Despite its continued filthy shittyness, I’m afraid Napoli has lost some of her charm. Maybe I was jaded by the bad arrival to our AirBnB, forcing us to change plans at 12:01am and find a hotel. Maybe it is that so many of the decrepit, boarded up buildings are now bustling with American-tourist style shopping (handbags, high heels, profumo). Or maybe it was only ever charming because I was here with my beloved and now I am not. I mean, I love my Grown Ass Baby Cousin and I go to bed with my tummy hurting from both gluten bombing and laughing until our laugh is what keeps us laughing. But there’s just something about holding hands with your partner with the anticipation of being jumped and knifed, or a world-ending caldera event lurking in the back of your mind.
Please don’t misunderstand me; this visit has been far from awful. I got to meet new
friends that already feel like old ones. We have the good fortune to be visiting during Napoli’s annual pizza festival (see above gluten bombing). AirBnB not only refunded my reservation fully, they are issuing a $100 credit to help offset the cost of the hotel I had to replace it with! Today I got to see actual dead people. And I do look forward to bringing the kids here in August. But I can’t wait to get back to my apartment.
I cleared customs in Germany, which was both very helpful and a little disappointing when upon collecting my bags in Rome I realized I had no long wait ahead of me, but would get no passport stamp from Italy.
Instead of waiting an hour for a customs official too preoccupied with his cell phone and cigarette to even look up and see if my face matched my passport like last year, I rolled my bag off the carousel and straight out into the throngs of waiting drivers.
If that horde wasn’t a metaphora per la vita, I’ve never seen one. An almost imaginary barrier held back the men calling over each other for a fare and just past the desperation, stood the wall of confident men who already have a name. I found the one holding mine on a sign and followed him to my air-conditioned car.
There’s a man at home holding my name, too, and I realize this is not a solo journey. I wouldn’t be here without him. I’m not here without him. He’s in mio coure and on mio mente.
I was working on hour 30 without sleep, so that I was able to locate a supermarket and will my legs to take me to it is all I need to call my arrival a success. I shopped simple and had a rather crude caprese salad for dinner. I’m happy to report that tomatoes still taste as magical as I remember. I’d forgotten that even the black pepper in Europe is better than what is available at home. My olive oil tastes like earth – the way it should. Mozzarella di bufala is sold here the way I buy yarn at home – in 100 gram balls.
I did my dishes and fell into bed for a four hour nap. I woke up around 10pm, made myself a snack of blackberries and Prosecco and played some music. I think I’m going to get used to this.
I’ve tried to remain present. Ram Dass reminds us to Be Here Now, but how do I know he wasn’t in Italy when he wrote that and meant it literally. “Like for real, come over.”
Ok, so I know that isn’t the case. I won’t see my family for a month and a half and I’d be a douche canoe for mentally bailing on them a minute sooner than I part ways at security. It’s a struggle, but it’s right.
I was reminded this afternoon that Mike has the same experience, even as the one I’m leaving behind. He won’t join me for six weeks, but his dance card is full! There are plans of building a new deck, and putting new flooring in the basement. If he is to be believed, I won’t recognize this place when I get home in August.
I guess he got impatient waiting for me to leave, as this is our current situation.
Arrivederci, you decrepit, old, tiny deck and buongiorno, leg-breaking hazard right before I leave.
I first noticed the creeping panic last Sunday. This panic is like that. It stays low and moves slowly and silently, hoping I won’t notice it until it’s in my chest and trying to crawl out my throat. But ha! I saw it coming. Knowing it is there and keeping one eye trained to it keeps it low and slow. At the pace it was moving, there was no way it was going to get to me before I left the ground and fly for Italy. Because that’s what this panic is about – something screwing up my trip. And panic can’t reach me in the air. But last night it found my week spot and pounced.
I’m a dreamer – vivid, Technicolor dreams with sights, and sounds, and touch and the recent upgrade to include smells. That’s what’s leading me to hang glide, after all. And last night’s submission to the dream catalogue was a doozy.
