did things young -- I moved out at 18), he became almost competitive: I went to Iceland to see the northern lights. Well now, he went to Israel. I went to Finland to work on a farm. He topped me (in his way of thinking) with Korea. But when I quietly (and wistfully) said I was going around the world, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India -- he said "no!" And since in those years he controlled my passport, I had to humbly step back.

Though in subsequent years, I have traveled to Venice in all sorts of combinations -- with parents again, with husband, daughters, with Ed, and now with Diane, for most of my trips here I've been alone. Venice, to me, invites solitude. She is often surly and so she accepts your moods if they lean that way too. And she offers dark corners where you can be alone and think dark thoughts if that is your inclination. And then, when you're done, you can alight on the Grand Canal and all is well again! Or, with luck, a streak of light will cast beautiful reflections on the more quiet waters and there you have it -- you've run through three moods in succession and no one will comment or care.

Today I'm less gloomy than yesterday but not as ungloomy as I was five days ago, back on that summit of Comer in Gargnano. Still, Venice is patient. It's as if she understands my sadness and also my anger at all that I could not make happen for all those daughter years, especially adult daughter years -- the city listens and doesn't bat an eye. As if to say -- yes, I've seen all permutations of this saga played and replayed, I've seen it all, you're telling me nothing new.

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After walking to high heaven and back, I decided to take the boat to the island of Murano. Before the weather and life and death messed with the details of our trip, I had booked a lunch at the Osteria Acqua Stanca there. I had read about it in the New York Times just a few months ago and it seemed so perfect. Less so in the bleak weather and with my bleak mood and so I cancelled. But now I am curious again and so I catch the ferry over to this island of glass blowers and simple but colorful houses lining the waterways.

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The Osteria is a joy. It's the food, it's the owners, it's everything. I order one of my favorites -- a salad of raw baby artichokes and this one comes with poached shrimp, so there's that added taste value. I follow it with spaghetti with squid ink. Rare is the time that I will pass through these waters and not order something with squid ink.

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I congratulate them on the stellar article and for a minute I detect shades of a pout on the face of one of the proprietors. Such publicity is a great thing, but it is also a responsibility and a burden. So far, they had fed the locals. Now, they have the Hotel Cipriani calling and asking for a table for ten. Then canceling when the rich decide they want to eat elsewhere. The cook is reeling from these suddenly quite different demands.

Me, I think they'll not only manage, but come out to be one of the food destinations for those who care about fresh and honest. Take my artichoke salad: I ask her -- what's the secret? She frowns. You got it at the wrong time! One month later and you would have our artichokes instead of the ones from Tuscany! Ours have the same bite, but they also have this delicate sweetness... I vow to come back someday in May.

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You would think that I will have had my fill of food. But Diane and I agree that we should not leave Venice without having a final goodbye meal together here. Forget about recommendations, reviews, deliberations about what's best, or what's not so good. Point us to a place close to our hotel that has fresh foods and serves a bustling crowd!

We eat at Osteria Moncenigo just a few lanes away and it is perfect for us. I eat their sardines and then the blank ink cuttle fish one last time and I think this is so fine, so very fine. And for a minute I don't think about anything else.

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It's raining when we walk home. A steady, quiet rain. Not unpretty, in a Venice sort of way, but still, very wet.

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Tomorrow we return to Milan.