Trip update: It is a good thing that I like to travel. This has been a wonderful week and a wretched week.
Plusses: a companionable seatmate on the Crescent train to Philadelphia, a train that ran on time and arrived early, and a delightful ride through town to the end of Fairmount Park. At the Italian Consulate, the visa officer recognized me from an ATA Conference. We had great meeting in Italian. I got all the answers I needed, including a couple that are not published anywhere. Good food from Whole Foods, and great meals with friends in Cape May Courthouse.
Minuses: the weather turned bitterly cold and rainy. The threat of a major snowstorm caused me to cut short my stay in Philadelphia, and take the bus to Cape May, New Jersey. The snow started late the next day, but not before I broke my wrist falling over while trying to walk my bike around at the end of a bike path. It does not hurt, but x-ray revealed a tiny crack that could break the rest of a carpal bone if I keep moving it.
My bicycle ride to Washington has been brought to an abrupt halt. I won’t be able to control my bicycle reliably for two or three weeks, so I rented a car this morning, and am driving back to Charlottesville to repack and regroup. The disappointment of missing my ride and the hospitality of my friends in Maryland is balanced by the pleasure of meeting interesting people in Philadelphia and the generous hospitality of my friends (new and old) in Cape May Courthouse.
The couple broke off their conversation to smile at the wandering singer serenading their table. It was all part of the atmosphere of the place, though he was less impressed by the strained notes of the singer’s offering than the tourists from Michigan at the next table. After a coda long enough to wrap around his ample waist, the singer moved on with a deep bow. The couple faced each other again, their faces glowing in the light of the candle on the table.
“I get that you don’t have a definite time for this trip.” She twisted a strand of brown hair and tucked it behind her ear. “You’ve been doing this for two years now. Haven’t you found ‘home’ yet?”
“Yes and no,” he said. “I’m not sure. I think of home as where I am now, and where I am going next.”
“That really doesn’t make sense. Home should be where you come from, and where you want to go back to.”
“Why? Who says so?” He topped off her water glass from the carafe on the table and filled his own.
“I do and everyone else.”
“I don’t, so it can’t be everyone,” he said, with a smile.
“Ok, wise guy, but where are you from? That should be home.”
“I could list four or five different places, and each would be home for a different reason.” He took a sip of wine. She noticed that unlike most men, his eyes did not wander from her face when he was talking.
“Where are you from?” he asked her.
“You know. Minneapolis.”
“That’s a place,” he said.
“Of course. Home is a place.”
“If you want a place, then my home – where I came from – could be where I was born, where I grew up, where I went to school, where I made the best memories, or where I lived the longest. Would you agree with that?”
“Sure,” she said. “So where?”
“Each of those is a different place for me. Norfolk, Annapolis, Rome, Honolulu, or Charlottesville.”
“Which one are you going back to?” And why?”
“Whichever one calls me next. Maybe Minneapolis.”
She smiled and turned her head. A group at the other end of the room had burst into a discordant chorus of “Happy Birthday” in French, accompanied by the singer and his guitar. Servers were still coming out of the kitchen door with trays of porchetta, bucatini alla romana, carciofi alla Giudecca, and even some desserts for the early arrivals.
She turned back to see that he was still looking at her.
“But what if home is a feeling?” He shifted closer to her so that if he bent his head, the candle might catch his sandy hair. “Can you understand that maybe I feel at home in many places?”
“I guess, but don’t you have a base?”
“Maybe more than one. I have my new pied-à-terre here in Italy, and the home in Virginia. Is that enough?”
“Could you settle into either one?”
“Probably, but I’d rather find a new place after I have checked out the places that I have not been. Like the West Coast of North America. Someplace where it does not snow in the winter, I think.”
“But you kept riding for two winters now,” she said with a wry smile. “Why stop?” They laughed.
“So what does home feel like?” She asked.
“I am not sure. It’s a feeling that I get from a place that is more about the people I find there than the amenities. ‘Home’ makes me feel accepted, respected, and loved in the sense that the people of the place wish me well. Looking at it that way, I think that I am at home in more places than not.”
“But people can make you feel at home that way, without sharing the feeling. You’d still be a ‘come-here’, a stranger in their midst.”
“Good point. So I have to add that the feeling includes my sensing that they are glad that I am there, and they welcome my participation in local life. Because of citizenship issues, nation-states, and the inevitable differences of culture, I know that I will always l’americano in town here, and that the old families in other places will always consider me a newcomer, because I did not go to high school there.
“I am cool with that. I still have my place in the local society and scene, and from that place, I can make my contribution and have it accepted.”
She considered his face for a silent moment. The she sat back.
“You will never put down roots, will you?”
“Probably not,” he said. “Consider that I never lived anywhere long enough to do that, so, like a bromeliad, I have to draw my nourishment from the air around me. I only put out enough root to know my way around and to enjoy my place in the pineapple patch.”
“That’s why you are not a tourist. You are always at home, and never going back home.”
“Will you ever stop riding like this?”
“Oh, yes. I can’t keep this up forever. One day I won’t be able to ride.” He sat back and spread his hands. “Then I will stay ‘home’ – wherever that happens to be.”
“I can’t believe that. I see you finding some place to rest between trips. Some place you want to go back to.”
“Like you do?”
He smiled and caught the eye of a server two tables down. He scribbled an imaginary line across the air to signal for the bill.
After he paid, they rose and walked down the Viale di Trastevere to the No. 60 bus. He bought a carnation from a woman on the sidewalk and gave it to her.
“Where will I put this?”
“You’ll find a glass or a vase when we get home.”
“You mean the B&B?”
“Home, sweet home,” he said with a smile.
Next week: another sea story. Until then,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,