In with the old, in with the new

I’ve been lazy. Uninspired? Bored? Had writer’s block? Nah. It’s just that living in an outer borough of New York and not going out much can be, well, not the stuff I want to write about. So I didn’t. I was struggling to do something profound, either about differences between Europeople and Americans. Or maybe about technology, or taking a quick road trip. I could show you the unfinished drafts in my queue. But that way you’d see my tortured thought process.

At one point, I even got a bot—the now famous ChatGPT—to write about driving from New York to the Boston suburbs. Then I thought maybe I’d critique what the bot did. Okay, I’ll give you a peek:

On a chilly weekend, we took a 400 km ride to the Boston suburbs in our Volkswagen Golf. Four of us traveled comfortably in the spacious car, but we had to make a couple of stops along the way for our pregnant daughter, who is in her last trimester. Despite the stops, the ride was generally smooth and we were able to make good time. One thing that struck us on the American highways was the lack of lane discipline. People would frequently pass us on the right and zig zag dangerously through traffic.

Kind of workmanlike, no? I gave the bot no instructions as to style or my attitude. I wonder how it decided that the car is spacious—in Europe it’s a midsize thing, in the U.S., the land of SUVs, like a matchbox. I’ve read worse copy in my way too long editing career, but at this point I’m not exactly scared that it’s going to take my place.

The Matalas coven takes over the living room.

Anyhow, then Christmas came, and three days later, we transferred to our Umbrian hill, so, yes! I have something to write about. First of all, the holiday. We’re not really subscribers to religion, but we’re culturally a tiny bit Catholic, and for years we’ve had The Spartan Woman’s Jewish cousins over for the day, as well as her parents and sister, etc. This year’s get-together was bittersweet for a couple of reasons. It was the first one post-Covid onset. And it could be the last one we do, because we may not be living in the U.S. this time next year.

All the same, it was terrific to see our kids and their second cousins hanging out together. We jokingly call them the coven; for years, hardly anyone in TSW’s extended family gave birth to males. I’m not the only one calling them a bunch of witches, they themselves encourage it and, well, it’s just funny. But in the next couple of months, that should end. Our number 1 kid, who got married this past March, is expected to actually bring a male infant into this world. “I don’t know what to do with a little boy,” TSW said at one point. I think she’ll manage somehow, she seems to have no trouble with grownup boys.

AFTER THE HOLIDAY, we had to scurry and clean up and get ready to spend a few weeks in Italy. Obviously, this isn’t our first time around the block for this. Still, we have to make sure stuff is taken care of there and that we remember to take what we need in terms of tech stuff and meds, weird food substances we use in the U.S. but impossible to find in Italy. [Tip: Cheddar cheese powder is really, really good on popcorn.]

The trip over was something else. Not that we were delayed or anything, like thousands of holiday travelers in the U.S. But for the first time since early 2020 airports and flights were jammed. I never saw so many people crowding JFK Airport’s bars/restaurants/shops. It was hard to find a place to sit at the gate. When I went to the least-crowded bar to get my by-now traditional preflight Martini, the bartender apologized for having to use a plastic glass because all the Martini glasses were being used.

The flights, first to Munich, then to Rome, were similarly jammed. Lufthansa kept texting us begging us to check our carryon bags (for free even!). We had huge bags anyway, and only knapsacks as carryons. Lufthansa in general is one of my favorite airlines. Its staff treat people like humans, the food and entertainment are halfway decent, as are drinks, and the Airbuses are pretty comfortable, at least in premium economy (and upward, though I can’t shell out for that).

I’d nervously been looking at flight stats; we had 1.5 hours between flights and with the chaos in the United States, our first flight was late on the days leading up to our departure. That had me looking at how often Lufthansa and affiliates flew between Munich and Rome. Happily, it didn’t come to pass. We left on time and arrived early. Since we’re EU citizens, we breezed through passport control. And somehow we landed at a different terminal, the same one as our second flight, so we even had time for a cappuccino and snack.

I’ve crossed the Atlantic countless times and I usually sleep through most flights. But I was so happy to be traveling that I pretended to be a tourist from my window seat. Long Island looked colorful and even a little glamorous as night had fallen. Germany looked tiny and modern, at least from the buildings I could see. And the Alps? Mozzafiati! (Breathtaking in Italian)

I never get tired of flying over the Alps.

So here we are. And yeah, it’s a nice place. But it’s more than liking the place and having nice scenery and food. Our friend Angelo picked us up at the airport and knowing that we didn’t have much fresh food at the house, gave us a big bag of fantastic oranges (there is nothing like Italian citrus). This morning, I walked next door to our neighbors Marjatta and Pasquale at the agriturismo Ca’ Mazzetto to pick up our car; they’d been car-sitting while we were away. They used it every now and then and returned it with a full tank and cleaned inside and our. Later, Pasquale dropped by to say hi and give us a tin of their fantastic organic olive oil. It’s great to be home.

We’re getting ready for a quiet and decadent New Year’s Eve dinner here with our old friend Doug and his trusty sidekick Georgia the dog. Shopping for it was like being at JFK, way too crowded but instead of making me crabby, the IperCoop near Perugia had a party vibe, with sales of good Champagne and Franciacorta (Prosecco’s upscale cousin, fermented in the bottle like Champagne). Since this is Italy, we’ll take Franciacorta—to go with some scallops in the shell from France.

Thanks for reading this year, and happy New Year! See you here after the holidays.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s