The train. I catch it at Firenze, Santa Maria Novella. I am meeting my best friend and her boyfriend in Venice for the weekend. Cell phones are unreliable and expensive to use here so I know I may have to sit and wait somewhere and just hope they find me. I am half excited by this and half irritated with how reliant I have become on technology. We used to wait for letters to come in the mail. We made plans to meet places and would hang around until the other person arrived. There was no sending a text to say I’m five minutes away. We used pay phones and AOL instant messenger, we passed paper notes in class. I thought I was pretty cool when I got a pager in the 6th grade. I think I used it twice. For emergencies incase my parents needed to find me. My friends just used it to send pages with the number “55378008”. For those who remember it says “BOOBLESS” if you turn it upside down.
My new friend Omri refuses to take selfies with the screen facing him. It’s cheating, he says. He’s my age. It’s nice to have someone around that can laugh with me about this without pausing to make fun of how old I am, making me feel like one of those grandmas who starts by saying “Back when I was a kid,” or “In my day.” Things have changed is all. Others don’t remember. We do. We laugh about the disposable cameras we used to use for selfies, the ones you had to drop off to be developed and wait a few days to pick up the prints. Then you and your friend would split the stack, pin pics to your cork board or put them in that clear bit on the front of your binder at school, tape them up inside your locker, make each other collages by cutting them up with scissors and glueing them to paper. There was something fantastic about how tangible it all was. There was something personal about one of your friends making a collage of pictures from summer camp and then making color copies so that everyone who was there could have one. Now we have snap chat and Instagram. And now I feel ancient.
I fall asleep on the train. It’s a two hour ride. I can’t keep my eyes open. Not a lot of sleep last night and the movement lulls me to sleep. It’s something like being back in the womb. I don’t know. I’m the same way in the car. More than thirty minutes and I’m out.
I set an alarm for ten minutes before my train is due to arrive. I wake up feeling refreshed. It’s hotter outside than it was when I left in the morning. I pay one euro to use the bathroom at the station and change into a sundress and a baseball cap and sit outside on the steps facing the water. I wait. It’s getting late and I don’t trust that they will find me or that I understood the meeting place. I give in and call. They are on their way. I read a bit more of the Dharma Bums with the sun hot on my face. My friends find me and stroll up like it is just another day. A giddiness comes over us. We are on the other side of the world. We are in a place we have talked for years about seeing together. It feels surreal.
We sip champagne at a waterside cafe. They sit on the same side of the table across from me like two proud parents. I order a salad. They’ve already eaten. They watch me lovingly as I eat and tell them what has been happening in my life. They beam as they tell me they watched my scene from final scene day at Tisch on a big screen at their place over and over. She tells me she is proud of me. My chest swells with joy and pride and sisterhood and a knowing that there is a person who understands what this year has been and meant for me. She was there back then, when it was all just an idea. We have picked each other up off the pavement more than once.
She bought rounds of drinks for everyone at the bar the week I found out I’d been accepted to NYU and went around telling everyone my news. She bought a plane ticket to Italy as soon as I mentioned my plans. She was the first person to visit me in New York after my mom moved me in. I could not be more grateful for her friendship.
We cheers over and over. We can’t stop laughing, smiling. We order another round. I can tell she is tired with jet-lag but she doesn’t let it slow her. We eat gelato. We sample limoncello from a skinny girl outside a store who tells us we are classy and we giggle and dance a little in the store while her man buys a bottle of the lemony drink.
We take a water taxi to the apartment they are renting for the weekend. It’s the last stop on the taxi. It takes about an hour and we stand along the rail and enjoy the view as the sun makes it’s way down. We get off and swerve through tangled streets and up over bridges that connect the canals. I feel I am following an animal to its den underground. I could never find my way back. I am trying to picture my friends searching for their apartment in the rain yesterday, walking all the way from the station with their luggage because the water taxis were not in service. Up and down steps and over bridges and trying to find a place that seems to be hidden away inside a maze of canals and alleys. An ordeal. Though they were laughing now.
We get to a small courtyard and she opens an ancient door and we climb flights of cement steps to their apartment for the weekend. It’s small and perfectly european. The building is hundreds of years old and the shutters have worn green paint but all the furniture inside is modern and white. You can almost see the layers of living that have occurred in this space, like rings around a tree.
Lindsey lays down for a nap. Nick and I find some coffee in the cupboard and make espressos with one of those little european pots on the stove and we drink them from tiny white cups as we sit out on the balcony so I can sneak a cigarette.
The coffee doesn’t do much in the way of giving me energy. I go inside and lay down in the bed with Lindsey. We sleep while Nick goes to the store for wine. He wakes us at 8pm and tells us he knows just the spot for dinner, a local joint where he saw all the gondoliers eating, and thus figures it must be authentic. We smile and nod sleepily.
