Two things become clear when you hear the story of the “courtship” between Marco and I
#1 I am crazy and
#2 He might be too.
Let’s just say a few months after we meet in Montemarano, Italy, while learning the tarantella (that story is here) we found ourselves in London, England for a few days. All is well, and the vacation ends with him going back to Italy and me sightseeing for a few more hours.
A very unexperienced traveler (no where near the person I am today!) this last minute sightseeing leads me to eventually miss my flight back to Toronto! Who knew that London has so much traffic!
At some point I sleep in the London airport, waiting for the Airline offices to open to see if they’ll give me a seat on the next flight. I make friends with a gay Canadian / Austrian man who ONLY has hair products and self tanning lotion in his luggage – enough said, we hit it off instantly.
Needless to say, he’s not the only interesting character I met during the week that passed waiting for another discount airline flight back to Toronto. At the time I had flown Zoom Air, not sure if you remember them, they were a discount airline that has since gone under. They offered cheap flights between North America and Europe, and although reasonably priced, the biggest problem with missing a Zoom Airline flight was that the next one would be in a WEEK.
What to do? Instead of buying another flight back to Toronto with another airline (the reasonable thing to do) I took my chances and decided to spend a few days in Italy! I bought a flight from London Gatwick to Florence and from there took the train to Bologna (near Marco’s hometown).
At the time Marco didn’t even know I was coming. I called him from the train station (after I figured out how to use an Italian pay phone …. WHICH IS NOT EASY!), I told him that I would meet him the following night in Bologna!
When I reflect back on the things I did, I realize only a 20-something single with no kids, too much income and not enough fear would get away with half the stuff I pulled in my post University years. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m alive.
From the train station I found my way to a cheap hostel in Bolgona.
Now, I don’t want to give all North Americans a bad rep. for knowing NOTHING about geography and having very little international travel skills. Honestly folks, it could just be me. But I had no IDEA where I was! Bologna is no where near water, and I was convinced that I was at the seaside, I could definitely not show you where I was on a map! At that point I was so delusional about how small the world was, and specifically how small Italy was, it all seemed so tiny compared to Canada that I just figured it should be easy to get around.
As a sidenote…
I had already gone through the process of getting my Italian passport and knew that I wanted to live in Italy at some point. The decision had been made long before I met Marco, but I just didn’t know WHERE to go.
So here I find myself in Bologna for the first time, with the day to myself and nothing to do (Marco went to work as usual) and so I went apartment and job hunting! Normal Italian 20-somethings (and non Italians for that matter) don’t just land in a city they’ve never heard of and start apartment hunting….or do they?
Anyway, what I discovered was that in Bologna rent was NOT CHEAP. Home to Europe’s first University, to this day it remains a University town. My first instinct was some sort of student housing to keep things reasonable, but the only thing I could find was a SHARED ROOM with a little single bed at over 400 euro per month (at the time close to $700 bucks!)… and I’ll say it again the ROOM WAS SHARED!!
I did notice, however, that there were signs EVERYWHERE for students seeking English help, and tons of English conversation tutors. At the time I was a marketing manager, fully disgruntled and annoyed with my real person’s job so any escape attempt to return to the low responsibility days of University living was a welcome change.
Done. Bologna it is.
The next few days I spent really getting to know Marco. In fact, missing my flight back home was the best thing that ever happened to us. Fate. Risk. Chance … they play their part.
Marco graduated from the Bologna University as an Ancient history major. Sometimes it feels like he knows everything about everything, and in many ways is my missing link. Filling in the blanks for where my own knowledge ends but where interest remains. Easy going he is NOT, but he’s pretty damn interesting.
I spoke hardly any Italian so we spoke in English. Lost in Translation is an understatement, I probably only understood 40% of what he was saying and he probably understood even less of what I was saying!
Bologna was magical to me. Honestly, even now after years of living here, the city is still so enchanting. If there is one thing that is incredible about Bologna it is the light and the warm red glow from the terracotta that is everywhere.
And then, just like that it was time to go. I had booked a flight from Bologna (Forli) to London Gatwick. I said goodbye to Marco and took the bus to the Bologna airport. That’s what it said on my ticket….Bologna (Forli). So imagine my surprise when I got to the Bologna airport and couldn’t find my flight info anywhere!
When I showed my ticket to the information booth they said that I needed to go to Forli. That’s fine I said. Is that a part of the airport? Just point me in the Forli direction.
