We listened to the Matilda soundtrack on the way home from dinner out tonight and I thought Gee, I should probably write something about our trip! BUT WHAT. HMMM.
People keep asking me what the best part was and the best part was either going to the theater in London, which is something I could do every night for the rest of my life, or just "living" in our Italian town for two weeks. Which I honestly didn't expect. When we first were planning this trip I didn't want to spend that much time near where I used to live. I thought maybe we could use it as a base to go to the beach and for taking the train to bigger more exciting places. I even thought maybe we'd take a jaunt down to Sicily. I was nervous about maybe having to see all my parents' friends, or old teachers of mine (because when your parents are teachers all their friends are teachers), and high school wasn't the funnest or anything and I wasn't nostalgic and didn't ever need to go back -
AND IT WAS SO LOVELY. It happened as soon as we'd landed and made our way through the airport to the rental car parking lot. I felt mysteriously comfortable, at home-ish. I was so happy to be there. I texted some friends right away: I AM SO HAPPY TO BE HERE!
And it stayed that way, fortunately! The house my folks rented was absolutely perfect, with more than enough space, five minutes from cappuccino and a pizzeria and the train station. It took us at least a week to get over jet lag and I think it rained every day. And my mom and dad kept asking us what we wanted to do and we always just felt like THIS. We wanted to do THIS. Have our cappuccino and brioche at the bar. Buy fresh bread in the morning. Stroll through town. Get gelato in the afternoons. Think about what we'd eat for dinner. Why yes everything DID revolve around what we would eat next. And it was fabulous.
We did see some old friends and we did drive the kids past my old house (they were more interested than I thought they'd be!), but for the most part we spent our days traipsing around the town and eating things, or doing little day trips here and there - Venice, Padua, the beach, markets, and this town called Aquileia, an ancient Roman city with some pretty great ruins. It also happens to be one of my dad's favorite places in the world (the favorite?). Any time anyone from the States came to visit, the next day they'd be on their way to Aquileia with my dad as tour guide. It became a running joke in my family, and when my in-laws arrived later on in our 2 weeks, we couldn't NOT take them to Aquileia.
One of my favorite memories is taking my in-laws to one of my parents' favorite restaurants. It's the kind of place where there is no menu and the waitress just tells you what they have that day. And you're supposed to order all the courses and you sit there for hours enjoying your meal and if it's summer you're outside on the expansive patio looking out at the kids playing on the lawn. The food was fantastic, the pace was heavenly, and because there was a huge family party happening inside the restaurant, lots of kids kept coming outside to play and Jack ended up playing soccer with them. I LOVED watching this. I loved watching them try to communicate, how the older boys were so nice to Jack, how he wasn't too shy to play with them. It was such a great moment and I hope he'll remember it. In case he doesn't I did take one million pictures.
I was not ready to leave Italy. I really was so happy being there. It helped having the perfect accommodations - oh wait, let me tell you about the house. So it belongs to a Belgian family who rents it out to mainly, I think, Germans on holiday. Anyway, it was spotless, comfortable, spacious, and very Italian with the entrance hall and the four giant rooms of equal size off the hallway that could be anything you wanted - just stick an Ikea kitchen in one and there you have your house. The bathroom was tiled up to the ceiling and contained an itty bitty washing machine. The windows were all shuttered, the floors were cold and hard, it had an echoey stairway up to the second floor. And the owners did not pay for trash pick up. The house information sheet, clearly posted in the hallway, instructed renters to tie up their garbage bags and place them in public garbage cans. "You'd better do this daily," the sheet warned. So every night there was this surreptitious leaving of the house with secret bags of garbage to dump in the cans along the sidewalks on the streets nearby. We weren't supposed to let the neighbors see. One night I went out with my purse full of plastic water bottles, dumping one in each garbage can I came to. It was actually sort of stressful, thinking about how much garbage you were going to have to take out that night and if it would fit in the public cans. I was so happy to note the four dumpsters outside our apartment in London PLUS a garbage chute on our floor.
Venice was insane. I kept reminding myself that I hadn't been to Europe in the spring/summer for years - I mainly came to visit at winter break or for Carnevale in February. I'd forgotten what the Dolomites looked like without snow and how everyone has hedges of jasmine and the smell of jasmine on a hot evening. (I smelled it and immediately flashed back to high school.) So it had also been a while since I'd been to Venice in the summer and OMG THE PEOPLE. On the plane I'd overheard a pompous young man discussing how touristy Venice is, he just can't go there anymore, and MAN, that is so annoying. Almost all of us are tourists, you know? But WOW, the tourists. The people. For the first time Venice felt like a sort of Disneyland, where this amazing place has been built just for people to visit and no one actually lives there. Scary, actually.
Of course I loved it anyway. Crowds rarely bother me. Except for when I thought I might get squished to death on the Paris metro. I'll tell you about that later.
Padua was my favorite. I'd been, but I wanted to go again, and even though half the things we wanted to see closed before we could get to them, and even though the kids were so tired from walking and it was hot, it was so beautiful and St. Anthony's basilica is so amazing and I won't forget browsing the market stalls with Molly. In 10 or 15 years I might go travel with just Molly. You say, "Molly, what do you want to do today?" and she says, "EVERYTHING!" Girl after my own heart.
The beach. I was the only grown woman not wearing a bikini. Not wearing a SKIMPY bikini. And still I was so self conscious, so wanting to hide. I envied these ladies their bikinis.
The food. The last time I went to Italy I remember feeling panicky that I wouldn't get to eat and therefore remember all my favorite things. This time I had more than enough time to indulge. I ate all my favorite things and then some. Some of it wasn't as good as I remembered, some of it was entirely new and maybe THOSE are my new favorite things. And it wasn't just the food it was the process of eating it - the wine and the bread and the taking all the time in the world. I could live that way.
And I was exceedingly obnoxiously proud of how much Italian I could understand and speak. Not anywhere near an impressive amount, or enough worth my obnoxious pride, but I was terrifically pleased with myself anyway. I could tell you every single time I had to bust out my Italian and spoke grammatically correct sentences. By the end there I was even thinking I should download an app or something and learn it for real. I was terrified when I went to France and could speak NOTHING, relieved to go back to Italy, and for real disappointed to go to London where I wouldn't have to translate anything at all. I weirdly liked trying to speak a foreign language.
I was so sad to leave. I wasn't ready. I don't quite understand it... I didn't live there THAT long, and the time I spent there was definitely not the best of my life. But there's something about the PLACE and the SCENERY. There's something about those mountains, how everything is flat flat flat and BOOM: mountains, and how the towns we lived in were nestled into that right-angle corner where flat and mountain meet. It was foreign, but still so familiar. I felt like I could be there a long time. I felt like I could learn it and become it, you know? I didn't miss home at all.
Paris was different. London was really different. I have another million things to say about those places, and another million about the logistics of our trip. How we managed things, all the mistakes I made, what things actually did work, all that. The helpful trip recappy things. I guess what wanted to come out tonight was how much I didn't realize I missed Italy. And how I would go back, over and over, at the expense of going other places. Molly suggested we go again tomorrow and I said, "Why not?"