See, there’s this doomsday cult that rigged a nuclear blast right here in my neighborhood that’s been counting down for five years. FIVE YEARS! The story line felt lifted from that long-gone TV show, Alias, but the bubbling blue liquid that was going to be dropped into the bubbling purple liquid causing a series of – I don’t know, marbles to roll down a chute and push the clearly marked BOOM button? – looked like something out of Dexter’s Laboratory. Skip the heart thumping drama that ensued and you find me, with my family, in a prone position not a quarter of a mile from the blast, basking in the light and heat and wind, waiting to be turned to dust. Except for that last part, it was a surprisingly pleasant feeling.
And then we didn’t die. We got up, walked around, and wondered why my face and neck had been burned purple while everyone else appeared ok. Obviously, we were going to die a slow death from radiation poisoning. But for the time being, we felt fine and I concluded the radiation caused a reaction between the minerals in my face powder and the oils in my skin and had essentially tattooed me. Great. Now I’ll be stared at in Italy. Because that was my biggest concern. A bomb was just detonated that was supposed to destroy the planet and when it didn’t, I’m still singularly focused on getting to Italy. But no. Air travel is shut down. All air travel. Around the whole world. Mike isn’t so distraught because there are three boys sleeping on our couch down stairs and they’re going to want pancakes when they wake up. Pancakes. That’s how I know I’m not sleeping anymore, the world is no more irradiated than it was last night, and I am still going to Italy.
I left Toby in the room with my girls – his girls – to take care of the paper work before the vet came in to do the kind thing.
Between signing documents and receipts, a man brought in his exceptionally gravid English Bulldog in active labor. She was rushed in for a c-section. The exchange, the swapping of a worn out life for a brand new one, or maybe three or four, was tangible.
Toby was ready, and when we were, too, it was done. He fell asleep on my chest and woke up down the hall, or maybe under someone’s porch, or in a warm kitchen.
Swollen eyed and snotty, we emerged from the examination room. Before we left the twenty four hour vet clinic, I slipped the Bulldog man a napkin with my e-mail address and phone number. If he ended up with a puppy who needed a home, could he contact me? Please?
I hope he doesn’t call. I made Toby a promise. I’ll never adopt another dog until I can love it the way I’ve loved him in the last few weeks.
In the week that has passed since I declared that I had 49 days left until I begin my summer in Italy, I’ve managed to spend 14 days. This is due to one of only two possibilities, as far as I can see. Either I have unknowingly entered a time portal that sped me ahead seven days, or I was really bad at math last week. It’s anybody’s guess what happened really, but the point is – I’ve only got 34 days left in the States!
A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was hang gliding over Italy. In addition to trying to figure out how wind works, I noticed that I could smell citrus and flowers and foliage. I’ve never smelled dream things before, and I thought this was more remarkable than my attempts to master flight from 5,000 feet above the ground.
I had roughly the same dream last night, but in addition to citrus and flowers, I could smell powdered sugar. There is no wonder to this. Day five of Whole 30 has been known to do weirder things.
But it did leave me with an imperative; I must do it. I must find out what the air smells like closer to the stratosphere. I’ve jumped from higher, but what I recall of the smell was a mixture of sweat, exhaust, and musty parachute. Obviously, location is partly to blame; Fort Benning ain’t Tuscany. Mode of transportation and proximity to hundreds of baby soldiers just like me probably account for any other differences that might exist.
I’ve hinted to the family that hang gliding would make an excellent Mother’s Day gift certificate, but Mike reminded me I am afraid of heights.
“Not anymore!” I proclaimed with flare and an ambiguous accent because I can’t recall who I heard declare it once on TV, though my impression is that he was German. Possibly French. In any case, Mike seemed to neither recognize that I was doing an impersonation nor remember that God cured my fear of heights at Easter Mass last year. I’d asked for him to heal my heart, but he bargained me down to this.
Surely, God did not free me from my acrophobia to have me keep my feet planted on the ground. Could it be that He is who is sending me these dreams, knowing I will follow my nose into the sky? It seems unwise to ignore Him.
