Part 2 – Trieste, Italy
This is my sixth trip to Italy and perhaps the fifteenth time to Europe over 24 years. Until the last few years I had rarely stayed in hotels while traveling. Fortunately I’ve always made friends easily. Friends with couches and spare rooms. Staying with friends has allowed me to temporarily “live,” if only for a few weeks or a couple months, in the places I’m visiting. When I was 16, spending a year in Denmark as an exchange student, my host family brought me with them to Italy for a business trip. It was the first time I was drunk in public. Not the last. Not even the first time I was drunk. That was one year before while in California at a family reunion. My liberal aunts and uncles kept secretly bringing the kids table bottles of cheap wine. I have a fantastic tape recording of myself and my cousin, Deanna, the only two actually drinking all that wine, with a guitar. It was long before I knew how to play. In the same way that passing by a bottle of Cold Duck at the grocery store makes me laugh, Italian food does as well. The part I remember most about the first trip to Italy was plate after plate of Italian pasta and glass after glass of Italian wine thrust in front of me. Eat, Eat! My host father’s handsome Italian business partner had the graciousness to ignore the host daughter, cross-eyed after the second glass, and kept pouring. To this day, the smell of pasta with clam sauce brings back memories of a night spent draped over a small Italian toilet. More on Italian toilets later.
This all to say that I love traveling and in particular visiting Italy. So, yes, absolutely, I’ve read the books, Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes and Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The latter was high on my list of things to do a few months ago in December 2008 while sitting on the beach in Puerto Rico, just beyond the walls of our five star Ritz Carlton Hotel. After years of couch-surf-travel, I was fully appreciating the luxury of stars, especially several. My husband was next to me, his head covered by a towel to block the sun as he emailed away on his crackberry. Odd, I remember thinking. He has been working so hard these past few months – nights, weekends. He’s always stressed now and his fuse so short. Nothing I do seems to help. I think to myself this must be what they call a rough patch. My wonderfully attentive husband had suddenly stopped asking me to marry him again every other week. We had been together 5.5 years and most of it had been a honeymoon. I didn’t know I could be so in love. However, since he returned from a conference in South Africa three months before, his work has become all-consuming.
So it was, Eat, Pray, Love that kept me company that day on the Puerto Rican beach. I had seen the book reviews and heard the buzz. I love travel stories and had been looking forward to settling in with this one. I’m an avid reader, but hadn’t picked up a book since my father had died four months earlier, then my husband’s godfather after that. I remember feeling grateful that I could concentrate again and that the sadness had finally lifted. Christmas would be upon us as soon as we returned home, and this blue sky and beach was only here for the moment. It was snowing back in Portland, Oregon. As I sipped on my mojito and sank into the story I remember turning to my husband and asking if there was a problem back at work. “No, nothing,” he said from under the towel. I tried to tell him about the crazy author who was sobbing on her floor because she needed a divorce. Even as I sat with my father’s body the day he passed I did not feel that kind of sorrow. I certainly cried, but I did not feel the gut wrenching pain this woman obviously did. Nor could I, quite frankly, relate to it. I continued through the book, noting to myself that the author was a bit nuts, but I loved experiencing her travel adventure and her laugh-out-loud wit.
One and a half months later, back at our comfortable home, I suddenly understood her. Right there on my own kitchen floor. I couldn’t get up, couldn’t stop sobbing, couldn’t breath, couldn’t think. My world was turned inside-out with one phone call from South Africa.
It’s May ’09, four months later now, and I’m here in Italy again – not with my husband as I was two years ago when we traveled to Santorini, Greece and then to Rome to visit Elisabetta. I’ve come here alone, avoiding the finalization of our sudden divorce. I’ve run away just like in the Italian TV news story yesterday. A bride from Trieste ran off with the limo driver right after the wedding pictures. She went to change out of her dress and jumped in the car with the driver instead. I wish I had been the photographer and caught that one. “Keep running,” I might have yelled.
I imagine all this as I gulp down espresso while standing, not sitting, in the café and begin my day.
I took a boat trip across the bay to visit the town of Muggia. With Google Earth you can be there too, although maybe not exactly in the same way I was. You won’t get rained on, nor will you hear the gravelly voice of the old man who has likely smoked for seventy years. The small streets in the center are just as you might imagine them, however. Narrow walking paths between buildings of raw sienna and ocher. Clothes strung outside the window shutters to dry in the fresh air. It’s 10:30AM by the time I arrive and a few locals sit in the cafes and bars. I wandering in and out of the streets looking for a good shot. I discover windowsills and doorways accented with stray cats and tall plastic bottles full of water. The bottles sit on the thin doorway steps, two or three per house. Water delivery? Water for outdoor plants? When I finally ask the reason I am assured that they are there to scare away the stray cats. Hmmm, not working.
On Packing: Never take my advice. I’m terrible at it. I always forget something, sometimes everything. For example, this time I forgot to bring my pants. Here I am, no long pants, no jacket. In my mind it’s always 80 degrees and sunny in Italy. In reality it’s been 91 and humid or 61 and raining as it was today. At least I brought good shoes, very important in Italy. You won’t believe the 4 inch purple heals I discovered on a woman yesterday. Yes, I photographed them, just for your viewing pleasure. Two weeks ago, when I was debating coming to Italy, I sent an email out to some of my girlfriends. Should I or shouldn’t I? Was I sane enough yet? Did I have enough money? Was it a crazy last minute idea and someone needed to bring me back to reality? My friend, Kim Brecko, replied with this, “What to think about except what shoes to bring?” I bought the ticket immediately.
On Photography: On good shoes, beauty and interesting faces. When you see it walking down the street – shoot it. You’re a hunter. Follow it, stalk it, run, skip or push a kid off of his bicycle to get to it. If it’s great and you need to have it in your little photographer hands – it’s almost always possible. Ask, don’t ask, it depends on the situation. I love shooting food and wine. I love it even more when I have something or someone interesting in the shot as well. For example, you’ll see two photos of the favorite local drink here in Trieste, “Spriz Apenol.” It’s a fabulous concoction of white wine or prosecco, mineral water, aperol or campari. Go ahead, try this one at home, kids. Here’s a demonstration. I’m already friends with the waiter at “Urbanis” sidewalk bar. Here’s how it works: he brings me a beautiful local drink and a wide variety of appetizers. I photography them wide open, meaning whoever is in the background becomes blurred, then consume them. Perfect! Then we start all over again.