He lays down on the bed beside us, all of us on our phones for a while, showing each other funny videos and pictures of friends and the life we have been having since we have last seen one another. Lindsey gets up and goes to the bathroom to start getting herself ready. She comes back a moment later, Nick and I arm to arm giggling at a video on my phone, she gets a little sentimental, tells us how happy she to be with the two of us in this moment, two of her favorite people in one place, she says. We all scatter into the kitchen before one of starts to cry. Nick pours us glasses of red wine. The covers for the couch cushions are missing because he spilled wine on them last night and then poured salt everywhere to absorb it. We laugh at this and head out for the night. Even at night the water in the canals shines with an unbelievable green.
We find the restaurant and as promised it seems to be only Italians inside, not stuffed with tourists. We ask the man behind the bar for a table and he says yes but that we will need to wait as he hands us slices of prosciutto to snack on and glasses of white wine in teensy glasses. We don’t mind waiting.
We sit down and decide we will just order a number of things that sound good and share everything. We eat spaghetti and clams with butter dripping from our chins, gnocchi, a cheese platter, an extra rare steak. We stick our forks into each other’s plates and swirl up bites of heaven without pausing to speak. The food is too good to waste time on conversation. We all seem to understand this. Arms cross the table grabbing at bites and using pieces of pasta to smear sauce. We wash it down with a liter of red house wine. When the waiter comes by we all smile and nod at each other and order another plate of spaghetti and clams. It was the dish that disappeared the fastest. We eat a second round of it and then share tiramisu for dessert. We drink espresso.
Next we find a wine bar and sit down at a table. The ceiling is covered in sun flowers and wine bottles hang from it. Nick drinks beer from a giant glass boot and we make a little video of the boot walking across the table in slow-mo. We laugh. Lindsey and I sip red wine and we are off to our final stop of the evening.
We end up getting swindled by one of the men selling roses on the street. He says he is done for the night and offers them to Lindsey and I and we take them foolishly. The man turns to Nick for money and he feels bad and offers the man more money than he ought to and we all feel a little silly and tourist-like. We leave the roses on someone’s doorstep and every time another man comes near us with flowers we all shake our heads and say never again, still feeling a little ashamed of how easily we were taken for a ride.
We head to a bar that Nick and Lindsey have already deemed their “local bar” because it’s around the corner from the apartment and they visited last night after their trek in the rain. It’s a tiny thing on a cobblestoned corner, there are all of about 3 barstools and all the doors and windows are open to create an indoor-outdoor experience. It feels more like a bar built into that corner of the street than an establishment, like it could fold up and disappear like a circus tent leaving only a memory.
Nick orders a beer and the slightly drunk blonde bar tender pours the wrong one. Nick mentions it and she tells him to shut up and drink and thumps it down in front of him and then starts to pour the one he originally asked for. We like her already.
A few men carting roses pop by and we talk with new friends, breaking from conversation to shake our heads and say never again, more of a reflex now, and then carry on with conversation.
We wobble home around 2:30am curving around streets and alleys. Lindsey seems to know where she’s going and Nick and I are amazed. It’s dark inside the door to the apartment building and we all light up flashlights on our phones and make the climb to the top floor.
We drink a little more wine at home but mostly I just hold the glass. We make the fold out couch into a bed for me and the three of us sit in it for about an hour laughing at I can’t remember what and teasing Nick for spilling drops of red wine onto the sheets each time he chuckles.
Time for bed and I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth and by the time I come out they are asleep and Nick is snoring. I climb into yet another bed and find the most glorious night of sleep I have had since arriving in Italy. Perhaps it’s knowing they are next door that allows for this. The comfort of their presence allows my mind to rest.
In the morning I creep into the shower quietly and then dress for a quick breakfast and a train back to Florence. I jump into their bed like a child waking their parents as I hear them begin to stir. It’s familial. I lay next to Lindsey as we are all busy on our phones taking advantage of Wifi before heading out for the day.
We eat a light breakfast of croissants and coffee in a little cafe and they walk me to the water taxi and tell me which one to get on and I say goodbye. It feels too soon but I know I will see them in Florence in just a few days. As the boat pulls away I miss them already. I am reminded that I am alone.
I read on the train back but I can’t stay awake long. Even with a full night’s sleep I can’t avoid the train’s lullaby. I wake in Florence with no idea how to get back home and since I am already in town I figure I will wander a bit and get some lunch.
I sit down and order a coffee and a salad at a cafe which turns out to be called the Bermuda Triangle Cafe. A sign. I suppose I will be changing my ticket after all and taking advantage of an offer to stop in Bermuda for a while before heading back to California. See to what we started back in New York. Find out what it is. What we want it to be. Butterflies ripple through my stomach at the thought of this. But it’s too strange that I walked into a cafe in Florence to order a tuna salad only to find out as I attempt to use the Wifi that the name of it is The Bermuda Triangle Cafe. Call it superstition or something but sometimes these things really feel like road signs to me. I’d been on the fence but now I text her immediately and tell her that I am coming.
I eat gelato. I walk around the city a while and start to journey home to the villa with no real idea of where I am going, just a general feeling. I get a little lost but I enjoy it and I am pleased with myself when I find my way back to Piazza della Liberta because I know how to get home from there. I walk through the gates of Villa Natalia feeling that I have been gone for a very long time. But going away has made this place feel home-like.