“Sittin’ in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination . . .”
Simon and Garfunkle
Venice, Italy – my destination – is at 45° 26 minutes north latitude. The 45th parallel in the United States runs through Yellowstone National Park and, coincidentally, forms the Boundary between Montana and Wyoming. That may explain somewhat the average daily temperatures for my first three weeks in Venezia: lows 38 degrees +/- 2. Highs 54 degrees +/- 3. By all reports researched prior to arrival, and the dictates of logic, it is a very wet cold. My report is that it has been very cold and wet – definitely a give you pneumonia kind of wet cold. When it’s 41 and raining and the Venetians have put out the walking ramps in anticipation of high tide and exceptional moisture, you feel the cold. It actually snowed today.
However, it is, relatively speaking, balmy weather. Being from Montana, it hasn’t phased me so much – though the damp cold does give one pause. The key issue before departure was: how does one pack? First, of course, “travel light”. That wisdom has been drilled into me through travels in 23 countries (if, as my good friend says, The Holy See can be considered a “country” – it is, according to international law, a “permanent international legal personality”). Well, I’ve violated the travel light principal so many times, that I can only say I have proven its truth.
I did, however, pack with Montana Winter Wisdom intact – layers upon layers, but not so many that lugging all that stuff around when it’s high, dry Mediterranean summer will make me curse myself too much. That whole issue of weight e.g. goods to be hoofed around is a prime topic for detail – boring detail; for who hasn’t encountered that particularly individual problem each time they travel? Suffice to say that 85% of my approach has been to add stuff that I would have to buy in Italy anyway and I can buy at CostCo without the intermediary of a Euro priced currently at $1.34. Yikes. No matter how cheap the place, that still represents daily costs one-third higher than my daily normal.
However, I weighed the duffle today – at least 32 lbs. Yikes. I’ll rue that many a step along the way. I’ll probably ditch some of the books I’ve got in and my file folders containing fodder for writing projects. That’ll reduce it 6-7 lbs – he said, oh so optimistically.
Actually, it turned out that there wasn’t all that much rueing. For, I am, if you examined my life even cursorily, eating an extravagantly leisurely meal at ‘Express de Lyon’, near the Gare de Lyon, in Paris. If you are just itching to know: it is the le Plat: Pove de Merlu a la Bretonne. The Entree is Assiette charcuterie a l’Estragon. The Entree was very much in the spirit of tapas in Espagne, very chewy, undercooked pork with baby dills (quite nice dillness, I might add). Average to good on most standards, underwhelming en France’.
All this after un viaggio normale: a Colorado shuttlebus through snow and roads such that half a dozen vehicles were off of them; the indignities of modern ‘security’; a flight over the big lake; a not long enough stop over in Reykjavík to claim a new notch country in the travel saddlebags, aeroporto Charles de Gaulle, Paris, RTR train to Gare Du Nord, RTR train to Gare de Lyon; check bags in an unusual but accessible process – especially if you remember what it is like to check your bags in NY or Chicago (forget it) – so as to enjoy a 7 hour layover that allows a bit of wandering and stretching of the legs; a wine shop (for the overnight couchette with three other ‘strangers’, “of mixed gender” – as only the French can warn); and a strong intent to return to a Boulangerie of particular interest.
City hordes do not change much, no matter the locale. Weather plays as much of a role in determining one’s sense of uniqueness in a particular place as language, architecture, etc. If it is Spring time in Paris, well, let’s just say you NOTICE this city – or at least you notice particular members of the species inhabiting it! Being early March, however, it’s only subtle clues that tell you where you are.
As cool, sophisticated, and coutoured chic as they surely are in The City of Lights, they – the women particularly, smoke incessantly. How couture it must be to kiss an ash tray – perhaps one is only to concentrate on kissing other, often remarkable, attributes – ah, the French way of love?
Two men of an uncertain, but assuredly greater age than I, are truly enjoying their conversation (friendship) at the table next. Being in French, et iz only sure they are enjoying each other.
Being a little too anxious for my own good, I retrieved my luggage way too soon, so I have spent several hours on a Gare de Lyon bench humming Simon and Garfunkle, during which I could have wandered Paris. Somehow, each time I travel I think I’ll learn my lesson, but at 64 the opportunities just aren’t gonna crop up like weeds anymore. As Socrates will continue to remind me, I have assuredly taken myself with me.
Continued . . .