Thu, 13 Oct 2011 19:05:51 0200
It was the correct decision, this time, to go to Dublin for work first, and only after to take advantage of my employer's having already paid for the transatlantic flight and the 8-hour time difference, and to hop across to the Continent for a spell. I knew this even before I landed in Italy on Saturday, having that morning checked out of The [Twice-The-Hotel-Cap] Dylan at some horrible pre-dawn hour, jumped on a plane to Naples, and only woken up from my daydreaming doze as the bus to Sant'Agnello rounded a sharp corner around some ancient castle on a cliff, exposing the Neapolitan Bay: A swath of brilliant, sunlit blue framed by more cliffs and those iconic umbrella pines. No, it was apparent even in Dublin -- this is the first time in three years that my low expectations of that town have been surpassed, if not fully disproved. And since it was my first stop in the tenuous EU zone, Ireland got to take full credit for the initial European charm I often exhaust in (say) Paris.
It helped that the weather was mostly lovely, almost Californian for a few days, and then subsiding into crisp fall, with only an interval of Irish rain. It helped that coffee snobs so serious they don't serve soy milk (we had a long discussion about this) have set up shop a block from the office. It helped that the office itself is in a new, beautifully-decorated building, with what I can without reservation call a proper Google cafe (in the old building, standard lunch fare was the double-asterisk, unadorned **Potato (internal convention says one star for vegetarian, two for vegan)). It helped, no doubt, that by now I know where to go in the evenings to get the kind of food on which I thrive -- the perfectly nice tapas place with a good list of Spanish wines; Conucopia, my hippie haven in the emerald Isle, for the little pepper-and-basil savory scones, bought three at a time and meted out for office breakfasts over desktop tea and setting up for being oncall at 10am -- but I think also more and better food has cropped up even during the few years in which I've been making these annual trips, to the extent that I probably could have stayed fully vegan if I'd desperately wanted to.
I'm sure others noticed it in me, as well -- Ryan & Susan certainly did. I didn't complain that the wine wasn't French or overly lament the drink selection in the gilt-but-Guinness-and-Jameson-serving establishment of Café en Seine; I complained only that the rain soaked the cuffs of my jeans, and then resolved to bring a skinny-leg cut, and rainboots, next time. I must have been altogether much more pleasant to be around. There was Conall & Ciara's wedding in County Wicklow (we found the church only by tracking the groom on Latitude; I pushed champagne on the driver and the bride; my camera battery died early, so I took silly iPhone photos all night, with which I'm actually quite pleased); a brief weekend drive to Kilkenny, Cork and back; a mini-Oktoberfest and new friends and pints and loud clubs and late evenings. Shall I confess that I even enjoyed myself?
And then to fly to Italy (the Europe of my first travels at age 16, the foreign language in which I first tried to communicate with natives, armed with only a month of Berlitz-tape study and the lyrics of romantic canzonette) was certainly the right order of operations. I arrived early on Saturday, then waited for Mike by napping with the balcony door open onto the white marble terrace (Carrara everywhere!), and then with Falanghina and olives as I began the historical novel about Pompeii my mom had sent me for my birthday. Just about everything in that country charms: The vibrantly rolled rrr's, the understanding that caffè means "espresso," and the assumption that you would probably like one after dinner; the mere existence of such ambrosiae as crema di limoncello, nocillo, and finocchietto. The coasts of Campania are as breathtakingly beautiful as the postcards, more so when you take the pictures yourself (leaving the SLR behind, because only the point-and-shoot, and your iPhone with its silly Hipstamatic app, will fit in your cute new yellow purse). I walked sadly past the duty-free limoncello and mozzarella bar in the airport this morning, unable to fit anything more in my luggage; but I did have one last caffè on my way out -- not the pinnacle of roastery or baristaship, but an expression of deriving pleasure from life that I deeply appreciate. (Emily remarked to me some years after moving to Cambridge for grad school that the difference between Boston and San Francisco was that the denizens of the latter expected to have pleasure each day. Maybe that's one reason why I love my adopted city so much, and why Italy resonates with me.)
My Italian remains restaurant-level, at best; or opera-libretti-level (I've had the witches' chorus from Verdi's Macbetto stuck in my head for the last 5 days, if for no other subconscious reason than that it's a piece of fluent Italian my brain can recite). It's both pleasing -- I can command a glass of nocillo faster than Mike (maybe it's my confident geminate L) -- and annoying -- my dilettantism is laid bare. Mike & I saw a chamber piano recital in Ravello last night, a tiny venue with miniature vaulted ceilings carrying the commanding delivery of Chopin sonorously around the room. An Irishman spoke fluent French to me over a drink the week before. I'm going through this paragraph trying to reduce the number of "command"s, but I realize that I mean all of them -- that not only do I thrill at a trilled R, a well-enunciated phrase or two from a mouth from whom I least expected it, or a nocturne, but that I want more command over these things myself. My back-in-SF to-do list has increased accordingly.
Command or no, though, superficiality will take me far enough: I've had minor linguistic triumphs throughout Southern Italy this week, and even a few on the connecting leg to Frankfurt just now (in which I did not fuck up my for-novelty's-sake order of Tomatensaft mit Pfeffer on the plane, and succeeded in making small talk about the price of a newsstand New Yorker in the airport). I'm pleased to have enough of all of the above: Of German, to enjoy Lufthansa; of Italian, to convincingly pronounce the names of after-dinner liqueurs; of French, to understand and reciprocate a sympathetic murmur; of piano, to delectate. And, not least, of computers, to underwrite most of this: This lifestyle, and these opportunities to travel.