Seeing: a few sleepers in a vacant airport, a plentiful appertivo buffet, the empty roads to Dublin in the middle of the night, the dirty Arno, a baby in a sweater more fashionable than the one I brought
Hearing: PA announcements in several languages, construction, an orchestra swelling over the dialogue of Fellowship of the Rings, shouts outside from tourists and Florentines
Feeling: cold air seeping in through the tunnel to my terminal, restless legs as I struggle to stay awake, a light rainfall, irregular cobblestones under my feet, sweaty under all my layers, dehydrated
Tasting: marble cake, smoked herring, white chocolate-pistachio and black cherry gelati
Smelling: petrol, green tea, a full Irish breakfast being cooked at 4 a.m., the WC on a high-speed train, the stadium which smelled like a public WC, a little bit of weed
Check-in after arriving at Dublin Airport was a pain– I was three hours early so I needed to use the machines since no one was at the desk at 2 a.m., and that took a couple of tries to get right. I helped some people who were also struggling, one of whom was also an American living in Ireland who seemed surprised to learn that m passport was, too, American. She was quite a character, very boisterous and with a loud Boston brogue. “You’re the best,” she told me after I figured out that we were supposed to put the passports face-down under the scanner instead of up. “These machines are too high-tech for me.” After spending maybe an hour in what felt like purgatory (everyone silent and half of them asleep, the jackhammers singing away in the background, the McDonald’s being the only thing open), I realized I could probably proceed to security. I encountered the Bostonian again and she remarked upon the Hasidic Jew that we passed, an unusual sight in Dublin Airport according to her. Security was just beginning to open as I approached. They were surprisingly friendly and patient.
Boarding and flying to Frankfurt went pleasantly. I was asked very, very politely if I wouldn’t mind moving so that two people who were traveling together could sit next to each other. I didn’t mind much. People have done the same for me on train trips; I know how important it can be to travel with your companion.
After landing I felt predictably disoriented but I figured I could use a green tea to pass the time. I settled down at a nice bar (that wasn’t ridiculously overpriced either) with my drink and furiously scribbled down some poetry and lyrics. Then I got up and strolled towards my gate; as I still had plenty of time before my flight I decided I’d better have brunch. The menu had matjes– smoked herring filets, but literally translating to “little buddies”– and I hadn’t had any since living in Belgium. I could have gotten something equally German and a little less expensive and more likely to sit well with me through travel, but nah. I was gonna go big or go home, and I certainly wasn’t going home now.
Once arriving in Bologna I absentmindedly followed signs to the shuttle meant to take one to Florence, then remembered that I had a train ticket and was supposed to take a bus to that station. My platform was the deepest underground there was. Once I got on, I was a bit confused about where to sit, but I overheard some passengers talking in French in between carozzi, and they explained which number on my ticket meant the carozza number, seat number, etc.
The ride didn’t smell great, but it looked and felt clean enough and was only a half hour. Once arriving, that’s when my journey hit a small hitch. I had told Corrina my train’s departure time, but not the arrival (although she could probably figure that out) or where we’d meet. Texting and calling didn’t seem to work on either my Irish iPhone or American Android, and I couldn’t connect to wi-fi. I tried to use a payphone but it was a mess and I couldn’t figure out how. I’m surprised at how calm I remained through this part. I figured I’d just do a slow, thorough walk-through of the station and look for her, and eventually I received a call from a private number and we happened to be in the same room! We made our way over the crowded, rocky cobblestones to her apartment.
Corrina’s apartment was frickin beautiful. Right in the city center on the River Arno, it looked like a historial site inside and out, with its high ceilings and fireplaces and marble slab kitchen sink. I had the couch in the den to sleep on, which had a great view of the cloudy turquoise Arno and the tourists that flowed alongside it. Today was the 40th anniversary of the flood, and there was a small plaque in the foyer showing the water line.
