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Italy

        There’s a mama and her boy across from me; on his feet happen to be the tiniest, cutest pair of Crocs I ever did see. I stare at and study their tininess. Breaking in stare I immediately have an urge to get back on my phone, an urge that I fight because literally everyone around me in the airport is on theirs. I want to be on mine too, but it turns out that I’m self-righteous and the whole phone addiction phenomena freaks me out. ‘At ease, soldier,’ I think. ‘Take a knee, kid.’ After thinking this, I Google where the phrase “at ease” originates. Yeah, I know; hypocrites are the worst. At ease, soldier.

Melted cheese and dough and pepperoni are released from a box she opens, the smell rises like a little airport Pizza Hut genie—she takes a bite, and mmm is the sound she makes. A McDonald’s cup raises to lips over there, a sucking noise following, filling what becomes a cola-stained straw. Pretty pink shirt over there; sagging pants over yonder. I notice a pilot drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee and I think, you better stay awake, m’fker. On my way to L.A. from Denver International, all of us are here, waiting for planes, and none of us are talking to one another. Surely, some of us would like to chat to some degree. Each having a story they’re living, stories to share. Me, with these stained shoes over smelly socks, this other guy beside me with his faded tattoos on his forearms, and then across from us there are hot-pink toes in sandals. 

        From Denver I get into LAX, and once there, come to find out my flight’s been delayed for five, irritating hours. There’s not much to do in airports so we must get creative in these times, so I choose to sit down and have a glass of wine that turns into a bottle of wine as the time goes, which will be too much wine that my future self—SUCKA!—will come to find out. I meet a guy from Lithuania who flies around setting up weed grow houses and we chat with a girl from L.A. who lives in San Fran now; our bartender is from Peru. I buy a banh mi sandwich to save and eat before boarding, which, unlike most of my sandwich experiences, sets off an uncomfortable self-consciousness; thinking that I must stink, and pretty bad mind you, I look to the guy next to me to impose blame for perhaps having shit himself. It turns out to be the overbearing sandwich stench escaping from the bag. Well I know a thing or two about sandwiches, so I go ahead and eat it. Things quickly veer towards the ‘aw fuck’. I go totally ill shortly after boarding, keeping this wine and sandwich—that I envision making nasty, funky love in my belly—at bay, until we’re in the air. I’m sick the entire ten hours of the flight, running back and forth from my seat to the John. The flight attendants, to my benefit are plenty kind, motherly even. One attendant gives me a juice pouch you puncture with a straw, then some 7up and crackers, and another gives me a blanket I use to cover my head with for however many hours; on and off, on and off. At one point, while blasting through the air at 40,000 feet, with my face in the toilet, hurling up the juice, the 7up, and the crackers, I grumble to myself, “that was sweet of her.”   

I land in Copenhagen for what was supposed to be an hour or so for a connection flight, but turns out I have to spend the night due to the delay. I feel absolutely terrible. I don’t get to experience the country other than a short walk to my hotel room that the travel agency pays for and two airport smoothies that I pay too much for. In the morning, back in the airport, sun pours through blinds in the flight gate windows, shiny in Scandinavian hair, sun on Copenhagen height, these profoundly impressive genes they seem to conjure here. There’s enough golden hair and light skin to go around, yet there are plenty of immigrants too, including myself, people from all over the world, ciphering through this Denmark airport. I’ll have to return whenever I can.

 Rome:  

        Could be the North American adoption of the Roman Empire’s ways, or the history documentaries I’d seen as a kid that portrayed the ancient Greeks, later the Romans, both civilizations having held my attention ever since; whatever it be, after landing in Rome, straightaway, I have a sudden feeling of home. Getting on my bus to Lazio, the region I’m staying in for three days with a lovely native woman named Roberta–the trimmed stone pines, the maritime pines, the Aleppo pines, all scattered over rounded hills–the feeling seems to boil: home. I say this with reluctance for taking the risk of sounding naive, since really I’ve called quite a few places home by now. The easiest answer: Rome rhymes with home. That ain’t it, though. I have blood from this part of the world and my main purpose for traveling here is familial related. Nearly a hundred years ago, one side of my family emigrated from Italy, mainly from Sicily, though Naples is a spot where family blood once settled and distant relatives remain. On the trolley ride to my bnb we pass an ancient aqueduct that remains intact, running high above the streets. Relics like this are scattered throughout the entire city, many being thousands of years old, and those that are only hundreds of years old remain the inner walls of which people live, or run their businesses from. Style oozes from every direction. The street patterns are the foundations of which western culture took the blueprints for our towns and cities. Democracy, the senate, our armies; too much to name. The art of Michelangelo, or Bernini, the inventions of da Vinci, the food cooking along the streets, or the powerful—and I never use this word—utter sublimity from experiencing St. Peter’s Basilica; the philosophies created, their components consisting of an influx of information adopted from and built on from the remnants of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Etruscan’s and beyond. There’s little that I could articulate about Rome’s history that has not been done already, so, pictures:

