Saturday, August 11, 2007
Veni, vidi... ?
As they say at the Brickyard, "Start your engines." And we're off. Or at least I'm off, into the wild green-white-and-red yonder of Italy. I have now been living in bel paese for one week and the international clamoring for some informazione (See? Isn't learning Italian easy and fun?) on my where-abouts, how-abouts, why-abouts, and so forth has been deafening. As many know, I rarely turn down an opportunity to tell a story, so...
I am in Codogno, Italy, in the province of Lodi in the region of Lombardy. I am living with Mark, aka Lango, a friend since kindergarten, who is playing professional baseball in Italy's Serie A2 and working full-time in Milan, 45 minutes to the north.
To extend the metaphor, if this adventure is to be an Indy car race - colorful, loud, exhilarating, enervating, at times stomach-turning but usually captivating (notice I didn't add "fast") - then for the past week I have been weaving back and forth on the track, warming up my tires.
Despite a whirlwind of moving, packing, good-byes, and good riddances (for those who bemoan the Disneyland-ification of New York City, fear not: rodents of reputation yet roam free), I managed to find myself at JFK, early and with my head screwed on straight. Muchas gracias to Dan, Sara, and Jim for hosting my little hurricane; muchisimas gracias to Lorena for so generously driving me to the airport. After a pleasant flight next to a jet-setting cosmopolitan theater director who makes Jason Bourne look positively settled, I blundered my way from the Milanese airport to the train station. Weighed down like a one-man nomadic village, I wandered towards that venerated Italian eatery, McDonald's, to meet up with Mark. Dropping my bags, I noted that I was dirty, tired, and definitely in Italy.
A tap on my shoulder and a voice, "Excuse me. I'm looking for Ray Finkle - and a clean pair of shorts." It could have been me looking for a clean pair of shorts as I was surprised to beat the band. David H., a friend from high school who now lives in Geneva, had come down to surprise me and succeeded. Ah, Europe. Together we left our bags with Mark, explored some of the highlights of Milan, and bought lots of designer shoes.
Happy hour found us meeting up with Mark, some of his colleagues, and one of his teammates from the baseball team. In the large Italy v. USA battle upon which I am sure to comment with frequency and wit, Italy wins stage 1: the bar offered aperitivo, which translates loosely as appetizer but here usually means a spread of free food put out by the bar to attract drinking customers. Salmon, various pasta salads, grilled vegetables, bread - no peanuts and stale cheese puffs this.
Saturday, Mark, David, and I spent the day and evening in Parma, where Mark spent two summers andwhere I visited him in 2004. While justifiably famous for the foods of its region, Parma seems under-visited, especially when compared with its bigger sisters Bologna and Florence. It is a charming city and often ranks high in national ratings for its quality of life. After wandering and eating and sipping espresso and snapping a few photos, we drove out into the country outside Parma to a birthday party for one of Mark's former teammates. As is usually the case, I was heartened to see some familiar faces from my first visit to Italy. Because of Mark's four summers here playing on two welcoming and hilarious teams (about whom you'll here much more in the future), he is greeted by many like a prodigal son across the region. That also has to do with Mark, and I get to ride his coattails. Generous and gregarious friends, tables of food, coolers of drink, karaoke, stars in the sky (or was that my eyes?).
Sunday, Mark, David, and I went for a run on a local road that wends out from town into the countryside. Here is a video Mark posted on his blog this spring that will give you a sense of my new favorite running route. The fields are now mostly full of corn and the air smells like growing.
The rest of the week I did what most Italians are doing this month: I relaxed. For the first time to such an extent, I have more time than I know what to do with - it has taken some getting used to but I think I am improving. I read, I go to the piazza to sip espresso and watch the world go by, I try to read the newspaper, I go to the grocery store, I nap, I wonder when offices and stores will open again, I sip espresso, I nap, I explore on bicycle the town and countryside, I take photographs.
Oh, and now I write a blog. Stay tuned for more.