Again, here is my North American extreme lack of geographical information at play. FORLI IS A WHOLE OTHER CITY! SO WHY THE HELL DOES MY AIRLINE TICKET SAY BOLOGNA THEN?
In Europe, discount Airlines are PLENTIFUL, and in order to get more bookings online they often reference a big city, but will fly out of a smaller one. People who have gone to Paris with Ryan Air know what I’m talking about. You fly into Beauvais (a whole other city), but on your ticket it says PARIS (Beauvais), with Beauvais actually being an hour and twenty minute chartered bus ride away!
Desperate, I take a cab, train and bus to Forli….obviously my flight has departed and now I’m in Forli.
I NEED TO GET BACK TO LONDON NOW. Remember this is the 2nd flight I’ve missed on this little rendezvous trip, which was only supposed to be 7 days, but has turned into 14, and technically I still have a job back in Canada, that, although I dislike, I really need to keep!! After all, I somehow need to pay for this expensive trip!
Ok don’t panic. In Forli I explain the situation to the information attendant. I risk loosing my job if I’m not back in Toronto, and that in order to get back I need to BE at the London Gatwick Airport TOMORROW or else I’ll either have to buy another flight home (which I should have done in the first place!!) or wait another week (not going to happen).
She helps me. There’s a flight going from Milan (Bergamo) to London Stansted . I could catch the midnight bus from the Forli Airport to the Forli train station, from there I could take the midnight train to the Milan train station, wait until the 4:30 am bus from Milan to Bergamo and from there catch a flight to Stansted. Once in Stansted I can then take a cab to Gatwick!
Fine. I’ll take it.
I catch the bus at midnight then I catch the train at 1 am. Thankfully I make friends with a lovely older woman, on her way to Milan to visit her son, she keeps me safe and talks to me about her blog (yes she’s a blogger!) dedicated to an important Italian film maker, her divorce from her three ex-husbands and her whole life. We keep in contact via email for YEARS later!
And there I finally am. At the Milan Central Terminal. It is the middle of the night. I have to pee. I have a huge massive luggage filled with things I never used on my trip. I haven’t slept. I CANNOT miss the shuttle bus to Bergamo.
Milan Central Terminal is more than a train station to me. It represents a whole area of my subconscious mind that is directly connected to Italy. It is immense and beautiful and modern and old. During the day it has a completely different atmosphere than when you are alone and surrounded by homeless people and drug pushers, waiting in line for the women’s washroom so they can shoot up in peace in the stalls.
And then he approached me.
Elio is the overnight station conductor. He asked me if I was ok, I said that I had to pee, but was too scared to go near the washroom. He said that if I wanted he would accompany me to the staff area. I said I didn’t trust him.
He said I could either take my chances with the pushers or trust him. Then he went and got one of the female security guards to accompany us. I peed, I was so tired and cold. Then we sat in his office and he made me a coffee and we spoke in very broken English/Italian about life and love and marriage and relationships.
He told me about his wife and their whole relationship. And I told him about Marco and how I would like to move to Italy and I would probably go to Bologna.
And then it happened. Elio changed my life. He said “Do you really want this boy? If you do, you must make him come to you. Don’t go to Bologna, he needs to travel to see you or it will never work. Come to Milan.”
I wrote a song about Elio. Three lines, that I sing to myself almost every day since the day I met him. They don’t make sense written down here, so I won’t write them, but it’s a little ode to him.
It was now almost 4 am and time to start searching for the bus stop. I made my way to the busses for Bergamo, caught my flight to Stansted and got right into a cab for Gatwick. I only remember that the cab driver was Indian and a very proud British citizen, he let me drift into a deep and profound sleep during the two and a half hours it took to get to Gatwick. I paid the man more than I’d like to admit and caught my flight back home.
That was the first week of November 2007. By mid-December of the same year I was back at the Milan Central Terminal, but this time I was living in Milan.
Every weekend for almost five months Marco would drive for over two hours on Saturday to see me, then back home again on Sunday. Together we’d spend the weekend going to tarantella dance festivals, Milan’s posh sushi restaurants and high tea in Milan’s luxury gastronomy “temple” Peck! Finally courtship, as it should be.
Eventually he asked me to move in with him (probably because I was getting to be too expensive!). Elio helped me to realize that it was time I was chased instead of always chasing.