This morning came early. Dan’s iPhone alarm cheerfully sang out in the dark, and he got up and lurched downstairs to feed his machine. I rolled out a bit later, and when I got downstairs he was in his kit, sitting in the glass patio, eating breakfast. There was a pot of coffee waiting for us which was sort of tepid – we wondered if it had been made the night before. I am uncertain about operating stuff in the kitchen, what I’m allowed to do and what I’m not, so we drank what we had and made do. The children had gone to bed in today’s clothes so that they could hustle out to the car immediately on waking, and I tumbled them out of bed and into their shoes, and into the car, and Dan packed up the bike and his stuff and we were off to the NH Hotel for the start of the Milan-San Remo Gran Fondo.
It was cold. About halfway there, the rain started.
Dan and 1000 other guys were applying embrocation to their legs, donning rain coats and gloves, and preparing for the ride. The Gran Fondo is an amateur event that traverses the same course as the pro event that happens each year in the spring – basically a point-to-point road race between the city of Milan and the seaside resort San Remo. A two-hundred-mile race, the longest single-day event in pro cycling, I believe. So of course for amateurs it's a proving ground! When we got to the hotel we crammed our car into an available spot and Dan commenced embrocating and gloving himself. The children were mostly asleep in the back seat and the rain was misting down. "Are you serious?" I asked Dan. Not only was he going to be riding 200 miles to San Remo in the rain but he was also going to then have to sit in San Remo in his kit waiting for the shuttle bus to bring him back. Sit and wait for like 4 hours while regular people finished up the race in a slower, more sedate fashion. And he took nothing with him except the gels and bars he could fit in his jersey pockets. In the parking lot at the start, we ran into not one single other person that even spoke English. The thought of setting out on such a trek with so little support was just insane to me, but that's the man I married. No one else is like him.
Off they went, and I got into the car and drove us back to our house, miraculously finding a parking space. On this street, there are parking spaces. There are also parking spaces on the sidewalk. You can access the sidewalk parking by driving up onto the house side of the sidewalk and scootching along until you reach the space, then shunting into it. It is perilous at best, and yet this is how they park. So there are actually three available parking spaces at any point in the street -- one on each side of the street and one beyond that on the sidewalk. I was hoping to find a street one and I did. I could not have managed the alternative.
The kids and I went back to sleep for a bit, then got up and ate breakfast. The rain continued. I obsessively checked the weather for every city between here and San Remo: rain. I kept my phone in my hand, sent Dan a message that said I would come and get him if necessary, not that he didn't know, but still. A guy has to try and gut it out, right? And yet... 9 hours of riding in the rain? Could there be worse torture? I wrung my hands on Facebook, waiting for someone to tell me to go get him, but no one came forward with that definitive advice, and since going to get him would have meant wandering around uncertainly in the rain, I decided to stick with the plan, and pick him up back at the hotel at 10:30pm.
Meanwhile the kids practiced their violins and Benny played the beautiful antique piano in the parlor. Looking around at the photos and art in the house, I determined that our hostess' husband was Roberto Negri, an Italian composer and a rather famous pianist. I am not entirely sure but I believe his ashes or at least a shrine to him occupies a table at the front window of the house, beside the piano. He died in 2006, his Italian wikipedia page tells me. I suspect his wife was an opera singer, perhaps someone he met as an accompanist. While we are downstairs practicing instruments, she is upstairs cleaning our rooms. I am fighting the embarrassment of having someone make my bed who is maybe a fellow musician and artist, having someone straighten the children's shoes who is a widow of a respected composer -- it feels very odd. But I had no idea she was going to do it, I thought we would just have our rooms to ourselves for the week. However, when I went up, everything was reorganized, even our suitcases, and I guess that's just how she wants to do it. Tomorrow I will pick up the children's socks though!
At last the rain stopped, and I stuffed down my anxiety enough to take the children for a walk around the neighborhood. Just before we left, Dan called to say he had made it to San Remo, so that was a huge relief! We found some cool streets to wander down, a very interesting gelato store that had some bizarro flavors (like licorice and FISH), and then a playground with live actual children that my children were able to play with and have fun. That was definitely the highlight of the kids' day, gelato notwithstanding. And Benny ran into a woman who spoke French and he was so excited to speak French with her. Listening to him I realized we know a lot more French than we know Italian. I think this is because the Italian people are nicer about trying to help us when we speak English, so we don't have to use our Italian as much. Maybe a good thing, maybe a bad thing, but certainly a more comfortable thing!
We returned just in time to avoid the renewed rain, ate some dinner, and then went to pick up Dan at the hotel at 10:30. We parked in what appeared to be a very dark and deserted parking lot, although it was full of bike-ish looking vehicles -- larger ones than you normally see tooling around here in Italy. So I knew we could expect to see some cyclists. About 11:00 a van pulled in and some guys jumped out and started unloading bikes. I went to ask them if they knew anything about the bus, and they reported terrible traffic around Genova, told me to expect the bus to be very late. It was pretty late, but at midnight it finally rolled in. Dan showed us his trophy for being in the top five in his age group -- very impressive! He was also extremely tired and sore, more than a little stinky, and very ready to shower and go to bed. A great day for Dan, a worrying day for me, an ice cream and play day for the children, and now Dan's first Milan-San Remo is in the bag. Yay for Dan!