This is a travel post about a trip I haven’t taken yet.
But I know how it’s going to go. It will be more or less the trip of a lifetime, in fact (another trip of a lifetime, as it were). I know already what I will savor, and it won’t be the monuments or the special museum tours or even really the scenery.
I am going to a place where I need no friends, no itineraries, where I need nothing more than people in the streets speaking the native language, which feels at once thrillingly novel to me and cozily familiar.
I am going, but of course, to Italy -- where I once lived (and thrived, as only one can in Italy). And I plan to feast on every encounter with every barista, every bite of my favorite ciambellina pastry, every tinkle of spoons as I stir a cappuccino in a caffe, every moment at the bus stop chiacchierando with an older signora about what’s keeping the bus from arriving.
I wouldn’t normally be so cocky about the future – as anyone knows, life has a way of surprising you, especially life on trips.
But two years ago, I spent 5 days in Italy and the mind-blowing, mind-altering success of the trip was evident within a few hours on the ground, when a man holding a motorcycle helmet walked into a coffee bar by the Campidoglio in Rome. Clearly a regular, he jutted out his chin and exchanged a look with the barista that wordlessly conveyed, “Do you see what I’m saying?” and “Can you believe that?” Where both parties knew exactly what “that” referred to. For his part, the barman, drying a glass behind the counter, shot the customer one quick glance that seemed to say, “Oh finally you’re here!” and “What a day we’re having!”
I nibbled on my schiacciata with prosciutto crudo, and watched, in hopes the conversation-cum-afternoon chronicle would continue.
Then I returned to the hotel in Rome where I would be staying just a single night, and sitting in the window sill of my second-story room, I looked out over the narrow, cobblestone street below as a Roman toddler biked back and forth in front of his mother’s shop. I wondered for a moment, what could someone do with only 24 hours in Rome? That was all the time I had given myself in the Eternal City before moving on to Florence.
Watching through the spaces of the ‘H’ and the ‘O’ in the vertical hotel sign attached to the building, as the toddler wheeled around on his bike and his mother and grandfather offered commentary, I concluded you could do so much in 24 hours.
As for the particulars, well, I am going to Torino (with quick stops in Milan and the countryside outside of Torino). I've kept the trip largely secret from American friends -- what I call a 'pearl in my pocket,' an idea I trot out for a precious audience of one, savoring the thought that I will soon be there -- largely because any time I am going to Italy, it feels impossible. Impossibly wonderful, impossibly special, impossible that it will really happen. When you want something so much, you fear anyone could pry your little dream from you. Italy will never be a casual tourist destination for me -- like that old boyfriend of yours whom you cannot see without wondering what could have been (in my case, quite literally, the 'boyfriend' in question IS Italy. Hence the analogy).
In any event, I will be going there in May to attend one of Italy's biggest book fairs, il Salone del Libro.
But really I will be going there to eavesdrop on conversations, to saunter through the streets, to wait expectantly at the counter of a caffe in the hopes a man holding a motorcycle helmet comes by to entertain me with a little display of the Italian national character. It's worth the plane fare, alone.