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?

Glitter-covered mud

I woke up this morning to a message on my iPhone. Thérèse had lost her fight with cancer during the night, and was finally free of her pain. I went to get my coffee in a numb fog, remembering vaguely her friendly smile and endless, soggy kisses on Sunday mornings. I felt ashamed. I hadn’t gone to see her at the hospital, and her friendly warmth would not descend upon me in its quirky, almost overbearing way next week at church.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 11.48.17 AMTwo hours later my phone beeped again, but this time it was a friend who’s brother-in-law had been found dead in his apartment. I was seated at a table bedecked with Christmas decorations, women chatting and laughing all around me, but I felt suddenly as in a vortex of gaiety, while others sat quietly in pain.

I turned the key, shrugging off my woollen wrap as I walked into my office just an hour after that, the reality of my own life strikingly present as I scrolled the 2015 calendar of events at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. I needed to write an email to the organiser about which opera I wanted to attend, which event would most interest my readers. The gorgeous theatre and A-list program flashed across the screen in stark contrast to the rainy mud outside; glitz and glitter sprinkled over so much pain.

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I made my choice and sent the email, grateful for the connection and excited about the prospects, and yet…

Today I might rather be Charlotte Salomon than Poppea, singing a mournful song as I paint stories that are all too real.