Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16: Brussels and Beyond

Dan says he woke up this morning to a cheerful face asking him to take a cup of coffee, and that he had already begun to drink it before he realized where he was. He meant the flight attendants on our flight from JFK to Brussels, but how one of them managed to be cheerful is a mystery. Maybe that’s why Dan was disoriented. Because all the night before they’d been more like flight trolls. Stomping up and down the aisle giving everyone aggravated sighs and repeatedly claiming “We’re TRYING to do a SERVICE!” whenever someone would get up to go to the bathroom. Boo, whatever. If you’re a flight attendant and you manage to say the same thing forty-eleven times without going ape crap and plunging a plastic fork into someone’s ear, good for you. I give these two dull lemons a week before one is defending the other’s homicidal rampage: “We were just TRYING to do a SERVICE!”

Benny and Sadie both slept, kind of, though the American Airlines supergeniuses had decided to put the kids’ movie on second. So first there was The Tourist, inappropriate for them to watch, then Thursday night comedies, again inappropriate, and by the time it had gotten dark and they’d eaten their dinners and gotten settled in, here was Shrek. Sadie fell asleep anyway, and so did I, but I suspect Benny just dozed. Whatever. He’s not the one that had to drive a car and remember things the next day, so if he wants to pull an all-nighter over Belgium, so be it.

In Brussels we went through security easily, in spite of the fact that I made a mess of it. I had carefully imprisoned my lip gloss and herbal tranquilizers in a perfect, orderly ziplock as instructed, while completely forgetting I had rammed an entire can of diet Coke and a bottle of water into the kids’ travel bags. WOOPS! The security guy asked me twice how old Sadie was. I said, she’s seven, and I hope I produced a look that said, Yo, buddy, she’s totally seven, because I would never hide my aspartame delivery system in a five-year-old’s bag – that would be lame. I may be low, but I’m not lame. She’s seven! It all turned out to be fine. We even got to keep both violins.

We were extremely tired, getting on the plane for Nice. It’s a miracle we didn’t end up in San Francisco or Athens or something. We were so out of it. I slept for most of the flight, the kids were troopers, and Dan got some sleep. When we got up to drag all our crap to the next moving vehicle, Sadie left her DSi in the seat pocket in front of her. She realized she had left it, but we were already at baggage claim. Here’s how dull we all were: we had NO IDEA what airline we had just been on (Brussels Airlines, tough one) or what our flight number had been, OR OUR ROW. Fortunately I had been hanging onto the boarding passes so we were able to figure all that out. Some airport person pretended to send a guy to check in the seat pockets and he pretended not to be able to find the DSi, while secretly pocketing it and cackling greedily. It's not so much the DSi I am upset about, but the SD card that was in it had all her pictures on it, and she is pretty sad. Before you think I’m too much of a moron to live, I will tell you I did ask them both if they had their DSi’s as they were leaving the gate. We were all just too bone tired and jaded and limp and feeble to check or think. So, there it is.

After waiting for Peugeot’s shuttle forever and then having to sit patiently in the shuttle as the Peugeot man explained the inner and outer workings of a Peugeot to another customer, a willing listener with white hair who seemed entirely happy to sit and get the entire owner’s manual recited to him, rather than to drag his wife around Nice. I will say that Nice is stunningly beautiful, and the weather was just flawless and perfect. Someday, I will go back to Nice, but today we are on to Italy.

Being back in France was great – we totally got all the road signs and knew how to ask for diet Coke and gas and how to bust u-turns and it was a breeze. Of course, we headed straight into Italy immediately, where we were once again at sea. Someday I am going to write a blog post with the top ten things you must know in a foreign language, in the order of when you will need them in your trip. The first thing you need to say, after you’ve left the airport and all its helpful English speakers, is “I would like to buy…” That is a very important phrase, much more important than any other, whether it’s ice cream or shoes or gas or emergency crackers on the line. Believe it. Pay attention to the shopping chapter!

Dan and I were both very tired. We drove tiredly down the coastline for at least forever. We would go through a tunnel, emerge from the tunnel, see the sparkling gem of the Mediterranean glittering on the other side of some darling little Italian town with its Spanish bell tower and Byzantine arches, red brick, orchards, vineyards, and… I would say “WHOA!!! WOW!!! Look at how BEAUTIFUL it is, it is JUST STUNNING!” And I would of course be right, because coastal Italy is pretty close to perfect, visually. Then we would go into another tunnel and start all over again. That’s how this road is – the A8 to the A10 going toward Florence. Tunnel, sparkling vista, gasp, Byzantine dome, vineyard, tunnel, repeat. The mountains are like fingers coming down to the water, and in between each finger is a tiny town.

When we finally turned off the coastal road and headed inland toward Florence, I had begun to wonder if Italy was all rural charm and tiny towns. On the road to Florence, however, we got a stiff dose of industrial gloom and lots of factories, parking lots, modern-looking businesses, etc. This actually made me feel better. I was starting to think there was nowhere for anyone to work. From a distance, we saw the beautiful dome of the Basilica di Santa Croce, and I quit dozing and renewed my screeching. Florence is right over THERE, screeched the haggard American. This is what Lucy Honeychurch would have SEEN. Do you get it??? The other haggard American professed to get it, but I don’t think he cares about Lucy Honeychurch at all. The children were totally unappreciative – in fact, they were asleep.

Off the freeway, we began winding through back roads to find our mill house. We knew it was in a little town called Ponte agli Stolli, and that it was the old mill. Beyond that, we had only the GPS to guide us. GPS and Dan (and I, but I wasn’t paying as much attention) were befuddled by the fact that the roads don’t seem to be labeled much here in Italy. There is the usual profusion of place names on arrow signs, but we didn’t see numbers or names on any of the roads. It was nearing 7pm, and I knew that most of the markets would be closing at 7 if not before, so we started to get a little twitchy about procuring our morning coffee, bananas, and whatnot. Seeing a sign that said SUPERMARKET we veered off the road and plunged into a parking lot, only to find that this was a Supermarket Del Scarpa – or… a shoe store. They weren’t selling any breakfasts, either. Back on the road we decided to just trust to luck or a stocked pantry and find the place before we found the morning coffee.

Ponte agli Stolli is crammed into a gap between two high hills. The road twists to and fro down to a little river, then spans the river, climbs to and fro up the other side, and the village is stuffed down into the gap. There are sidewalks, about one foot wide, and there is two way traffic and no one slows down for any reason. All of these factors made seeking out our home a challenge. We found it at last, and the owner gave us a tour and helped us find the little store in town (coffee, blood oranges, prosciutto cotto, eggs, bread = breakfast.) After wandering around a bit and then getting settled in, I made some pasta with olive oil, oregano, pepper, some of the bread and fresh butter, and fed it to Dan. I tried earnestly to finish the dumb zombie book I had been reading, but fell asleep on the page, and went to bed. It was about 4:30, Virginia time, and I was already pooped.

1 comment:

  1. I care desperately about Lucy Honeychurch.

    ARE you renting a house and foraging out from it like it is your hub, or are you going from city to townlet to coast to meadow and staying different places to SEE THINGS or what? WHAT IS THE PLAN?