     

      Sicily: Catania, Taormina, Palermo

        When it rains in north eastern Sicily, the water goes straight underground, leaving the land with few to no lakes or rivers; Mt. Etna’s ash swallows it up. Chestnuts and oranges, olives, wine-grapes, almonds, pistachios; all are grown on ancient volcanic soil. “Prickly pears, too,” a woman says to our guide on our tour: prickly pears were imported here from Mexico, brought by the Spanish during their reign over the region. Sicilian history, aside from it’s geographical location and natural beauty, is what makes this place a Mediterranean Wonder. Sicilian culture, in nearly all aspects, has formed from the influences of varied people from different places. Northern African Phoenicians, Muslim societies, Greeks, Spaniards, the Normans, the Romans; all have conquered Sicily. All have changed the culture by becoming a part of it. This perpetual conquering over thousands of years took its toll. In the late 19th century the struggle for self-governance would soon form into a fist among farmers and private land owners, driven by a lack of police personnel and high poverty and rising crime rates, eventually inciting private groups to form into more or less gangs, and with time morphing into an organization more powerful than one could’ve imagined in the beginning, it’s name being the Cosa Nostra, or as most know it, the Mafia, which was born in Sicily. And yes, they still exist here.

I found olives marinated in oil with spices abundant in all directions, gelato more so; olive oil and freshly made tomato sauce with basil and fresh mozzarella. Seafood from urchins to sardines to swordfish. Yes, the largest active volcano in Europe; she stays hungry, growling all year, smoking from her lips even at this moment; her name is Etna. Dinner plates in Taormina streets clang approaching midnight, and bottles smash in the a.m. poured into trucks from trash bins for recycling. The beauty of the Taormina coastline makes it obvious as to why so many who had the resources and mentalities to conquer, did so here. In the night you hear music, my friends, wonderful music. We have coffee granitas and fruit granitas. We have granitas and cappuccinos with brioche at a place called Bam Bar three or four different mornings while in Taormina. One night, my sister has gnocchi soaked in heavy cream and butter with pistachios, something she shared with reluctance to a groveling husband and jealous lil brother. Gnocchi with Bolognese sauce I order another night; gnocchi once more, this time with a four cheese sauce that solidifies on the plate in downtown Palermo, as one can only presume this sauce congeals the same inside my arteries. Pasta with eggplant and red sauce we share at a winery; we devour the freshest cheeses, tomatoes, olives in olive oil, and toasted brioche. And the vino, my friends. Vino.

♫  Oh, gelato, gelato…

My cannoli y cannoli y ca-nno-li; 

Give me focaccia; fo-ca-ccia!; 

granita, cappuccino, 

give me brioche ♫

        Food from the sea to the plate, intestines cooking on street grills beside octopus and skewers of other innards; olives and meats and cheeses and wines and beer and pastries and tomatoes, the likes of our chubby, foodie dreams. Prego, my friend… Grazie… Ciao, my friend. Arrivederci.

        We meet a distant relative named Salvatore, and a true gentleman we come to understand him to be. Salvatore is an architect, recently retired, though he remains busy. Busy today driving us to Monreale, a city perched over Palermo, their cathedral full of mastery in mosaic and lined in gold, built during the Norman reign with a Byzantine influence. He takes us through the relics of Palermo: the Greek amphitheater, Arabic churches; the Quattro Canti that represents the four seasons, the four Spanish kings, and the four patronesses of Palermo, all in stone. We ride through Mondello beach. We spend four hours driving with Salvatore, a man we have only just met, who speaks no English, driving three people who speak no Italian; somehow, we manage through some pidgin, familial language of hand motions and eye contact, here and there references to Google Translate, and familiar sparks of Italian that resonates with the Spanish we recognize tied to their shared history springing from Latin. We were people trying to communicate to other people, and not only did we succeed in this while in Sicily, but we danced our way through it.

Prego, my friend; grazie; ciao, my friend. Arrivederci…

Arrivederci.

 

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