Mourning becomes memory, part one

If the sixth and final stage of grief is acceptance, then being able to remember a departed loved one in their happiest moments might be a sign you've arrived at that final plateau of sorrow. At the very least, you are remembering that loved one when he or she was happiest, and good memories like these bring their own comfort.

   Carol has gotten used to me asking about Mike, so she might be a bit further along in the process of memory's healing grace.

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Lost and found

  The task this day was Salerno’s botanical garden known as the Garden of Minerva. I say “task,” because that’s what traditional sightseeing is to me. But this wasn’t as stultifying a sightseeing task as, say, a museum, cathedral, castle or Roman ruin. On the other hand, watching flowers grow is only one step removed from watching grass grow, paint dry or sitting through the start of the 2019 Cubs season. Also, taking a bit of the shine off the endeavor, Carol had armed us with a map and a bus route that would deliver us to the foot of the elevator that would then transport us atop the hill where the flowers and bushes were all blooming. (Now I do like the idea of an elevator.)  

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There might be a there there

   At some point deep in our trip, Carol suggested we start doing some research on the places we're heading to. Maybe it was blindly stumbling upon that wonderful marina with all those grand yachts in La Spezia. Or the wonderful view of a far more attractive Naples from atop the Sant'Elmo Castle that Carol had read about in Tripadvisor that we'd have missed entirely based on my itinerary (which had consisted of walking around aimlessly amidst the Neapolitan garbage and graffiti.)

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Italy's Deep South

   We were getting out of Naples, but not on time. Our first look at the board when we arrived at the train station was that our Frecciabianca was running 45 minutes late. Two days earlier, our train into Naples was reported 10 minutes, then 15 and finally 20 minutes late, before chugging in at 30 minutes retardi. Therefore, I dubbed the 45 minutes I saw on the board in Naples as Italian Train Time (ITT), and I told Carol, “We'll be lucky if it's an only an hour late.”

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Malocchio

  My record for selecting hotels conveniently located to train stations and appearing to be safe, in addition to being great values, held firm through the first four major stops on our Italian itinerary. Our hotel in Munich was a short walk to the train as well as the great shopping and pedestrian mall of Karlsplatz. Ditto for Verona and Cinque Terre. In Florence we were so close to the terminal, the hotel was named after it. The famous Duomo there was less than a ten minute walk away (thirty if you had followed along with my instinct for directions after dinner that one night.) Then came Naples.

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Lingua franca

  Back in the early 70s, I was traveling by car with a companion who got the jeep stuck in a ditch in northern Italy. I dispatched myself to go for help. Knowing the rural isolation of the area had probably not sprouted an English speaker, I realized I'd probably have to make myself understood in Italian. We'd been driving in Italy for a couple of hours, so I believed I'd sufficiently gotten the handle on the essence of the language, which to my mind simply meant adding a vowel such as “a” or “o” to the end of the English word. For instance the word for “arrive” in Italian is “arrivo.”

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Taken to the cleaners

   I'm not sure the precise moment when I knew I was being hustled by “Giovanni” (if that was even his real name), but by the time he'd steered Carol and I away from Naples’s Castle Sant’Elmo that we were looking for and he had promised to direct us to, I knew we were being hustled.

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Foodies part two 

   Our Tuscania hosts, Mark and Ginger, were leading Carol and I on a walk through their lovely, ancient and quiet town toward a restaurant for a “light lunch.” As we walked, Ginger told us about the restaurant we'd be going to that night. “There'll be eight courses including desserts (dessertS!), and all the wine you can drink.” This is what I was loving about Italy so far: We were going to lunch talking about dinner.

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A journey of 10,000 miles has to begin somewhere

Someone asked Carol and I recently whether we met any interesting people on our travels. Carol found the question amusing, as it had been addressed to me as well as her. Carol has observed that about the only other entities I go more out of my way to avoid besides museums, ruins of any kind and churches are people. It begs the question then, as to how I get any enjoyment out of travel, but I do. It's a mystery.

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Foodies

  Carol was determined to maintain a dietary regimen in a country whose entire life rhythm revolves around mealtime. Whenever I'd mention aspects of the glorious Italian culture and history, such as “bread,” “lasagna” and “gelato”, Carol would wag a matronly finger and under a determined, arched eyebrow, admonish: “We're gonna be good, Reid.”

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Wherefore the hell art thou going, Romeo?

   Every seven years there is a special dance performed during Germany's version of Mardi Gras day. It's called, in English, the Coopers Dance. It commemorates a celebration staged by Munich’s barrel makers following the city's deadly bout with the Black Plague back in 1517. The dance was designed to give the plague's survivors something to smile about again. I guess, for the average  Munchener in 1517, if the barrel makers were dancing happily in the streets, it meant they were making barrels again, and that meant the brewers were making beer again.

