Monaco

I’ve just arrived and am sitting at a café with a glass of Chardonnay, approving the final layout for this edition of the magazine.  Only the editorial remains to be finalised, and I’ll have to do that later on. Since I didn’t eat lunch, I’m a little tipsy. Palm trees wave outside the window, calling. I’m off to find a salad, and see the world.

Tonight is the Printemps des Arts festival premiere in Monte Carlo, and I’ll be covering the event and interviewing the director. No fear. Only extra doses of inner passion and zeal. I think I may just wear the little black dress. More to come…

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It does come, eventually

I sat at the station about an hour outside Milan waiting for the train.Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 7.55.47 AM

The night before, over a bubbling glass of demi-sec, the winemaker of the year had explained to me just how much humanity goes into a wine: how much woman, how much man, how much good sense. Connecting with people in this line of work had me riding high on my inner wave. Passion and honesty, toasting to the inescapable reality.

I was on my way to La Scala, feeling the ghost of Mozart and his human genius at my back.

But the train was not coming, and no one knew when it would pull through.

I inquired at the office, and asked other dazed travellers. “Maybe in 30 minutes,” they offered. “Maybe not.” Italy is not a robot, but it does mirror the human soul, which is much less timely and orderly than we’d like to make it. I pulled my suitcase over into the sun and sat down on a stone bench. Something there is in the messiness that empowers and soothes. I smiled at the girl beside me as a passing train tossed my hair and laughed freely in my face. “It’s not that one, is it?” I asked. “No. And not the next one either,” she replied. We leaned back in silence, and waited awhile.

Trains and people are not so very different here.

It’s all glamour

I’m writing in my fluffy sea green sweater and plaid pyjama pants on the eve of my Milan trip. I should be packing. Instead, I’m fretting over the line where I had my roots dyed on Saturday, which is still vaguely visible across my forehead despite the fact that I scrubbed my scalp this morning. Hopefully, tomorrow morning’s 4.30 am shower will rinse the rest away.

People often comment how envious they are of a journalist’s glamorous life. I get it; I feel the same way. At least I used to, before press trips revealed themselves as 16-hour days on your feet, planning, preparing, interviewing, learning, assimilating, interacting, until you drop dead in your 5-star hotel room, too exhausted to enjoy the enormous bathtub you had been thinking about all day.

Those 5-star rooms? In French we say, “un cadeau empoisoné”, or poison in a gift box. For every night I spend in a place like that, I crank out an 800-word review complete with pictures. But the rub is that I’m not there to write about the hotel. I’m there to cover some other art event, in this case opera, so my days are jam-packed full of other things.

On Friday, plans fell through with my accommodation, plans that had been finalised months ago. No one being available in Italy on the weekends, I’ve spent two days writing emails and fretting like a homeless person. I leave tomorrow morning at 6 am. Yes, I can rent a smaller room on my own dime, but then if a 5-star comes along with an offer, I’d have to pay for the small room anyway. Journalists don’t often get travel cash from their magazine, so we rely on this kind of negotiation, especially in Europe, where things are less uptight and rigid than they are in the US, moral-wise.

Last night, I realised with sudden alarm that I may very well go to a performance at the most prestigious opera house in the world, only to spend the night in the train station.

Glamour, indeed.

It did occur to me that true adventure comes in having the courage to step beyond the known and accept what you find. I feel too old to do this, but I also feel too young not to.

So while tomorrow night I know where I’ll be sleeping, the nights after are still up in the air. I will go forth.

Send me warm vibes?

I see you

A travel journalist recently asked me for an interview on international living. I perused the books she’s written on various cities across Europe, eager to discover what kind of insight she offers. I used to dream of being a travel writer. Moving around to different places all the time just to tell people where the best eats are, the cheapest places to stay, and the fastest ways to get there.

coffee time

But while I admire what she does, I felt myself recoil. ‘Fast’ is not the way I like seeing a place. The main tourist attractions couldn’t be farther from my mind.

Shadows

She asked me one stellar question: Do the locals get offended by anything tourists do in particular? Easy answer: Talking about their own country, and how they do things back at home. Ask, look, listen, engage. Don’t compare. Let them immerse you. Be immersed. Be quiet.

A colleague and I spent 15 minutes in a local Venetian bar listening to slang, laughing at their light-hearted jest, grateful to be allowed to be a temporary part of their particular kind of magic. I carried the moment away with me, 15 minutes of real Venice, and left none of myself there with the exception of a smile and my own gratitude.

