Me on a beach in Senegal with two of my brothers
I have been pondering this question more than usual lately as I was challenged on this question at a dinner party not long ago. My reactions in such situations where I feel put on the defensive to explain my choices are akin to running in quicksand. They suck. And I spend the rest of the night and next several days kicking myself for not being as quick and adept verbally as I should have been.
This person’s take clearly suggested that I was not considering L’s emotional life and desires enough in my choice to travel with him and disrupt his stable life. I tried to draw on my own experiences growing up as the daughter of a travelling family, and that in fact I had much more upheaval than L has had, and yet I am still happy and grateful to have had those experiences, even though it wasn’t always easy. I also suggested that it is the natural order of things that kids follow their parents and these experiences shape who we end up becoming. In response to this, the person said that “was bordering on child abuse.”
a Prosecco Aperol outside at La Piccola Osteria
This is one of my favorite places in Vicenza. The perfect little Enoteca, or wine bar, where I can sit and write, and be familiar yet anonymous. Italian tumbles around me. The servers and owners know me by now. I am an island with my notebook and neon-looking Prosecco Aperol, yet I greet enough people as to not feel marooned. I watch the regulars and wonder whether my observations of their characters are as spot on as I think they are. I enjoy the sweetness of the apertivo against the saltiness of the complimentary bowl of chips they give me, against my far better judgment.
The 1980’s disco tracks provide just the right slightly ironic ambiance. The ceiling is framed by wooden beams, wine bottles line the walls, along with cobbled stones. The glass case by the bar displays all the mouthwatering tapas-style bites – or spunciotteria – available to pad your alcoholic intake. The door stays open no matter the weather so people can sit or stand outside or in.
This particular evening there is the dandy man in his silk suit and nearly wing-tipped black loafers sitting next to me who, after studying his iPhone and waiting for 45 minutes for his date to arrive, moved to the bar to make his eventual exit a bit less noticeable, or so I imagine. Then there is the couple – work colleagues perhaps – safely flirtatious, sharing a drink and smoke just outside. A house painter stops by on his way home from work to have a glass of wine and small plate of fresh anchovies.
The other night I attempted to go to an English-speaking networking drinks-do at a bar in downtown Vicenza while L was at soccer practice. Apparently, my interpretation of ‘Happy Hour’ – when it was supposed to take place – needs an Italianesque revision. I showed up at what I thought was a respectable 7:15pm to find the place utterly empty. I found out today that it didn’t get started until nearly 9 and went until after midnight. Since I decided not to hang around waiting, looking like an adrift tourist, desperate to speak English, I left. My motive for the whole outing was to hopefully meet some other expats in Vicenza who either might have a lead on private Italian lessons, or even better, might have kids L’s age. But it was not meant to be last night, and I rode my bike back to the neighborhood where I stopped in at Piccola Osteria before heading home. It was of course, warm, bright, full of people and welcoming. The bartender poured me a glass of a new Montepulciano, which I savored, along with my own plate of fresh anchovies, before biking the rest of the way home.
Piccola Osteria, Via Alfonso Lamarmora, 147, 36100, Vicenza, Italy.
I am back in the saddle of Have Son, Will Travel after a couple of weeks off in London where L visited with his father while I buckled down to get a chunk of work done, as well as enjoy a bit of time to myself.
We have now returned to life in Vicenza, which we are calling home for the next few months. The apartment is shaping up to be extremely comfortable, Italian vocabulary and verbs are accruing in both our brains, and I am learning how to cook dinner in three courses (1) pasticcia (or pasta), 2) meat and veg, and 3) salad and/or cheese). I have found my favorite ‘local’, or Enoteca/wine bar, just down the road where I have learned to drink my espresso standing at the bar, black and with lots of sugar. It’s also where I can enjoy an apertivo and an assortment of tapas-style bites of food and write while L is off at his football practice or hanging out with neighborhood kids.
This might sound petty but one of the things I truly enjoy about being in Europe, or even just a more urban setting, is that one can dress with raising the ire of the locals. Meaning, back in the Midwest, if you put on a good pair of shoes, or a dress and jacket, you will undoubtedly be asked repeatedly throughout the day, ‘Where ya headed?’ or ‘What’s the occasion?’ which always, I must admit, make my blood slowly percolate.
So today I relished not turning any heads when I wore my new, black, spikey Donald Pliner boots, bought for a song in a London charity shop, on the bike down to the market at Piazza dei Signori. Two things that I’ve noticed about Italians and bikes that you’ve got to love: 1) they’ll wear anything and ride bikes – 4” heels or a tuxedo, no matter, and 2) if it rains, they ride their bikes, steering with one hand while holding a large umbrella with the other -- the rain will not ruin the look. How they do this balancing act safely, while navigating city traffic, I’m not sure. I’m not yet so brave as to try it.
All this talk of fashion leads me to another observation that I have been making for a long time and at some point I will produce a photo study of it: that British and European men wear their shoes so damn well. Or more precisely, they choose their shoes with care yet manage to project an effortless sense of style. They are, of course, largely working with a greater stock of well-made shoes, and such a man’s shoe is a beautiful thing to behold indeed. All right, let it be known: I covet European men’s shoes. They are also not afraid to pair them with colorful socks, and such a subtle nod to expressive style does not automatically suggest a sexual preference, as it might in America, the land where the utilitarian still reigns supreme and men are trapped in a suffocating sandwich of black, brown and grey.
While L is happy to be back in Vicenza as well, and playing soccer with 'Club Calcio' again, he has been suffering a bout of homesickness and there have been ample Skype playdates with friends back home. He insists he still loves travelling but just wishes that everyone could be in the same place. Then all would be right with the world. I just keep telling him his friends will still be there, and his cat, and be happy to see him when we go back.
Setting bikes, shoes, and umbrellas aside, after raining biblically most of the week, Vicenza is gleaming in a smoky, late autumn light that sets the hills surrounding it, and the silhouette of Monte Berico, perched above the city, in stunning pastel hues that no doubt have inspired many a poet, painter or architect for ages. Meanwhile, we crack on with our more mortal work, on a plane much closer to the mundane, but perhaps, important in its own way.