When pleasures take you by surprise, they are so much sweeter.
Last night we attended a lecture in the rare book room at the Oliveriani Museum in Pesaro. I was not prepared to enjoy it so much. Not one but two notable art history scholars spoke. The discourse was learned, the vocabulary was specialized, and the velocity of the talk far, far, far exceeded my ability to decode. I understood a few words. When they said “because” I got that. When they said “and” I got that. “Book,” yup, I knew that word. And “therefore,” whereupon my heart leapt because often “therefore” signals the end of the discourse. Alas, these times it did not. At some point, the scholar held aloft an old tome, and Tizi leaned over and whispered, “She said that’s Umberto Eco’s favorite book.” Wow!
We were eavesdropping last night. We couldn’t help ourselves. And we were glad we did.
We were sitting outside at Biberius in Rimini, our second night in town. Our second night back in Italy. A guy sitting directly behind me was talking about a cook. He had two children, this cook. He was thinking about moving to London to work, this cook. And the guy on the phone was saying, What does he think life will be like in London? If he finds work, does he think he will make more money? Will he make that much more money? Does he want to live in London, where he doesn’t know anyone? This went on for a while. When he shifted to a new subject, the tone changed. He was moving toward ending the call. The word “polenta” came up, repeatedly.
Tizi is on the phone with a health-care professional up the hill, at the hospital in San Marino. It’s the day before our departure. Both of us have just tested positive for Covid. Over here they call it a tampone–the skewers that go up your nose and into your sinus cavities, swabbing around for evidence of the plague. We get our test at the pharmacy in Grotta Rossa, a little drive-through village between San Marino and Rimini. The pharmacist takes us, one at a time, outside onto the drive, turns us in the direction of the sunlight, and in go the tampone and out they come, and we walk, blinking back the tears, back inside to pay the 15 euros each. The pharmacist says she’ll have results in 15 minutes.
We’ve just finished a satisfying lunch. In Italy a post-prandial blast of espresso adds an exclamation mark to the experience. Lately she’s been taking her coffee “corrected.” With a dash of “mistra,” the local anise flavored grappa. Typically my wine intake at the table is higher than hers, so I finish with straight coffee. This day the server gets the two coffees mixed up. As soon as I toss it I know, Yes, this one was hers. And Yes, this is how I should be drinking mine. Correct.
Driving into Rimini the other night, I saw a road sign that made no sense. To me the sign said, like, Do something. Or possibly, Don’t do something. And do it, or don’t do it, soon after you see this sign. Maybe right way. I didn’t do anything. In so not doing, I figured I had a 50 percent chance of being right. This is my modus operandi. Don’t do anything, and don’t do it very slowly so you can change course if needed.
“Try,” I say. “You either hear something or you don’t.”
It’s 4:00 a.m. She wants me to hear a bird. I want to hear the bird. I get up and walk to the foot of the bed where there are double doors that open onto a balcony. We have the serrande lowered all the way to shut out most of the light and provide a little dead air space. Every morning, without fail, I hear a dove out there. Wherever I am in the apartment I hear the dove. Also a couple roosters will start up in another 30-45 minutes. I’ll hear those. But this bird, the one she has been remarking on the last few mornings, I do not hear.
As a small-town guy raised Protestant, I grew up thinking a carnival (“a carnival,” not “carnival”) was 3-4 trucks that came to town, driven by ruffians who set up a Ferris Wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, a House of Mirrors, and a few games like Ring Toss, Milk Bottle Pyramid, and the Basketball Shoot. Hey, there’s a carnival in Pinconning. Wanna go?
We’re short on time, not sure we can see both Murano and Burano, and make it to the train station on time. We decide on Burano. Which you reach by getting on one of Venice’s water buses, also known as a traghetto, roaring away from the main islands, past the floating cemetery, past Murano and its glass factories, 40 minutes across the lagoon.
Venice is a conundrum. For many, it’s a torture. For some, it’s an ethereal mysterious place that repays repeated visits.
In the summer it’s hot and humid. And in the summer it’s crowded, horribly so. And in the summer, rising from the canals, there can be a smell. Unlike American cities we love, take New York, for example, which is also hot and also crowded and also smelly, Venice is not perpendicular.
We are on a trail in San Bartolo, in what they call a “natural park.” It’s an area of rolling hills and stunning views along the sea above Pesaro. You drive up into it on a road called “the panoramica.” The term is apt. Our plan today, like most days, is to be active throughout the morning, work up an appetite, then have a big lunch. Nearby, in Marina Alta, is a seafood restaurant called da Gennaro. The da is like “chez” in French. It’s Gennaro’s place. The food is amazing, at a reasonable price.
Tizi and I arrive in San Marino on a Thursday afternoon, focus the rest of that day on getting heat turned on, hot water flowing. After 14 hours of travel, it would be nice to have a shower? From the need-to-do-right-away list, pick one and get busy. Mop the floors. Pick up the carcasses of the cimicie, local bugs that like to come indoors and die. Shake out sheets laid over a few pieces of furniture. And dust. Dusting is your new career. Launch the washing machine. Make beds. Look out the window to make sure everything is still there. Shaggy pine trees? Check. Mountain? Right where we left it. Elementary school? Check. Adjacent homes, castle, green hillside, park and dog run, construction cranes, vineyards? All checks.
So I guess the Maresciallo is still with us. It’s two years since we were last here. He’s two years older, two years harder of hearing. He and his wife are watching television tonight. When Tizi and I stand at the door of our apartment in San Marino, right next to his door in the foyer, we hear the bombast of a loony Italian game show next door.