Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
My flight took off on time with a cheery outlook on our arrival time. I was seated next to a nice, middle-aged lady who turned out to be a Cornell professor. We had a good discussion about studying around the world, traveling, and all sorts of things and then we each drifted into travel mode. I read some David Sedaris and watched a movie in Italian to get ready and then, suddenly, it was the middle of the night. So I tried to grab some shut-eye. I actually managed to sleep for an hour two in intermittent ten minute intervals. This made the trip go easier. I awoke in the morning (around 2 AM New York time) and watched as we flew over the Alps. It was absolutely amazing. We were just flying over your generic blanket of clouds, and then the mountains pierced through it for as far as I could see. I honestly thought about taking a picture.
Before long, we landed in Milan and headed off to customs. It was far from a stressful experience, taking about ten minutes all together. I had my first opportunity to use some Italian. An elderly fellow wandered up to me and asked in a heavy accent, “Delta? New York?” I then had to try to explain, that no I was not coming from New York, but Newark which sounds almost identical. So instead I just whipped out some Italian and directed the man to his baggage claim. It pretty much made my day. Then I found the shuttle to the stazione centrale di Milano. It was extremely cheap and the drive was very nice.
When I arrived at the station, I had seven hours until my next flight and decided that perhaps I would explore Milan a little. Unfortunately, several things were working against me. First, it was hot and I was carrying a fair amount of heavy baggage. Second, the area of Milan surrounding the station is unreasonably short on things to see. Third, it was Sunday, the day of the week when Italians don’t even pretend to work. Nearly all of the eight businesses anywhere near the station were closed. My options included two McDonald’s less than a block apart and a ristorante serving meals for about twenty five euro a plate. I returned to the station. Around this time, my body suddenly realized that it was five in the morning in New York and decided to punish me. My Italian and consciousness fading, I managed to buy a bus ticket from a little shop nearby and board the shuttle to Milan Linate Airport.
I then spent the next several hours drifting off in a metal chair and trying to order food and drink in my, by now, almost incomprehensible Italian. And now I’m writing this blog to kill the last of my time before I can check-in and head to Brindisi. I’m almost home.
It was a day just like any other, except that I was going to get on a plane to move to Italy for a year. Marina was kind enough to offer to drive me all the way to Newark (about an hour and half away) instead of sending me on the public transportation. It seemed like a great idea to me because I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to her yet.
We left early enough to drive to Newark and arrive three hours early to the airport. And then it happened; Jersey struck again. Without warning, we ran into an unreasonably large, unexplainable amount of traffic. Our hour and a half drive became three hours and we made it through the twisting maze of highways and toll roads a mere hour and a half before the departure time of my flight. We said hasty goodbyes and I rushed into the terminal, hoping that I could make it through security in time.
This, as I was about to find out, was the least of my worries. I rounded the corner to the international check-in and there seemed to be several hundred people just standing around. As it turns out, it was the line, and those people were numerous and slow-moving. After forty-five minutes, I made it to the front of the line, at which point I was finally able to see the sign that said “For international check-in, you must be here one hour prior to your flight.” Shit.
I spoke with an extremely helpful agent, and she was able to reschedule my flight for the next day and I ran to the nearby seats to try to contact Marina. Of course, I’d left my cell phone (worthless in Italy, helpful in Newark) with Marina, so I didn’t have a phone or her number. So I searched facebook until I found the phone number of someone who would have Marina’s number. Then I skype called until I was able to get it. I called Marina and she was only about half an hour away, stuck in traffic, surprisingly. She turned around a came to get me and we drove back to Connecticut. After seven straight hours of driving in New Jersey traffic, Marina was exhausted and stressed, so I made her some dinner. Shrimp, butter, and garlic, with a bit of salt and pepper of course. It was, I would say, simple yet elegant. We then spent a relaxing evening with Marina’s father and went to bed very early.
The next day, we took the train to Grand Central and Marina left me at the shuttle to Newark. It was, quite frankly, very difficult to say goodbye, but the friendly bus driver helped me out by yelling at me that it was time to go. I took the bus to the airport checked-in and made it through security without trouble. I then enjoyed my last American meal for a year; a burger with cheese, bacon, and onion rings. With plenty of time to spare, I sat around writing blog entries, like this one. And now, I have to go board my plane. See you later USA.
