Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 24, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became a Pilgrimage (Part Three)

Shaping Up-Shipping Out

Christmas, 2013, was a quiet time.

We decorated our “trees”, two large potted plants: an orange tree which had grown from a baby into a healthy teenager and a hibiscus tree we’d rescued from the wood chipper several years before.  Now it smiled a dozen or so blossoms in succession at us in appreciation two or three times a year, and was especially festive this Christmas season, sporting three huge crimson blooms against its green foliage.  We hung a few bulbs and strung a few lights up, down and around both of them and settled in for a long winter’s night, quietly, peacefully and contentedly.

On Christmas Day, after Mass, we sat and opened our gifts.  Mine was a great surprise.  Santa Mariellen had brought me a Kindle Fire, the big deal of all Kindles, and way beyond anything I might have asked or wished for.  I was, frankly, a little bit surprised and very delighted.  She smiled and I stuttered.  I think I asked her, while thanking her, why she’d done it.  Ever practical, she answered, telling me that now we didn’t need a cargo plane for the books I might, or she might, want to bring with us to Italy.

Now we both had Kindles.  Besides, mine also had a camera which could take videos. We had some tea and I sat looking at the thing.  Later that afternoon, when I trusted myself and it had been charged, I tried the video camera on our little Christmas corner.  It worked!  One can even hear the Christmas music playing softly in the background.

Oh, no!  I won’t show it to you.  There are, really, better things to see in the kitchen sink after supper’s finished and the dishes cleared away to to wait for the scraping and the sloshing. But, while it is only indirectly related to our adventure, I will show you a photo of the orange tree all lit up:

A Christmas Tree Is What You Call It

I cannot remember if it was on Christmas Day exactly, but soon enough anyway we began to have some Big People discussions.

You see, this thing we had started a month or two before had grown.  And, now we needed to get serious about what we’d bring, in what we’d bring it and how we’d manage to move about as easily and comfortably as possible with our “stuff” once it had been brought and we were stuck with it for a month.  We knew we’d get no help from the airlines since most of them charge by the ounce, it seemed, for anything over one checked bag, and that under forty pounds.  But, we were both allowed that one bag, and both allowed one carry on and one other thing that might be classified as a hand bag; that thing you could stow under the seat in front of you and spend the rest of the flight sitting with your knees just under your chin as a result.  As far as I knew, they could weigh three-hundred pounds each.

Looking at the trip, we determined that we both could get away with a week’s worth of clothing, give or take, before we became a hazard to the community.  I wanted to do what Sheila and I had done during one of our trips to Ireland many years ago; take things we could leave behind us as we went.  She had suggested that we simply buy enough cheap underwear to last us the trip, discard what we wore and return home wearing the last set.  This was not something Mariellen thought a good thing and quite possibly an environmental hazard.  There are some differences between them, after all.  Not insurmountable differences, mind you.  And, in eternity, I suspect, there’ll be no need for underwear.

One day, as our planning and figuring continued, I went to the basement and brought up two small suitcases.  We had taken them with us for the trip to Ireland with our granddaughter Carolyn, and then our own excursion to Germany and France after she had gone home.  That had been only two weeks, though.  Would they do for a trip more than twice as long?  Yes they would, I thought, and reasoned that we had packed things, then, that we never even used.  Keeping that in mind we both decided to take only what we’d need, and even that we might trim down after we’d packed, and before we closed the lid and nailed it shut.

Over the next few weeks while as a combination quartermaster and load-master I experimented with my suitcase, filling and emptying it with bits and pieces of clothes and stuff until I began dreaming of doing just that in Purgatory for a million years, Mariellen continued to fill in the blanks on accommodations and transportation.  One of the highlights during this time was her telling me she had succeeded in getting us booked on the Bernina Express between Switzerland and Italy.  Though I’d never heard of it, that doesn’t mean a darn thing.  It’s a rather famous scenic train trip from Chur, a little town about an hour by train from Zurich, that climbs through the Alps to the Bernina Pass and then wanders back down to Tirano, Italy.  That filled several evenings of happy conversations about mountains and valleys, swift rivers and steep cliffs.

Luggage?  We didn’t talk about it. But what we did talk about as the days grew longer, and morning came earlier, was this.  We were quite settled on not doing any driving at all in Italy.  Shanks mare would be our primary way of getting about.  Trains between cities would handle long distances and when we needed it, we’d take a bus or metro where we could.

Now, about the only places on me that ain’t yet arthritic are my ear lobes and nose end; and God help me if they start to go.  So, I knew, and she knew who had begun having her own “old people” pains, we needed to get into shape, and stay that way if we were going to do what we intended.  And, that meant THE GYM! I was already a member of a nearby Gold’s Gym, but had rarely visited its spartan environs.  All that clanging metal, those mirrors, those girls with more muscles than me and guys with more muscles than Everest I found a disincentive to health and fitness.

But, we needed to do something like this or we’d be spending the last three weeks in some orthopedic hospital in Tuscany.  Great, views, I guess, but not the trip of a lifetime.

So, twice a week, and sometimes more, from February to a couple of days before D-Day(for depart) she and I, the oddest couple in the place, pumped iron, bounced balls, stretched things to the breaking point and ellipticated our way half way to the moon it seemed.  I even developed two pack abs.

Other preparations were underway, too.  Like England in 1943, the house became a staging area; each room and its available surfaces were commandeered for the various puttings in and takings out of what we might never need but couldn’t think of living without.  Along the way I got pretty good at folding things tightly and keeping them that way.  Why, I got so good at it that I could fold my jeans so tightly I could probably have carried an extra pair in the back pocket of the jeans I was wearing.  We finished up packing the night before we would leave and rested without ever having to sit on a suitcase to get it closed.

I was well pleased.  Both of the bags we would check were under the weight limit.  Why, we even had room for more, if more were needed in the things we’d chosen to carry on. Our flight would leave sometime in the early evening the next day, May 26, and our neighbor, Miriam, would drive us to the bus station for the first leg of our trip at 3:00PM.

We were ready. I didn’t sleep a wink.

Just before Miriam came, I opened my suitcase and removed two shirts and one pair of slacks.  Never liked ’em anyway.

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