Tuesday, March 17, 2009
My cell phone alarm did so off as scheduled. I showered, wolfed down a hasty breakfast and left my flat at 7. 30. I was on the Number 8 bus from outside my building at 7. 35 and at Victoria station at 8. 15. The bus was late—the first time Easybus has been late--but we managed to make up time and arrived at Stansted at 10. 10 am. All went well with my check-in and at 11.40, I was airborne and making my way across the United Kingdom on a delightfully clear day.
I had made friends with a former Cambridge academic named Dr. Paul Austin while waiting at the Gate to board and before long, we were chatting quite amicably. Because we both chose window seats, we had wonderful views of England from the air and I saw the white cliffs of Dover quite clearly indeed as the aircraft zoomed over the English Channel. The lines of the famous song, “There’ll be bluebirds over/The White Cliffs of Dover” came to my mind as the few puffy clouds skimmed over a blue and lovely sky.
Then we were eating up the miles over Normandy where the notorious beaches of World War II glittered beneath me as the plane climbed ever higher. When the landscape grew more blurred and distant, I turned to my book—Booker Prize winning novel The Sea by John Banville, a very slim paperback that made perfect travel reading. Set in Ireland--Northern Ireland, that is—it is a tender love story, very lyrically told, of a young man’s youth spent by the seaside with a woman he loved even as he recounts the slow death by cancer of his wife, many years later.
About an hour later, we were skimming over the Alps and the cloudless skies afforded some of the most spectacular views that I can remember from an aircraft. Most were thickly snow-covered, the conifers below the tree line pointing primly upwards. There were thin rivers and fat lakes gleaming softly in the early spring sunshine and tiny towns and settlements sprawling across their banks. Not for nothing has Europe remained my favorite continent! I was eager then to explore the Veneto and could hardly believe that I was returning to Italy exactly a year from the time last year when I had traveled extensively over it with my friend Amy Tobin.
Our Ryanair aircraft landed at 2. 25 pm local time (Italy is one hour ahead of the UK)—I had eaten my sandwich lunch on board and felt fortified to face the bus drive to Venice Central Station from where I would need to take a train to Vicenza where my friend Annalisa would be waiting to pick me up. Except that I ran into Paul Austin again at Immigration. He happened to have rented a car at Treviso airport, was driving to Lake Garda and was passing right through Vicenza. He very kindly offered me a lift which I gratefully accepted and by 4 pm, I was in Vicenza waiting at Cafe Maresco where Annalisa’s black Mercedes arrived in a few minutes to pick me up. It was a marvelous reunion with her after a year (we had last met a year ago in Venice) and a few minutes later, we were at her sprawling terrace flat that overlooks the lower Alps in the distance with their frosting of snow. At home, her sons, Giacomo (15) and Giovanni (11) renewed acquaintance with me and over a large cup of fragrant peppermint tea and Italian biscuits, Annalisa and I sat and had a very long chat and caught up with our lives.
While we were talking, she prepared a lovely pork tenderloin with rosemary and garlic and raddiccio from Treviso which she roasted. The meal was preceded with tortellini in delicious home made stock. Annalisa served me a gigantic portion and while I love Italian food dearly, I was afraid I would balloon out by the end of five days with her amazing home cooking. Giorgio, Annalisa’s husband, was also present at dinner and though he does not speak any English at all, Annalisa acted as interpreter.
I gave them the presents I had carried for them--London caps for the boys, English Tea and dark chocolate covered ginger biscuits for the adults and Series Seven of the Inspector Morse Mysteries to which, a few years ago, I had introduced the family who are now as firm fans of the opera-loving, beer-guzzling copper as I am. I chose Series Seven as it contains an episode entitled The Death of the Self which is actually set and shot in Vicenza. The boys were just thrilled with my gift and wanted to start watching Morse immediately. Annalisa told me that my choice of gift was “brilliant” and I truly felt as if I had made a very thoughtful decision indeed.
I went to bed in Giacomo’s room--he kindly lent me his room after moving into Giovanni's-- delighted to be back at Annalisa’s place in Vicenza and pleased to have quality time with time with her and her lovely family.