Melancholy

Florence and Milan
December 2005

On my last morning in Florence, the stragglers from the Rick Steves tour prepare to go their separate ways: Rome, Venice, back home. Two women at breakfast talk about a woman on the tour who sulked and blew off their friendly questions on the first day. “It’s too much,” the woman told them. She seemed stand-offish. The contract said, “no grouches.” Only happy, upbeat, outgoing people. Rick’s people.

I understand this woman. Sometimes you travel alone to escape your life. You need to be where nobody knows you, or your problems. You crave anonymity and distractions. You can put up with cold, rain, a million Jesus paintings, if you can only have a good glass of wine, some authentic cooking, and one moment’s peace. And maybe things will seem clearer. Maybe they won’t. Maybe you will have fun along the way. People have their own reasons to travel. Sometimes people surprise you. Like the Frenchman on the train to Napoli, comparing the Iraq war to the war he fought in Algeria, and the English woman I had dinner with one evening in Milan, who’d just lost her husband. She seemed so happy to talk to anyone.

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River Arno, Florence

Milan salvages Italy for me like Filippo Inzaghi’s injury time goal over Lecce at the San Siro (2-1). The snow dies off, and day breaks: Sforza Castle and the Brera gallery, something resembling modern art, “Il Bacio” (the kiss) by Francesco Hayez, and “Malinconia,” a haunting picture of a woman who could be any woman I’ve cared about. DaVinci’s science museum. My last day, Monday, when the museums are closed, I wander the working city. I have lunch in the office workers’ cafeteria for three euros, people-watch the pretty Italian women, Melissa P’s older sisters, browse department stores for souvenirs. In the end, I have gelato. It’s negative five (-5) degrees and I have gelato. Because I won’t leave Italy without gelato.

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