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Hannibal crossing the Alps, I'm not

   Carol and I were having a glass or two in a pleasantly traditional German restaurant on the first evening of our arrival in Europe, the start of a month-long Eurail train trip through Italy. Apropo of nothing more than jet lag, perhaps, Carol suddenly asked brightly, “Shouldn't we start talking about where we're going?”

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Menage a trois

   If there had been any shred of doubt (and there hasn't been) that Carolyn’s loving, generosity of spirit was alive and well amongst us, it came with our seat assignments for Carol’s and my flight to Europe this past Saturday. Care must be taken to avoid seeming to wallow in privilege, so this story bears a bit of a run up.

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Ain't Dere No More

 

Site of my first and only public spanking for eating my lunch during class time, and trying to impress Melanie Ybarzabel, my first grade girlfriend (tho she had no idea of that status, of course)

Site of my first and only public spanking for eating my lunch during class time, and trying to impress Melanie Ybarzabel, my first grade girlfriend (tho she had no idea of that status, of course)

“We'll go see lites in St. Bernard

And what they got that's gone…

Atlantic Thrift...Ain't dere no more

Drug store was Trist...Ain't dere no more

Jerry LaVie's...Ain't dere no more

                         --Benny Crunch and the Bunch

 

   Carol didn't believe the name of my grammar school - Our Lady of Prompt Succor. “What does ‘prompt sucker’ even mean?” she said, convinced I was having her on. Even when we'd walked to the school and I showed her the sign, she still didn't believe it. “What is a prompt succor?” she asked again, staring at the sign in great perplexity.

   I explained that prayers to the Blessed Mother was credited with saving New Orleans from a fire, stopping just as it approached the Ursuline Convent, and another time She was credited with us winning the Battle of New Orleans at the last minute. “Prompt Succor,” I explained, “means ‘quick help.’”

   Carol shook her head. “Still doesn't make any sense to name a school after ‘quick help.’”

   Carol would discover there was a whole lot of things that didn't make sense during our walking tour of my hometown of Chalmette, a perniciously corrupt and mosquito-infested atoll of reclaimed swamp just southeast of New Orleans. Later that afternoon, I would be surprised at how much I enjoyed revisiting the place, given it was home to so many childhood memories I've spent a lifetime trying to forget.

The BVM, I guess you could say, was my first superheroine: stopping fires and defeating the British 

The BVM, I guess you could say, was my first superheroine: stopping fires and defeating the British 

   Pausing by what had been my grandparents’ house (now a vacant lot, as a result of Hurricane Katrina) I told Carol about how we would sit on the porch eating sno cones, and watch giant sewer rats frolic in the drainage ditch in front of the house. I showed her the little street that I'd crossed on my brand new bike in defiance of my parents’ prohibition against crossing it, and how the moment I rode through that boundary, my parents drove up to the intersection. “It was that day I learned I was the type that would never get away with anything, so I straightened up right then and there.”

   On Judge Perez Drive (named after a Sheriff who ran the parish of St. Bernard like a tinhorn South American dictator) I explained how that street had, in my youth, been unpaved and separated by a large drainage canal (now paved over) and also populated with huge gamboling sewer rats.

   “Wouldn't that canal have helped with the flooding after Katrina?” Carol asked. I explained that the brain trust of the parish had traditionally erred on the side of projects that enhanced flooding during storms, “such as the Mississippi River - Gulf Outlet that became a superhighway for the storm surge that inundated the parish during Katrina.”

Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw's house: Ain't Dere No More

Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw's house: Ain't Dere No More

   At the now vacant lot that had been my childhood home with my parents and brothers, I shared the experience of evacuating in advance of rising floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965. “We left the house in ankle deep water, and by the time we arrived at the shelter three blocks away, the water had risen to above our knees. “There was nothing set up at the shelter, no water, blankets or supplies of any kind. “Dogs were crapping in the hallways and stairwells and the toilets were not working. In other words, it was the same as the Superdome after Katrina forty years later. Nothing changes here.”

Posing at what was once my bedroom window, where I spent many an evening dreaming about being anywhere else but at home

Posing at what was once my bedroom window, where I spent many an evening dreaming about being anywhere else but at home

   But things had changed, as I was happy to note. The house where I grew up and the one where I spent so much of my youth had both been wiped off the face of the earth, as if they - and by extension, myself - had never existed here.

   Which somehow suited me just fine. We Ubered back to the French Quarter, and I felt a great sense of completion.

You can go home again

   Our big streetcar trip up St. Charles Ave. was aborted midway through, due to a 7-alarm fire that consumed a historic home in the Garden District. No one was injured, and anyway that wasn't the biggest crisis that afflicted Carol and I at the start of our New Orleans adventure. At a French Quarter eatery just after our arrival in the city, I was served what was the first in what would become a Homeric odyssey of po boys over the next three days. But the “French bread” - within which my shrimp lay defenseless for my impending masticating assault  - was soft! And spongy! With the interior texture of marshmallow! And not French bread at all! It was a lese majeste of gargantuan proportions.

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