Just because the Chinese ground control can, it had us sit on the tarmac four hours in Beijing. I sent a note to Amnesty International begging them to put pressure on the Chinese government to open the plane in seven days if we still haven’t shown up. Just to bury the desiccated bodies. It didn’t come to that, but we missed every connecting flight until the end of time.
I’ve had this recurring dream that I wander down endless high-rise hallways looking for a specific door. It was practice for the real thing. In Hong Kong, I searched for room 2694, which is room 94 of 100 on the 26thfloor of a 50-story hotel. I lived that dream in a hallucinatory state of fatigue, but the silver lining is that the dream has left me definitively. I ate all related and appropriate breakfasts: Indian curry and Chinese dumplings in Hong Kong, madeleines slathered in confiture and slices of Brie wrapped in croissant peel in Paris.
Stuck in a middle seat with the window blind down, I stayed in touch with the land below me because the airplane had a camera mounted to its belly. The camera’s imagery broadcast to my screen. We threaded our way over the clouds of China (between both deserts), Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, and France. When the skies cleared and the rolling green hills of northern Europe appeared, I sighed. This looks like Bavaria, like the Ardennes, like Champagne. With any luck, I am home.
I was thoroughly enjoying my body odor when I finally got to Milan, 3 days late. I’ve been in Italy two weeks and I’m still incredulous. We’re not done traveling. We retrace the steps of the 18thcentury romantics and 19thcentury nouvelle bourgeoisie to round out our education. The Grand Tour of Naples, Rome, Venice, and the Italian lakes is mythical. Centuries later, Rome still abides; Venice still spellbinds; Naples still enchants. Hills, volcano, catacombs, canals and biennales. But also heritage sites, festival organizers, art-activist friars, and ecumenical humanitarians: I am exhausted and annoyed at myself for not fitting in more.
First, I plug calories in their respective empty compartments. When we left NYC, I solemnly swore I wouldn’t eat pizza again until I reached Naples. With steely determination, I held out 11 months, until my first night in Naples, when I had the worst pizza of my life. That’ll teach me. Since then, risotto, pasta, gnocchi, pane pizza (which is neither calzone, bruschetta, nor tomato bread, but a moist, elastic pizza dough shaped as a baguette, split open with the pizza filling overflowing the center-part), burrata, nocciola, stracciatella gelato, salads, fennel, endives, broccoli rabe, melone, albicoche.
Food is my second signal that I’ve come home. It took me to an exalted state even before I realized where I was. Did I mention I’m also studying food as cultural heritage? Jin-Ya at Break Bread Break Borders in Dallas says food creates a zone of safety and comfort that is more basic than language and philosophy. It welcomes people in a new environment or in a familiar one. I was humbled to discover that for myself.