Just to warn you: by the time you read this column, I will be impossible. Not impossible in my usual “Move it, creep” manner, or my “Yes, I ride my bike to the S.U.V. jungle at the gym” moral superiority, or my laugh-out-loud-at-my-own-jokes obnoxiousness. This particular kind of impossible is going to be even worse. Because when this issue of The Bollard hits the stands, I will have just returned from Italy. Not only are John and I going to Italy, we’re going to be his cousins’ guests at their villa in Tuscany. There’ll be a couple private tours of wineries, two nights in Rome, and a lot of lolling about in his family’s olive groves. All I have to do is show up and say “Ciao Bella!” a lot.
Now, before you start getting all “Oh, I wish I was Elizabeth Peavey” on me, I first want you to consider what this trip is going to cost me — and I am not talking about the tanked-dollar-against-the-euro cost, though most savvy travelers wouldn’t dream of going to Europe at this time. (That’s OK. We’re spending our stupid economic-stimulus tax rebate abroad. After all, the government didn’t tell us whose economy we’re supposed to jump-start.)
No, I’m talking about all the other issues that trouble my febrile mind. For example, our lack of planning. I have many friends who are pros at trip prep. They read the books, check out travel sites, do the research, get the deals, learn the language and finagle honorary ambassadorships. By the time they land, they could run their own tours. By contrast, here’s what we did: We bummed a couple of guidebooks from our friend Dave, who also had to help us book our flights, and I purchased a phrase book for John’s Easter basket so we could learn such essential Italian as, Sei molto bello (You’re very attractive), Vuoi che ti massaggi la schiena (Would you like a backrub?), È stato bellissimo (That was great), Dove va? (Where are you going?), Mi servono delle pillole delgiorno dopo (I need morning-after pills).
And the week before we left, we rented Under the Tuscan Sun (it is a big man who will walk into Videoport on a Saturday afternoon and rent a chick flick), even though it has about as much Tuscany in it as Hawaiian Punch has Hawaiians. Seeing it did inspire us to walk around the house saying, “I’m just going to Tuscany to get my head together,” which cracked us both up. So it wasn’t a total waste.
There were further frets. Understand, I’m the type of person who can have a nervous breakdown leaving for an overnight. (I’m not even going to tell you how many hysterical pees it takes me to get out the door.) The moment we booked our flight, the “Wheel Of Worry” was set in motion. (To get the full effect, you must say this aloud, like “Wheel! Of! Fortune!”) Here’s how it works. Around 2 a.m., I am jolted by the thought of something I forgot to do during the day. I then work myself up into a frenzy, so I’m good and awake. When I’ve resolved the problem or simply exhausted it, the magic hand gives the wheel another spin and another worry comes up: getting bitten by a tarantula, having someone jack up our house and steal it while we’re gone, being sold into slavery at a train station when John’s not looking. (At least the aforementioned Italian phrases will come in handy.) Lest I start to drowse, there’s always the final bonus spin: “Where’s Your Wallet?” My wallet is almost always on my desk around the corner from the bed. But I can’t go check, because if it’s not there — well, you can imagine what follows. So I have to take another spin on the Worry Wheel to replace my wallet anxiety with something else. It can make for a long night.
(Still feeling all “Oh, I wish I was Elizabeth Peavey”? No, I didn’t think so.)
It was not always like this. During college and my twenties, world travel was nothing to me. It felt more like a birthright — or at least a consolation prize for growing up in Bath. And I will tell you, I could affect world weariness like no one’s business. For example, here’s a snippet I wrote while staying on the Riviera after returning from Crete via Italy in 1981: “Ah, to be back in France after rude, dirty, noisy Italy.” I guess it’s probably time to go back and give that country a second chance.
But here’s the thing: I know that travel-as-birthright attitude is going to come right back. When I get home, I’ll start swanning around town in giant sunglasses and scarf, à la Audrey Hepburn. (Maybe my friend Allison will even let me ride sidesaddle on the back of her scooter.) I’ll insist on two air kisses every time I say hello or goodbye to someone. And you’ll find me leaning with my forehead pressed against the meat case at Miccuci’s, lamenting, “Oh, for Giovanni’s Pecorino from Panzano. È stato bellissimo.”
That’s fine. I’ve had a hard year. I’m just going to Tuscany to get my head together.
Elizabeth Peavey is pleased to have her column back in print. It was lonely out there is cyberspace.