I admit, using the threat of blasphemy to get a hang gliding trip for Mother’s Day instead of the standard flowers and chocolates I can’t eat for another 25 days anyway is pretty low, but as long as I’m not in the air, nothing is beneath me, now is it?
“I think I’m too old to try new things. ” She is 22. She was talking about butternut squash.
Maybe I was particularly sensitive to the sentiment because I’d recently had an argument with a travel article titled 30 Places to Visit Before You Are 30. If beer-bellies can yell at TV sports, dark-rims can raise their voices to a magazine. Only fair. I am post-30, and I can totally justify skipping Milan because I don’t own the wardrobe befitting their sidewalks. Besides, they have a Starbucks, so why bother? It’s practically Parsippany, now isn’t it? But do they mean to tell me Venice has nothing to offer now that the bloom is off my flower? At my age, is it so hard to believe that I might appreciate the history of Budapest a little more than I would have twenty years ago when my biggest struggle was keeping up with a scrunchy? Just kidding. Twenty years ago, I had a toddler and my first broken marriage to navigate. I will concede this article wasn’t written for me, or people like me at that age. Still, I think it was a little short-sighted to write a travel article that specifically excludes me, and people like me now, who – precisely because of age, have the time and disposable income to visit the boutique hotels being shilled in the glossy pages of this magazine. But that’s just me.
Through middle and high school, TallGirl’s friend was a frequent visitor to our dinner table. Scratch that. She wasn’t a visitor. She was family; there was always a chair for her. Without fail, every single meal, she ate something for the first time. When we knew she was coming, it became a game of mine to guess, while I was cooking, what would follow her, I’ve never had declaration. Sausage, chocolate chip pancakes, pork chops, broccoli with cheese. We aren’t talking exotic fare, here. After graduation, they chose different paths, and she is now a vestigial daughter, visiting only once or twice a year. We miss her, and I’d forgotten her sheltered culinary life. That she’d never had butternut squash before was only surprising in that I hadn’t even considered it before dinner was served.
But here’s my confession. I have passed the halfway mark in my forty-second year of life and last night, I ate capers for the first time. Ever. I was aware of capers. My first knowledge of them came from Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. I read it about two decades ago, during those tumultuous, family breaking years when apparently I should have been traipsing the globe instead of potty training my beautiful daughter. Between you and me, I made the wiser choice. My life is rich beyond measure because she is in it, and hers is measurably improved by being potty trained. You’re welcome, BooBoo.
Nora Ephron has been accused for years of steering women wrong by romanticizing the troubling character flaws of both women and their male counterparts in her romantic comedies. Forget that. Neuroses are funny to everyone (save for those closely related to the afflicted, and to a lesser extent, the afflicted themselves), and it is exceedingly difficult to move a plot along if everyone in the story behaves rationally. She did what she had to do as a writer, and I, for one, admire both her chops and the battles she fought to be allowed to flex them. Where I take issue with her though, God rest her soul, is the terrible advice she gave in Heartburn. “…The truth is that any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.”
Living in the homogeneous suburbs of the south-east, it’s not like I had to go out of my way to avoid capers. They were always something that existed in the world but that I would likely never try, not unlike puffer fish or haggis. And equally, I assumed I wasn’t missing anything special; possibly, I was saving my own life by not trying them.
By the laws established by the governing body of dieters everywhere, I think I am required to tell you that I am starting the Whole30 Program. I am probably breaking some cardinal rule by not posting Insta pictures of every meal, or talking incessantly about what I am obsessing about eating, or not eating, next. But that’s just not who I am. I am only telling you this now because I have a cookbook that tells me exactly what to make to stay compliant and last night’s dinner involved capers. I considered leaving them out because Nora Ephron didn’t like them. The ghost of Nora Ephron wasn’t even invited to dinner, so is that nuts, or what?
Nuts, by the way, are allowed on the Whole 30, but not a wise nutritional choice. Now you know.
And you know what? I loved them. I loved them so much that I want to invite TallGirl’s friend over for dinner, even though TallGirl is still away at school, and make her eat them with me.
