I left California on December 20th, after, in the same month, visiting the East Coast, (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC and North Carolina), rushing to my grandmother’s beside in Oregon for a week, giving up my Pasadena apartment and putting all my belongings and three years of my life in a storage unit. Run-on sentences are a good way to express in words how physically exhausting some of life’s experiences can be.
After I had packed up my apartment, with some precious help from friends, I managed to say goodbye to a few people the night before my flight and landed, from a warm, yet rainy Los Angeles into a freezing Paris where it had been snowing for four days. Mom and dad landed the next day, and we drove down to Saint Tropez to reconnect with all of mom’s family for a few days over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday.
We decided to escape to Italy on our way back up to Paris. We enjoyed Sanremo, on the Ligurian coast, where there were only Italians, enjoying the New Year and strolling until very late in the cobblestoned streets. I have never seen so many fur coats as I did in Sanremo…it was actually kind of eerie. Fur coats went out of favor when I moved to the United States in the mid-nineties, so I’d only really ever seen people wear them in movies and photographs. I can’t explain how strange it was for me to see women walking around in fur coats. They looked like they were disguised in animal hides, and sometimes, when they were more portly, actually kind of looked like grizzly bears in high heels. It was extremely unattractive to me, but maybe I’m speaking from lack of experience…I’ll always remember Sanremo for the fur coats, and that delicious raw purple artichoke salad we ate in a small restaurant. It was seasoned with olive oil made by the owner himself and generous shavings of parmesan cheese.
After Sanremo, we headed to the home of Stradivarius violins and the birthplace of opera: Cremona, a gorgeous city halfway to Venice in the Northern part of Italy. We ate one of our very worst and one of our very best meals in the city, and walked around the beautiful plaza, around the gorgeous cathedral, and admired the shop windows. It was a constant throughout Italy, and a pleasant one, how much people walk in the evening.
We made a day trip to Venice, completely unprepared for the day-long freezing rainstorm that had assailed the city and its huge size. When you arrive, if you choose to park in Venice proper, you have to pay almost 30 dollars to park your car, and you have to walk more than 30 minutes to get to the Piazza San Marco, the most famous piazza of Venice. Couple of notes: read up a LOT on Venice if you ever go, don’t drive there, choose the train instead, if it’s going to rain while you’re there, invest in rain boots because the city floods a few inches everywhere, and don’t go in January unless you’re OK with constant freezing rain and wet socks. There were still some pretty magical moments but we were quite unprepared, and hadn’t read up enough, so when we realized the scale of the city, and how late in the day it was, we really didn’t have that much time to enjoy our stay. We were only there for a few hours, and Venice is a city that requires at least a day or two of full exploration. By the time we got to San Marco, the sun was already setting, and everything was closed, but we did get a chance to walk into some amazing Murano glass art galleries and carnival mask stores, which was fun. We made a stop at Caffe Florian, but it was a bust, not very good drinks, and everything was so overpriced it was scandalous.
The vaporetto ride back through the Gran Canal was my parents’ favorite memory, but at that point, my feet were frozen, so instead of standing out on the back of the boat, in the open night air, I sat inside in the warmth of the huddled tourist masses and was proposed to by a limping cosseyed hunchback named Alfredo. I am not making this up. He kissed my hand and I took it back and looked away, then he tapped me on the shoulder and made an awkward lunge for my lips and I firmly put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him away. Ah…Venice.
On the way back to France, we stopped in Torino, because it is apparently the most gorgeous setting for a city in the world, which we found no proof of. But we did find Caffe Platti, which, alone, is worth the trip across the Alps, through the 12-kilometer Frejus tunnel. We sat there for a good two hours, eating mini-sandwiches with the crusts cut off, sipping delicious cappuccinos con panna, and savoring numerous mini-pastries for 1 Euro each. It was the most amazing caffe experience we had in Italy and we were on a sugar high for a few hours after.
We arrived late at night in the middle of a full-blown snowstorm where everyone was driving 30 MpH to Le Puy, where we stayed the night at a lovely modern hotel with bright turquoise and lime-colored carpets, orange and violet furniture and bathrooms. That night, mom convinced me to share a platter of oysters with her, and I tried two. I came to the conclusion, a good fifteen years after I last tried them that I really don’t like oysters. They taste like you’re eating the sea. I understand that’s the pleasure in it, but I’ve never enjoyed swallowing sea water by accident, so I don’t enjoy doing it on purpose. I was proud of myself for trying two Irish oysters, and washed the taste down with flammekuche, an Eastern French pizza-like dish made on the thinnest dough imaginable, with cream, bacon bits and melted cheese.
Paris was another few hours drive and we got there two nights before our departure to Congo, taking advantage of the time to run last minute errands all in our separate corners of the city. We finally left, and the trip was reltatively perfect if you exlude the fact that it was the longest redeye imaginable (4 PM to 4 PM the next day in nonstop airports and flights). We had no problems other than the usual arrival into Brazzville with its complete chaos and long wait between planes, and again landing in complete chaos in Pointe-Noire.
I’ve been here for a few days, and we’re been dealing with various relatively serious issues having to do with the school, but other than that, it feels good to be home, even with the accelerated culture shock you always endure when you go from California to Congo via various weather patterns not limited to snowstorms, freezing temperatures and ninety percent humidity levels. It’s nice to see familiar faces, be surrounded by people every day, and not be alone. The joy of seeing old friends is still tempered with updates on family tragedies, death being such a frequent visitor here, especially to youth and children, which is something I never experienced in the US. That is always one of the hardest things to get used to.
Warm friendliness, familiar sounds, foods, smells, my very naughty puppy, home and my whole family under one roof, the knowledge that I’m not sinking into debt with every second that I’m not employed are all things that are helping me breathe.
I’m not really sure what is next for me, as always, there are many options. Right now, I’m here, and trying to find grace in the moment. And some time to assess and see clearly where the road ahead is leading, which I hope will become clearer when I’m busy and involved in the museum project and other activities around the school. I tend to make these big leaps of faith because I’m not just looking for the next job or place to live, I’m looking for what I’m meant to be doing. You could say I’m looking for my destiny, but using that word conjures up Luke Skywalker’s jedi heritage and who knows if the result of my quest will be as lofty. Although I really wouldn’t mind a light saber.