24 June, 2014

An American girl in Europe, part 1

Recently, whilst packing for our move, I came across the bright pink spiral notebook I kept as a journal for part of a summer trip to Europe when I was nine. It was not our first family trip abroad, but it was the first trip we had taken outside of Italy...which may explain why I didn't start writing until we were leaving Torre di Passeri and heading to Paris. 

Let's recap the highlights of Perugia, Paris, and London from the elementary school perspective:

August 9, 1991
(1) "I saw St. Francis' tomb" does no justice to the level of confusion I remember. Particularly since I remember it being massively packed and chaotic with pilgrims, and that only my father and I went down to the tomb itself - my sister and mother stayed behind. It's one of many times as a child that I felt quite suffocated by the number of much taller adults surrounding me and intruding into my airspace...does everyone feel like that as a child?

For at least a year afterwards, I thought that Jesus was buried in the basement of our local church. I mean, why not? 


(2) I appreciate my parents' apparent honesty in teaching twentieth century history: "...we went to a church on top of a mountain. Some of the things in it were over 1000 years old. It was rebuilt 4 times. One time was from an earthquake, and the other times, America bombed it."

(3) My religious education was fuzzier: "There was a church from before Christ just up the street from where we were staying." To be fair, the foundations of the church were in fact built on a pre-Christian Roman temple, and my upbringing was sufficiently ecumenical that I would not have distinguished between the type of worship going on in a structure before calling it a church. 


(4) Oh by the way, that sleeping car? Did. Not. Have. Air-conditioning. Lord, it was hot. And loud, once we opened the window to survive the heat. My parents, the academics, when explaining that we gave up A/C to take a more scenic route through the Alps failed to mention that we would be passing through the Alps at 2 o'clock in the morning. 

I really love trains, and sleeper cars in particular, in fact. Many years later, when I was living in Copenhagen, I took a train to Milan to visit our friend Tonia. I was gleeful to discover I had my own sleeper car, and that it was far more modern with a window curving around the top of the train that allowed me to lie on my bed and stare at the stars. 

And it was air-conditioned.

August 10, 1991 (my dad's birthday)




(5) I will pause to note that I occasionally spelled "tomorrow" with two m's, but I got "Louvre" right every damn time.

August 11, 1991
(6) And by "breakfast was horrible," it's likely what I really mean is "they refused to serve me chocolate mousse for breakfast."

I am starting to question the veracity of my journal: I left out the part where, upon viewing the Mona Lisa, I said, "But it's so small! And not pretty." (I said the same thing - minus the pretty part - when I saw the David for the first time at the age of 13.) I made my reputation as an irritatingly small art critic with the brilliant realization that a sculpture's fame could be measured in the number of body parts lost over the years. (The Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus De Milo are probably the "2 famous statues" mentioned.)


(7) Fun with historical simplifications: "The Louvre was once a place where kings lived. Then, during the French Revolution, they decided not to have a king."


(8) Although I mention the "beautiful fountain", I seem to have left out my most vivid memory, which is that children were swimming in the fountains. Sadly, my parents did not appreciate how awesomely fun that looked. Some day, I will let my son swim in a fountain. A clean one.

August 12, 1991



(9) "There was a restaurant I wanted to eat in, but we didn't." And thus I learned what a Michelin star was...

August 13, 1991

(10) I didn't yet know how to drive...is the only logical explanation for why I was surprised that the drive would sit on the right side of the car when driving on the left side of the road.



August 14, 1991



August 15, 1991

(11) "I stood half in the east side and half in the west." I remember clearly my dad convincing me that this was an essential thing I needed to do. (A year earlier, he tried to convince that I absolutely needed to stand inside a cell at Alcatraz and I said, hell no. Or whatever eight-year-olds say when they mean, Hell no, do I look that stupid?)


(12) This was my first visit to a Hard Rock Café, and my father hadn't yet adopted them as a hobby. Little did I know I'd someday visit dozens of them. And with time, I eventually stopped wearing huge sunglasses and scarves for fear that someone might recognize me at the Hard Rock Café in Berlin and started appreciating that their spicy mac and cheese is actually pretty good.



August 16, 1991

(13) Good Lord, it's like they fed us nothing but croissants and chocolate mousse for a month. 

(14) "We ate lunch in a cafeteria-like place [at the British Museum]. It was awful."
Not for nothing did my parents joke that I ordered from menus by covering up the names of the entrées and looking for the highest number on the page.

(15) For reasons unknown to my adult self, I collected commemorative pill boxes as a child. Do tourist shops still sell those?



To be continued...