After three nights in Rome and two in Florence, the budget part of our Italian vacation has arrived: a week on the road in a rental car visiting a series of walled towns. Since my last report, I’ve spent five days herding the children up endless stone stairways (eternal, countless) to stand in the blazing Tuscan sun, admiring medieval squares and ancient fortresses. We also made a few stops to swim in sulfur-smelling thermal baths dating back to the Etruscans, and once in Montepulciano we took a wrong turn at the top of the “centro storico” down the wrong side of the hill, and had to complete a full circuit around the city walls in 95 degree heat to locate the parked car again.
I asked Teddy for his three words to describe Siena and Arezzo, and he – unwilling to play along, near heatstroke and dehydrated – said “parking difficulties”.
Last week the nights were spent in an Airbnb in a small provincial town called Bettole, a dark apartment with a tiled kitchen on the second floor of a brick villa dating back to 1780. We cook our own breakfasts each morning – very crumbly pre-grilled toast topped with locally made Chianti charcuterie and three types of pecorino cheese – and didn’t figure out until the third day how to work the elaborate system of shutters, screens and casement windows. Our Airbnb’s garden had bright flowers in pots and an orange cat.
I enjoyed the strangeness of the Italian banal
– strange “AutoGrill” restaurants in the rest areas of the highway, where you could taste three kinds of arancini, the ham section and the laundry and cleaning products aisle of the Bettole cooperative grocery store – more so than children, however. They got grumpy and started staying up every night until 1am watching Adam Sandler movies on Netflix in the Airbnb living room, sleeping every morning and complaining when I tried to get them wake. Autostrada A1 to spend our last two days in the galleries and ruins of Rome.
I love nothing better than finding inexpensive ways to stay in ultra-fancy hotels, and I actually twisted my arm above my head to pat my back as we rode up the very big and shiny elevator to the sixth floor. An hour ago, back here in Rome, after leaving our luggage with the bellhop and the rental car with the valet. Last night I booked the cheapest room at the Rome Cavalieri with a last minute discount, but told the kids I thought I could get a “gold” membership at Hilton Hotels and my Amex Platinum card allowed me to get an upgrade, and it worked.
This may be my biggest holiday stunt yet in a long career of five-star hotel intrigue that began when I was 13 and spent happy lunch hours browsing holiday brochures alongside my paternal aunt Mary, who suffered from the same illness, at the sales counter of her low-cost bohemian clothes shop, Promised Land, on Newtown Lane. Once she hitchhiked barefoot from Paris to Dubronvnik. Shortly after the end of World War II.
I’m sitting right now with my computer on a marble side table on the balcony of a gold room adorned with beautifully ridiculous teal velvet, mirrors and gold trim, sipping a flute of spumanti from a bottle that we greeted in an ice bucket by the door. All of Rome spreads out in panorama before me, the surrounding hills a haze of blue, the clouds drifting, throwing the neighborhoods into the sun and then throwing them into the shadows. I see St. Peter’s Papal Basilica in the Vatican to my right and, just below, my children spreading their arms like starfish in the pool. The pool looks delicious. It might take me a week or two to freshen up after a vacation in Italy during the summer 2022 heatwave. Teddy just got out and phoned the room to say he was going to order a burger to eat by the pool. swimming pool, but that was cost 28 euros. Besides being bowled over by the view from that balcony and thrilled to be back in Rome, my delight is heightened by the fact that I raised a 12 year old who realizes you shouldn’t order a burger at $28.
Nettie has been out of shape, on and off, this whole time because, like all teenagers of her generation, she’s been held captive by a new kind of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that’s been created by the computers we carry around in our pockets. Children these days follow the movements of their many friends – friends they know in person, in the same way that we knew friends when we were young, and friends they know virtually, who belong to a slightly different category of kinship and connectedness. but who still counts – via Snapchat and Snap Map.
They see their friends converging and dispersing; they see them drifting here and there, like a swarm of bees, or constellations, on a live map on their iPhone. And so in 2022, a 15-year-old may be blown away by the 1960s, “Dolce Vita” glamor of the Rome Cavalieri Hotel, and may be feeling pretty chic in her bikini on a lounge chair right now (I see below me, posed with one arm above her head like Gina Lollobrigida), but inside she’ll be worrying ferociously about a bonfire everyone’s going to attend tonight at Ditch Plain Beach which she misses.
Driving down the A1 motorway, Nettie figured out how to connect our iPhones to the rental car’s sound system, and for an hour we listened to pop songs composed with the aim of getting teenagers to pull their hoodies up. the bottom. their eyes and start crying. Then I convinced her to turn off the music and listen to a podcast on “The Daily” from the New York Times on the big cosmic questions: what is a black hole and how could everything collapse? Why can we remember the past, but not the future? Is time like a film strip, with all future and past scintillating moments existing, even now, though we can only see the current picture?
It doesn’t console the 15-year-old that time expands and shrinks, stretches and contracts, but it does console her mother. I won’t be as long this week as usual. I’m going to cut short my usually too long column (endless, eternal) now, and go swimming in this jewel blue pool. Tomorrow I’m going to see the Pantheon! I will walk with Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, and Apollodorus, the architect!