My New York adventure began with a lazy morning. Marina and I were up around 11 and grilled some burgers for lunch. We then caught a train to Grand Central Station. I was really excited to take some pictures on our approach to the city, but it turns out that you approach Grand Central underground, so my pictures left something to be desired.
We arrived in the city and walked out into the main concourse of the station. It was just like all the movies, I suppose. There were fewer people and they weren’t all wearing suits… but, more or less the same. We walked out, Marina pointed us in the right direction and we started walking. We saw some large buildings and eventually ended up in a cute little park. Then, suddenly, we were in Times Square… and it wasn’t that different from any New York street. It was a little wider and had more advertisements. All in all, it was pretty underwhelming. But, there was an M&M store. I have to admit, I was curious as to what that entailed. I thought it would just be an unreasonable amount of M&Ms, and I didn’t want to miss that, so we went in. Like I had expected, many of the walls were covered in giant tubes of M&Ms, sorted by color and contents, but, more than that, in a brazen tribute to our American consumerist culture, there were objects of every variety, shape, and size masquerading as M&Ms. Apparently, putting a face on a beach towel triples its value. I didn’t know this, but I do now and maybe someday I’ll take advantage of it. When we reached the third floor of the M&M store, we found the real money makers. Jewelry for upwards of two hundred dollars and “collectable items”, like a three thousand dollar bomber jacket made of lambskin and bedazzled with jewels.
To revive me from the shock of big city stupidity, Marina took me to Central Park, which is enormous. Marina estimated it to be about twenty-five miles long (which was later proven grievously incorrect). We wandered, enjoying the nature that seemed so real in the midst of Manhattan. Marina informed me that there were polar bears and a castle in the park, and, although I was skeptical, it seemed like a magical kind of place where that could happen, so I believed her (this Marina fact is still unverified. We saw the castle but polar bears are still a point of contention). We then proceeded to do some serious people-watching in the Sheep Meadow. I may post a more complete description at a later time, but believe me when I say, it was intense.
After what seemed like only minutes (it was more than an hour) we were torn from our anthropological studies by a previous obligation. We met up with Marina’s friend Kasey, a twenty year-old Chinese girl with a dry sense of humor and a penchant for meowing. Marina and I managed to convince Kasey to come out to dinner with us and the two girls lead me to Cafetasia (Cafatasia?). It was a nice little Thai restaurant with some serious mood lighting.
After dinner, Marina, Kasey and I went to an open mic night at a nearby music hall. Their friend, Dan (stage name Filippo) was performing he was pretty good and it was quite an entertaining evening. There were two comics who made jokes about suicide and child support. Neither was funny, but it was extremely uncomfortable for the audience. There were also two absolutely amazing acts; one girl who sounded exactly like Nora Jones, and a passionate French girl with an accordion.
When Kasey got tired shortly before midnight, Marina and I walked her most of the way home, then headed over to the apartment of Lauren, another of Marina’s friend, with whom we’d be staying. Lauren wasn’t home yet because she was working late, but she had left us her keys so we moved right in. Since it was still over ninety degrees, we quickly became acquainted with Lauren’s air conditioner, which we would later name Fanny. Marina and I bummed around the apartment until Lauren arrived. She had been at an art gallery opening and told us several important details. First, John Mayer and several other celebrities had been there. Second, she was exhausted. Third, there had been free wine and she was a bit drunk. According to Marina, Lauren can be a bit introverted, but she was very outgoing and she and I got along great.
Over the next two days, Marina showed me all around the city. We went to the castle in Central Park, we explored all sorts of little cafes and parks, and we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and cavorted on Wall Street. She also took me to see the main buildings of her school (NYU) and we went to the nearby Music Inn, a legendary music shop with hundreds of instruments I’d never seen before. It was amazing. We walked in an elevated park and down by the Hudson. I got to meet Marina’s extremely charming friend Jake, who later described me as “surprisingly nice”. We got along great.
Our last night in the city, Lauren joined Marina and I in the living room so she could sleep nearer Fanny, the air-conditioning unit and only hope for temperatures below ninety. We had a fun little sleep-over that highlighted the similarities between Lauren and me. To put it simply, she’s enough like me, and I like myself enough that we could probably be best friends.
The next day, after a dinner of a new dish named “Chicken with Bacon” (chicken, bacon , and Meunster cheese) and my best rendition of my mom’s cauliflower Dijon, we headed back to Connecticut. We arrived around midnight and crashed.