My wife and I recognized 25 years of marriage this year back in May. Last year we talked about going to Italy to celebrate. But then I was diagnosed with cancer in December, and was scheduled for surgery in March, so our plans were put on hold to see how thinks shook out. 

Things shook out fine. So one of the first things we did when we rounded that awful corner was plan our 25th anniversary trip. Neither of us have ever been to Europe. Heck we have never even vacationed anywhere we could get a free checked bag. So we booked a trip to Milan for the week of Thanksgiving.

Tina is an Italian girl from south Jersey. She’s also a foodie and loves wine. From the moment we met 30 years ago I have loved her. She is the kindest person I’ve ever known. Getting to celebrate 25 years of marriage with her is pretty special. Neither of our parents got that far. Plus it’ll be her birthday while we’re there. PLUS, coincidentally (if you believe in those things), the date we met in 1992 falls during our trip. Thirty years. 

Pretty special. I’m excited. And … anxious. 

Italy is known for a lot of things – chief among them food and wine. This is where it gets interesting. I’m not a foodie. I have the palate of a 15-year old boy raised in the Deep South. Soul food, Mexican/Caribbean, mostly fried seafood. I like my beef cooked, can barely tolerate cheese, hate tomatoes and fancy desserts, and, because I’m a recovering alcoholic, don’t drink. Not wine. Not beer. Nothing. 

Give me a plain cheeseburger, a plate of fries and a club soda with a lime and I’m gold. Food to me has never been very important. It’s sustenance. Fuel to keep me moving. I’ve always sorta resented having to stop everything to eat. I like things that I like and tend to stick with them. Which is to say I am not an adventurous eater. Never have been. Likely never will be.

There are also other issues I’m just not sure about with this trip. Namely the language barrier. We’ve traveled all over the Caribbean since having children. Mexico, Belize, Bahamas, etc. Being monolingual in these places was not a problem b/c of proximity to US/English. Plus, I know enough Spanish to be dangerous. But one reason I’ve personally never gravitated to Europe was the language barrier. I hate the idea of being vulnerable. Oh, and I’ve heard stories about pickpockets in Italy that caused me to invest in a freaking high security fanny pack for crying-out-loud. Last summer, a girl my daughter was traveling through Europe with had her phone stolen off of their table during lunch in Milan. So I bought each of us theft-proof phone lanyards, ffs. Yeah, I’ll be real chill and loose while I’m there. /he types with a clenched jaw/

Don’t laugh. My paranoia is intrinsic. When you’re “blessed” with a rich imagination – you conjure the worst, expect the best, and prepare for both. 

The other reason I’ve never gravitated toward Europe is that I’m just not intrigued by it. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I love my European friends. And maybe I’m just an ignorant American, but we all have things that interest us, right? For example, lots of people like architecture. And while I admire it, it’s not like I’d ever go out of my way to view it in person. Same with museums. If I’m in a museum, I’m there to see a thing. If I’ve studied the thing, seen the thing online, in a book, or on TV then well, yeah – now I’m standing in front of the thing at a museum. Same thing. Antiquity just isn’t interesting to me. I mean sure, I can be curious about historic art and culture – I’m just not that curious. This lack of zeal for high culture is a flaw, I realize. I’m just more interested in jungles and oceans and animals than cathedrals. To each their own. 

In terms of our itinerary, we’re not trying to do too much. We’ve got an Airbnb in the Isola neighborhood. It has a little balcony to have coffee above a quaint neighborhood street. We’re going to Lake Como one day, I know that. And we’re going to Duomo to hopefully get on the roof around sunset one day to renew our vows (just us, together). Mostly we’ll just be hiking around the city hitting cafes, doing some shopping, and generally just taking it in. Oh, and we are seeing a Wolf Alice concert on the Friday we’re there (seeing that they were playing there was sorta the reason we booked this trip when we did.)

Next to just hanging with Tina and experiencing everything for the first time together, my primary goal for this trip is to feel this place. To take it deep in my lungs and sense it. To hear its hum. To feel its rhythm. To come away with a sliver of understanding of its aura. Because every place everywhere has one. You just have to peel back the layers and get quiet. 

Conjure the worst. Expect the best. I’m totally expecting to have a great time despite my imagination. Simply being in an ancient faraway place with my best friend who I’ve been married to for 25 years will be enough. Even if I do have to find a Five Guys or something. 

Jim

The Heartbreak of Being an Astros Fan

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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