Milano, 5 a.m.

It’s 12:00 p.m. Milan time, but my body thinks it’s still 5 a.m., and is behaving accordingly.  In an attempt to reset my bio-clock, I am forcing myself to stay awake, even though my body is begging for a nap.  No scintillating posts today, that’s for sure.  My brain has checked out.  Perhaps that’s what jet lag is all about—the brain and body being out-of-synch.

My trip from Minnesota to Milan was largely uneventful, which is usually a good way to describe air travel.  I nearly missed my transatlantic flight at JFK due to being in the wrong terminal. I got to my gate.  The sign said my flight was destined for Salt Lake City.  I, however, was destined for Milan.  At that point I had only 45 minutes until takeoff. I quickly retraced my steps, with difficulty found my way outside to the airport shuttle (no thanks to airport signage), and realized just in time that I was waiting on the wrong track.  I got to the correct terminal, but was sent back by the security guard to the airline desk to get a different boarding pass.  Of course there was a problem with my reservation in the computer.  By now I had less than half an hour to get through security and to my plane.  When the Alitalia employee told me the flight would be two hours late, I was actually deeply relieved.

Updated boarding pass in hand, I went through NY security.  In the NY airport, I noticed, there were actual written instructions inside the gray bins– Step one:  Unbuckle your belt.  (No problem, I didn’t wear a belt.)  Step two:  Move your hips in a circular motion.  (Hunh?)  Step three:  Pull your belt out. (Ok, New York is just plain weird.)  I glance up at the top of the instruction sheet and laugh out loud as I read.  This insert is entitled:  “Helpful Airport Moves—Security Mambo.”  Seeing that I am amused, the security guards show me another insert in the series, something to do with a suit jacket shimmy.  You’re supposed to slide your jacket down your shoulders and “shake what your momma gave you.”    How nice to know that in the middle of what has become a very stressful process, somebody still has a sense of humor.

Our flight eventually boards several hours after its scheduled departure time.  It’s a pretty snazzy airplane.  I’m gratified to notice that I understand a majority of the steward’s Italian introductory remarks:  “Welcome aboard, sorry for the delay, etc. etc.”  It’s not until I hear his English rendition that I catch the reason for our delay– there has been a strike of the air traffic controllers in Italy.  This is only slightly more reassuring than knowing that your plane has had mechanics swarming aboard for the last few hours fixing whatever mysterious ailment your aircraft is suffering.   I wonder, when our plane lands in the morning, will the air controllers be there,? Or will they instantly promote folks, say, from the duty free shops, shoe shine or currency exchange—“say, we’ve got a special assignment for you today.”   But before either take-off or landing, we need to board, and boarding is hampered by a couple of men arguing about the poor design of a fellow passenger’s carry-on bag.  She has lifted her bag to the overhead big, where it stubbornly sticks out, victim of some design person deciding the handle doesn’t need to be retractable.  This is not a broken handle, but one designed not to ever push in, and these guys are not happy about it.  They are debating loudly across the aisle, with the stereotypical Italian hand gesture–five fingers together as if to grip something, elbows bent.  These gesticulations impede my progress to my seat and I need to spit out my first useful Italian word “permesso” in order to get to my seat.  Four thousand miles later, controllers or no controllers, we do land safely in Milan.

My six weeks of Italian, thanks to Rosetta Stone, and fluency in Spanish, have made communicating easier than it would have been otherwise.  I can understand far more than I can speak, but unlike with Spanish, there still are big gaps.  For example, at the coffee shop, I am able to understand a heated discussion between two airport employees that apparently has to do with raising rates of some sort and about protesting injustice when there is due cause.  I am unable, however, to understand the barista’s simple question to me:  The English equivalent “for here or to go?”  This is an important question in Italy, because there is a price differential if you stay to have your coffee at a table vs if you stand at the bar to consume it, or take it to go.  So I take my pastry and coffee “to go”, which is about a twenty-foot walk to the seating area of the airport.   I eat, and people watch, and eventually give in to the nap, on the grounds that I’ll be driving later that day, which, as it turns out, is a very good decision.

After my nap, another snack, and more people watching, I eventually make my way to the car rental place where I am to meet Emman.  He is coming from Rome to meet me and we will travel together for the weekend–a grand European adventure.  He arrives in good time, and I am both delighted and relieved.  He’s a good friend and a good traveller.  It’s so good to see him always, and we’ve managed to find each other in a foreign airport without using cell phones.  In fact, our whole time together has been planned via email.  Whatever happens, as long as we’re together, we’ll manage.  We rent our car and hit the road.

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