Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Concurrent Journey, part 1: A Homecoming, of Sorts

On May 28th, around 8am CET (2am EDT), Erin and I landed at Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO), where we kicked off a nine day vacation. Itinerary: Rome to Chiusi, Chiusi to Naples, Naples to Ischia and finally back to Rome. The primary destination was Ischia, to which we've never been, and where we passed the majority of our time.

Erin has been back twice since we moved back to Saint Augustine from Florence: once merely passing through and the other actually visiting friends. It was for me, however, the first return in just a solitary day short of 2 years.

My excitement was ever-present, yet quelled by the exhaustion of a red-eye flight in excess of 8 hours, exacerbated by the fact that I don't sleep on airplanes. Although it was my third trip to Italy, FCO is not a familiar place to me. Both previous times I entered by train; once from France, the other from Switzerland. Nevertheless, it seemed familiar: bustling, noisy with emphatic spoken Italian, rooms teeming with people trying get through customs without the slightest trace of a line... perfectly Italian!

We got through quickly enough, and then made our way to the connected train station. The first stop on our itinerary was Chiusi, to see our friends Amanda and Julian (and family). They moved to Chiusi in late 2006, and have fantastically restored a villa in the Umbrian countryside where they host painting holidays. If you're at all interested in an Italian sojourn, especially one with an art workshop, I highly recommend it. The setting is breathtakingly beautiful and serene, Julian is a both a gifted artist and an insightful teacher, and Amanda is an incredible cook. But I digress...

We had a problem with our train tickets, and so needed to speak with the cassiera at the ticketing booth. If you've ever had to deal with one of these workers, then you may have had an unfortunate first impression of Italians. They are almost unfailingly dry, unhelpful, and sometimes downright rude. If you've had a contrary experience, consider it anomalous. While living in Florence my Italian had reached a modest level of fluency and, in restrained conversation, was passable as native. This made such dealings much less painful. Naturally, my Italian suffered from being back in an all-English routine, but I have kept core parts in check. My reading and comprehension skills are about as good as they were, as is my thorough understanding of the grammar. My vocabulary has suffered more, and more still has my understanding of and ability to wield common idiomatic expressions. My accent remains mostly intact, while my spoken emphasis and mannerisms have regressed. As such, I was a bit nervous about my first encounter, especially since my conversation partner would be flatly unforgiving. In spite of all this, the exchange went surprisingly well. The cassiera was rude and unhelpful, and there were times when my nerves rendered my speech too soft, but it was an effective and satisfying reintroduction. To clarify, by "effective" I mean the Italian conversation. The actual goal - to change the interim station from Tiburtina to Termini - was met met with "Dovrai comprare un biglietto nuovo" ("You'll have to buy a new ticket"). Interspersed with sighs and rolling eyes, the result was as expected.

From that point the language returned rather quickly to me, in spite of my waning confidence. On the hop to Tiburtina, an Italian woman asked us if she was on the right train (for Ostia, if memory serves). This led to a conversation about why we were in Italy, why we could speak, where she likes to travel, and other light topics about which strangers on a train might chat. It was a thrilling conversation, ending when she bid us good travels as she got off at her stop. Again, it wasn't the subject of the conversation that was so thrilling, but the realization that I could still speak.

This began to evoke and conjure powerful feelings and images from two years ago; a time that feels to me so much more distant. It's this amalgam of memories from that time and experiences on this trip that I wish to explore and share; a new journey in and of itself.

Aspettate che c'รจ ancora da scrivere.