Monday, December 9, 2013

Travels with David: Dickensian Moments #1

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.
Two New York hippies with Francoise in the Jura, 1973
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?”
 “Nick Krenitsky.”
“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


  1. I think I saw you at Villa d'Este! Great story. I look forward to more travel tales.

  2. Thank you, my friend. That picture I sent you earlier this year, of me in my Kubu t-shirt, was taken in the same spot as the one above. Only just about forty years later. I look a lot different, but I still feel like the same person on the inside.

  3. You brought back memories of my own first trip trip to Europe at about the same time as yours. My younger brother, Ken, lived in Lausanne at the time and I went to visit him for two weeks. We traveled to Lake Como (Villa d'Este), Venice, Florence, Rome, and countess towns along the way, staying and eating in out-of-the way spots recommended by his co-workers in Switzerland. What a time we had. And your picture of David somewhat reminded me of my brother, but I must say David had a far sexier traveling partner that did Ken.

    1. As you can imagine, Jeff, the Villa d'Este on Lake Como was not one the hotels in the guidebook pictured above. More on the style of one Hotel Atlantico in Venice, where the mattresses in the garret room were stuffed with straw. I kid you not. Between you and me, which was the sexier at that age would depend entirely on the eye of the beholder! I would guess that you and your brother were quite popular with the local ladies.

  4. As sunlight turns more golden as the day ages, so do our memories. Thanks for sharing in such a wonderful fashion, AmA!

    1. True, Everett. Time changes things. The tank top I am wearing in the portrait David took of me in Rome is the same one in the picture of us in the Jura. But the Rome photo has been sitting in a frame, exposed to the light. Fortunately for me, my remembrances have not faded as the photo has. If the colors in one one's memories intensify over time, all the better.

  5. This is such a lovely story about your trip. Appreciate your posting about it.

    And what you say about aging is so true: We are still the same person inside as we were decades ago, perhaps a little grayer, with more lines on our faces -- but I would venture to say, a bit wiser, kinder and more compassionate about the human condition.

    And we definitely know what we want to order in an Italian restaurant!

  6. Thanks, Kathy. Our population in the US is aging. I pray you are right about wisdom coming along with the wrinkles. We can sure use some. Happy Christmas to you and yours.

  7. Thank you. I think for me it is wisdom, as I remember the teen years and early 20s, until I started learning about the world and my responsibilities in it. And I do think compassion and understanding the more we age, too.

    As for my celebrations, it's a combination of Chanukkah, Christmas and the Winter Solstice. Or as my friends and I do, it's an opportunity to eat very well, swap gifts and enjoy each other's company.

    And, then, privately, I just enjoy some time reading during those days.

    Wish you and your family lots of fun and joy during the holidays. I'd wish for a more peaceful new year, but that may be a pipe dream -- although I can dream.