Found

I walked for hours, days, during this trip, dragging behind me a photographer who was captivated by the countless details and layered textures of the city. Well did I understand his desire to stop, to stay and see.

I was on a mission, though, and there was no time to lose.

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Getting anywhere in Venice goes about like this:

Right – left – right – right – left. Over a bridge – left. Bridge – bridge – right – left – right – five bridges – left. Be sure to roll all the  “r”s when you read that.

After hours of it, the photographer panted out… “You go so fast, and I’m sure that this time we’re getting lost. It all looks the same. Are you sure we’re not lost?”

Of course I wasn’t lost. Because Venice leads me.

When I begin to feel that maybe I could be lost this time – that maybe I’m disoriented – Venice shows me the way; reminding me of a restaurant I once ate at with a friend, recalling the iron railing of a particular bridge, conjuring the face of a familiar shopkeeper in a window, who still recognises me after a long absence.

I don’t need to remember the watery city, the mesmerising lagoon. She remembers me.

Life is not much different, actually.

Venezia

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I stepped off the boat in Venice and marvelled at the empty streets. It’s January and there are few tourists to speak of. I waited, scanning the skinny streets in all directions.

It has been a long year since I’ve been, and I’ve missed it. Especially when the cold scratch of stone against heel can be heard echoing upward for a lack of life, or sign of it.

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Hair bright as the sun emerged suddenly as my friend ran toward me. It felt good to see him again, his Parisian moustache twirled under horn-rimmed glasses.

Come stai?

Bien, et toi?

Si si, everything’s great now that you’re here.

And so begins the delicious melting of culture, language and art. An intensity you know is so hot it will burn you if you’re not careful, but will warm you like nothing else if you let it. So mysterious. Like Venice. So beguiling.

Let it begin.

Where grasses bend and glow

I’m wrapping up a destination article today on Tuscany as sleet falls outside my window, icing the wood planks of a deck I like to roast my body on in the summer. The thing about writing is the delicious ability to be somewhere you’re not at any time of the day. Like the Etruscan coast.

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Some people go there to taste the wines of Chiantishire; others to golf or enjoy world class spa treatments before sitting down to some of the world’s healthiest and most tantalising cuisines. My mother would go for the boutiques. But I cast my mind back to a certain drive through winding roads to the sounds of Rinaldo Alessandrini’s ‘Trent’anni a Roma’ recording; to a red sunset over golden fields and a tiny car lost in a seemingly abandoned hamlet. I lean back in my chair by the fire as I write and recall the taste of gnocchi di zucca as we sat, still in our salty bathing suits under soft summer clothing, alone in the upstairs restaurant room of that hillside town, our appetites as healthy as our browned skin. Our smiles a mirror of those bare swims in clear waters after a long bike ride.

There is the taste of Peroni. The recollection of frescos unshielded on chapel walls. The glow of bending grasses. Soft fingers and even softer sounds of words rushing like a luscious river. Che bella l’Italia.

The worlds inside me are as vivid as the one outside my window; I have only to close my eyes and step into them. The door clicks now as I close it behind me.

I saw you

Time is always walking here and there. Never running, never stopping; just carrying on, really.

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Trees loom overhead, and we walk under a sunny sky, laughing. The vibrant colours dim now as the days pass. Memory blurs and fades. I reach out to feel the warmth of a human hand only to find the misty presence of a ticking clock, where you once filled that transparent void.

Undercover

“I’m a wanderer at heart,” she said furtively, hands covering a wicked little laugh.

At the age of 71, Rosalee confessed to me that she’s kind of waiting for her (dear) husband to kick the bucket so she can spend her time travelling instead of holding down the fort.

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“I know what you mean,” I confessed. Not really about waiting for my beloved to die, but definitely about the travel bug. There is a whole little underground of women out there who are afraid to admit that they enjoy travelling alone, without constraints of any kind, alone to enjoy their own company.

“I went to Milan last week,” a middle aged friend confessed to me at the grocery store recently. “I mean, I could do what I wanted, eat where I wanted, linger where I wanted. It was such a change from having to accommodate everyone else….but please don’t tell anyone I said that. I love my family.”

Oh, I wouldn’t dare.

Of course she loves her family. The alternative of being entirely alone doesn’t appeal to any of us, really, but freedom does. I can relate to that.

I’ve got a collection of names of women from this podunk region who secretly travel … alone. If you lived here, you’d know why they have to be underground about it, and why their travels are always told in whispers and covert glances.

The world is not as tolerant as some would like to think, alas.