David proposed our first international trip while we were driving along the New Jersey Turnpike. Two years later, he proposed marriage under the same circumstances, but that’s another story.
We had started with love at first sight. Soon discovered many important compatibilities: of love-making, politics, music, movies, and then travel. Finally, I had found a man who wanted to go places with me. “We should go to Europe next summer,” he said somewhere between Exits 11 and 12, in January 1973—month three of our love. We had dreams in common but neither of us had much of the folding green. Okay, we would do it on the cheap: Icelandic Air ($99, round trip New York to Luxembourg), Europe on $5 and $10 a Day, Rent-a-Wreck. Hippie Style. We certainly looked the part.
We weren’t actual hippies. We did have jobs. Well, he did. I was free-lancing. He was a marketing guy, at the moment involved in getting a logo designed. Work that had to get done before we left on our first great adventure. At the last minute, it was touch and go because the designer—Nick Krenitsky—was scheduled to leave New York before we returned. He was going to Venice for a year, to work on art restoration after the devastating flood of 1966.
The logo project was signed, sealed, and delivered just in time. We took off for Reykjavik; in my backpack a list of things to do in Italy, advice from Tom, the editor of a magazine where I worked. That vacation was only my second trip by plane, and my first time outside the country, unless you count driving into Canada.
Icelandic stewardesses handed us box lunches as we boarded. There was a two-hour layover in Keflavik on our way to Luxembourg airport. The rental car was tiny, but in better shape than his rusty VW at home.
Crossing into France, the first thing we saw was a huge, horrific auto accident—we felt as if we had landed in Jean-Luc Goddard’s Weekend. But soon there were five days in Paris beginning on Bastille Day, a stop in the Jura to visit Jean-Claude and Françoise, and a drive through the Mount Blanc Tunnel, shades of Mendelsohn’s Italian Symphony, all gloomy as we climbed on the north side and BAM!, sunshine as we emerged into Italy.
In Venice, we took Tom’s advice and ate at the Madonna Inn. In Florence, he had recommended Buca Mario. Tom was batting a thousand with his recommendations. They were so right that we have gone back to both places many times over the years.
When we got to Rome, we were in the mood to take Tom’s advice about how to spend one of our five days. “Go to the Villa d’Este,” he had said. “Then, have lunch in Ristorante Sibilla in Tivoli. Spend the afternoon at Hadrian’s Villa.”
|Me in Rome, 1973|
We drove out the old Appian Way and stopped en route to say hello to the skulls in the Catacombs. The fountains were in full magnificent display at the Villa d’Este.
|The fountains in the garden of the Villa d'Este|
At lunch in the garden of the ristorante, the maître d’ gave us a table right next to the ancient temple. While we were waiting for our sautéed trout from the local stream, a little American girl from a nearby table came over and struck up a conversation with us. She was about five, the same age as my little girl, who was back in the States on a trip with my parents. The only thing I hadn’t liked about my three-weeks in Europe was how much I missed her.
David and I were enjoying the kid’s company, but her parents thought she was disturbing us. They came over to take her away. Californians, they were.
“Where are you from?”
“We’re New Yorkers.”
“How long will you be in Europe?”
“Only a few more days. How about you?”
“We are just beginning a full year here in Italy.”
“Yes,” the guy said. “We are on our way to Venice. I’m an artist. I’m going to be working on restoring art that was damaged in the 1966 flood.”
“How interesting,” David said. “I was just working in New York with a guy who is going to do the same thing.”
“From New York? What’s his name?”
“My college roommate,” the guy said. “I recruited him to come work with me in Venice.”
As it turned out, that chance encounter in an out-of-the-way place set a precedent for quite a number of jaw-dropping coincidences that we were to experience during travels worldwide. I’ll tell you about the others as time goes by.
|Dickens, looking like the god he is.|
I call these experiences Dickensian for this reason: in fiction, such outrageous accidental meetings would ordinarily destroy the verisimilitude of the story. Only Dickens can make readers believe that, with odds so against a huge coincidence, it still happened. My such moments are all true.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't. - Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Mark Twain
Annamaria - Monday