“The funny thing is, no matter how much experience I have under my belt, no matter how old I get, it’s all just a repeat of what came before. I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform- or perhaps distort- yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.”
-Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
New York summers are hotter than you’d expect. As a Texas native, I know a thing or two about heat, and I can tell you that although they are more compact, summers in the city are no less miserable. The heat I grew up in was largely dry, or at least that’s my memory of it in contrast to what I know now. I remember plants, a breeze, little things to make it slightly more tolerable. But maybe what I’m remembering is just the air conditioning.
New York is on the water and this makes for some pretty unapologetic humidity. The heat in July is oppressive, sweltering, unmitigated by trees and unabsorbed by soil. In fact quite the opposite- it is magnified by tall glass and metal buildings and reflected by solid concrete, an urban oven slow cooking a population of 8 million. Quite a stew. I don’t have an air conditioner. I have never purchased an air conditioner. It’s a strange mix of pride, ill-researched fears of recirculated, artificially cooled air, cost, and a dislike of things blowing on me that keep me from it. Also, I derive a kind of sadistic enjoyment of heat, found only in that it’s not cold.
My sister refuses to visit. And I suppose I understand. I spend the majority of my day in a largely non-weatherized mechanics shop or completely outside, and sometimes the inability to escape the heat does get to me. For all my resistance to the thought of it, I have in times of need and sweat resorted to some unconventional measures. Have I ever casually dated someone for their a/c? Maybe. But this is bad practice, as I’m sure you can imagine. In the midst of a particularly hot weekend recently, I had a cool epiphany: Airplanes have a/c. Not only that, but if you’re in business class they have a free meal, booze and a selection of movies- a great and luxurious escape for someone who would otherwise spend more money avoiding her apartment all weekend and gorging herself in air conditioned NYC cafes. And that someone is me. My flight benefits are such that I would actually save money just booking myself on an international flight for the weekend and subsisting on the food they fed me on the plane. And I would get to have a day somewhere else.
It was 4th of July weekend, and I reasoned that going anywhere stateside was a bad idea. I travel standby, so my benefits are great, but only so long as there is room on the plane. And on big holiday weekends, those flights fill up and my chances of getting stuck somewhere multiply. SO, I thought, why not check out Europe? I found a flight to Milan, Italy that was wide open. Business class too. It was exactly what I needed and I could be back to work on Monday without missing a beat.
Milan and I have a complicated history. Back in 2006 when I was backpacking around Europe via train, I stopped by to see what I could see. It’s amazing for me to look back to a time only a few years ago and marvel at how far advanced technology and I as a person (technologically speaking) have become. In 2006, I was completely reliant on information booths that are a staple in most any major train or bus stations. And that was largely my m.o. as I traveled without much of an itinerary. Or aim. Or guidebook. I would show up at a train station and head directly to the big, illuminated “i” that quickly became my lighthouse at every port. There I could find information about and directions to the cheapest hostels within walking distance. And I qualify “walking distance” as anywhere up to around 3 miles with pack. If it hasn’t struck you yet, allow me to spell it out for you: I’m cheap. When I got to Milan for the first time back in 2006, the woman at the counter told me the only hostels in town were really far from the train station and I’d have to pay for a bus to get there, and it would cost something like $20 a night which is waaaay too fancy for me. I was sure there were other options, but without a smartphone or knowledge of the city to find an internet cafe, I had to take her word for it. I stood at the bus stop for all of 2 minutes before some weird it’s the principle of the thing! response kicked in and I turned around, got back on the train, and left Milan. Later, in the same trip, I actually tried again, to much the same effect. I went back intending to just walk around and find something, but by that point I think I was simply too tired. And I found out you have to make reservations months in advance to see The Last Supper. The sight of the city was too daunting. Again I gave up.
With all that in mind, I set my sights on Milan one last time, 6 years later. This time I was ready. I looked online and found an agreeable place to stay. The unfortunate thing about arriving in Milan by plane instead of train is that the airport is quite some distance from the city itself. And the only way to get there is a train. So that was an added expense of about $20 and an hour’s travel time each way. Bummer. But I made it! The flight was great and I watched movies so mind-blowing I can’t even remember them! I walked to the hostel from the train station and fell asleep.
I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, but it has mostly been to places where I have friends or family. For this reason, I have not really had to pack a towel because I can borrow one or pjs because I don’t like them and if I’m staying with people I know I generally have a private room. Arriving at the hostel, I realized I had forgotten both of these items, the pjs being the most pressing as I wanted to sleep and it was a co-ed dorm. But it was the middle of the day, and no one else was in the room, so I just took my pants off anyway and tried to cover myself with the stolen airline blanket that was the provided bedding.
I slept a few hours until a guy came in and I could no longer sleep due to a suspicion that my butt was out. I stealthily pulled on my jeans under the blanket and headed out to the streets of Milan. It’s a lovely city. The architecture, the people, the fashion, the pasta, you name it. I don’t have the money to buy or hang out with any of it, but I don’t mind just walking and taking it all in. I did make one purchase, that of an old school 35mm film camera, made entirely of plastic with 4 lenses that split each shot into 4 frames of action. A pretty sweet little piece if I do say so, and I was feeling self-congratulatory for having saved so much money in coming to Italy for the weekend. I spent the rest of the day playing with the camera and enjoying a dish of gnocchi by the Duomo.
A little after the sun went down, it began to pour. I had an umbrella, but was still getting soaked, so I eventually slid into a little cafe and ordered a piece of pie. Mmm. When the check came, I went into my wallet to find my debit card…but…not there. And this is bad news considering I was now about 2$ short (stupid pie) for train fare the next day to the airport and without atm access. Also, WHERE IS MY CARD.
To be continued…