Last spring I was in Rome. I don’t know if that is a city on that stupid 30 Before 30 list, but I can tell you, no matter how old you are, get there. Our apartment backed up to the Aurelian Walls, and there were lush, green cascades of vegetation with pretty, wispy, white flowers growing freely from the cracks in the ancient brick. I asked a local what they were, and she thought a moment as she consulted her English vocabulary. More like a question of her own than an answer to mine, she said, “Wild capers?”
Because of the way she wrinkled her nose when she said it, and because of my Ephron association with the little beasts, I agreed with her that yes, those must be wild capers. I probably even wrinkled my own nose in solidarity.
I consider myself to be adventurous, but just like TallGirl’s friend, even I sometimes forego new experiences due to preconceived notions, or have those intrusive thoughts that I might be too told to try a new thing. I’ll try harder to recognize them, and nip them in the bud.
We are never too old for wild capers.
As a cautionary side, Whole30 was a terrible time to try capers. They have the same effect on my breath as a pickled garlic-onion might, and gum – all gum – is forbidden. If I accidentally breathe on you this month, I apologize in advance.
A week ago we gathered family into the small veterinarian office to say our goodbyes. I explained that he’d perked up when friends visited and that by dinner time he’d accepted a nibble of chicken from my hand.
The whole time we spoke, Toby stood on the table. That morning, he couldn’t even lift his head.
I couldn’t do it.
We devised a plan and the vet administered some more antibiotics and pain meds. By the next morning, she told us, we’d know the right thing to do; he’d show more small improvement, or he wouldn’t.
All of this was coinciding, outside of our awareness, with the wearing off of a 24 hour anti nausea medication Toby had been given on Monday. Maybe that explains his convulsing and limpness, but not the fever, high white blood cells, or fluid in his lungs.
I’ve continued to give him antibiotics and pain meds and each day he has improved a little. On Thursday, he pooped for the first time in a week. On Friday, he walked himself to our back yard to spend some quality time in the sunshine. By Sunday, he began fighting back with enough strength that it now takes two people to administer his medication.
The fur hanging in his eyes made him look so sad and burdened, so I tried to give him a trim. I cannot be trusted with scissors, and the services of a professional were called in to clean up my mess. Now bald, I watch him waddle and I realize his back legs don’t always work like they should. There are some hard, jagged lumps under the skin over his upper torso. We will see the vet again at the end of this week, and I believe we’ll find out we’re treating an acute symptom of something much worse.
But that’s ok. I’ve had time to love him now, and I’ll keep doing it until he needs me to make the final, loving call. Last week, we weren’t there. Not even close. By needing me to keep him alive, Toby made me want him to live.
When he took his turn for the worse, I was in New York at a writer’s retreat. I got to hear the story of a woman who, in the final hours of her husband’s ex-wife’s life, was asked to do something extremely easy, yet personal to bring comfort to the woman who had been her natural enemy. She described that moment of care-taking beautifully, as it transformed years of animosity, not into pity, but forgiveness and humanity.
I was reminded of a quote by Benjamin Franklin. Just as last weekend, I am still paraphrasing, but the gist is this: If you want to make a friend of an enemy, ask them to do you a favor. Ask to borrow their book, or a cup of sugar. Ask them to apply your chapstick when your arms no longer work. Ask them to hold you down and squirt antibiotics into your throat when you are dying, but still non – compliant. Once your enemy has helped you, they are vested in your well-being. They are a part of your success. They will root for you.
And I know from experience, that hot-wired connect goes both ways.
If you’re being weighed down by your dislike or outright hatred of somebody and you’d like to stop feeling so crummy about it, quit waiting for them to change. Stop judging them and go help them.
I mean, if you tell me you like hating people, then carry on. I don’t buy it, and I’d love to bake you some cookies, or help you pull weeds, or something – but you keep doing you.
But for those – and there are many – who are genuinely in despair about the politics of nearly – half of the country, maybe we can try to find ways to help them out with their personal struggles – not so that their ideology wins, but so that our own peace and well-being does.
For a poor, little, naked shih-tzu who only knows two tricks, he sure is a wise and dedicated sensei.