Our first order of business was to go out for appertivo– a style of dining/drinking/going out/socializing in which you pay for a drink and get an all-you-care-to-eat buffet. Now, get ready for a hedonistic blazon of graphic imagery.
This buffet boasted crostini and fried polenta, which I dipped in yogurt or tomato sauce or spread with ricotta. Black bread with herbs and olives (dyed with squid ink?) that I’m pretty sure strengthened my life force. Generous spears of pickled carrots, zucchini, and onions that were guided missiles towards my brain’s pleasure centers. Two kinds of tender pasta both full with vegetables and olives– penne rossa and another whose name I can’t remember, but was shaped like a razor clam and plenty creamy. The penne had pork belly in it but I was lax on my pescetarianism this weekend. A warm rice salad with plenty of vegetables. Dough balls that I was sure were battered mushrooms but indeed were fluffy dough through and through. Squares of a baked egg dish speckled with cheese and egg– something else I did partake in a little. Slices of meat– salames and some pale cuts drizzled in a dark sauce. Potatoes Florentine, a regional specialty I’d forgotten to add to my list and hadn’t heard of until fairly recently. They’re irregular chunks of new potatoes olive-oiled up, salted, herbed, and baked until a golden crisp I didn’t think existed outside of food pornography.
The plates were tiny, so of course we had several. There’s something about a buffet that makes you feel unsatisfied in that you’ll never know if you’ve had “enough” of anything until you’ve had too much.
Corrina’s roommate Simone dined with us. We each had a special diet in common which we were putting aside for some time– Simone was a vegan back home but was vegetarian here since cheese is ubiquitous and pasta is made with eggs. Corrina was pescetarian but decided to take a break for the year so she could try the meats. And I’m a pescetarian who is determined to try regional/seasonal specialties. It was cinghiale (wild boar) this weekend at the recommendation of one of my favorite internet personality chefs, Frankie Celenza. Another thing we had in common was the long-distance boyfriends, sigh.
Unfortunately Simone’s ticket for the concert Corrina and I were going to was Saturday night, so we split off from her to get some gelato and then head to the stadium. I don’t know how I managed to eat a decent-sized portion and still not feel stuffed like ravioli. But travel always throws off my eating habits, and this time it did especially with being up for a very long time and the previous day’s anxiety.
I learned that the mark of a good gelateria is the flat gelato. If it’s piled high, it’s not fresh and the keepers just throw yesterday’s old stuff on top of the new. The place that we went to was the legit stuff. I tried ordering in Italian since the names were so beautiful and felt smooth on the tongue. The shopkeeper was hesitant to accept my twenty, my smallest bill, for something that cost 2.50 because of the 50-cent piece, but Corrina the angel so kindly covered me.
The walk took about a half hour and involved some getting lost, but we followed the nerdy-looking young adult Italians with perfect English and ended up there eventually. The seats were the uncomfortable plastic European kind that didn’t fold and whose back was concave so that if you leaned back slightly it would dig into your lumbar spine. The orchestra had a large choir and a children’s choir. The latter was present on stage throughout the show even though they only sang during the second half. “Little fucking freeloaders,” Corrina called them. But we were also impressed with how well-behaved they were sitting up there past their bedtimes through a foreign film whose subtitles many of them couldn’t read.
The film’s Italian subtitles may have been part of the reason the music sometimes swelled over the dialogue, but I didn’t mind terribly. I’d seen it before, although not the second half of the second half.
I was struggling with all my might to stay awake despite the excitement of the concert and movie, so my seat was fidget central. Yay for RLS. Corrina’s friends found us for the second half, and one of them, Jamie, had a partner Frederico who so kindly drove Corrina and I to her apartment. Frederico also just happened to know her boyfriend, Isaac, who was going to visit on Tuesday. Small world! Frederico drove with plenty of Italian passion (road rage) and even insisted that we use his umbrella for the single-block walk to her door in the light rain.
I got into some sweatpants and a t-shirt, and I think I fell asleep as soon as I lay on the couch.