Jet-lagged and overly burdened with luggage (my mother insisted thay we pack nearly everything we owned), the four of us waited at the rental car counter. My father was nervous; not only did he have his wife and son with him, but also his son’s friend who would be joining our family for the year in Florence, Italy. My father may be gentle, but he’s not calm, and he has a general distrust of automobiles and other drivers. He was the same age I am now, so while I didn’t understand his anxiety then, I certainly do today.
When the rental attendant saw our mountain of bags, he was adamant that only a van could accommodate us. Whatever vehicle my father envisioned driving, he would now be commandeering a beast three times its size. To make things worse, it was August, and if you’ve spent your life thus far avoiding Italy in the late summer, there’s no reason to ruin it now. It was easily a hundred degrees, and the van, of course, had no air conditioning. Sweat is sexy to the Italians and they’re genetically blessed with an immunity to heatstroke.
The fear and yelling started before we’d even exited the airport. By the time our van was cruising down the autostrade, my father’s shoulders were soaking wet. I assume the rest of him was covered in sweat as well, but my position in the backseat allowed me only a certain viewpoint. I could see my mother look over at him to show her support, but he waved her off, which caused little pearls of sweat to fly off of his wrist.
By the time we reached the first signs for Firenze (Florence), we were all sweaty disasters. It was the first and last time I ever saw my mother glisten. Florence is an old town, founded sometime while humans still had furry feet and died before the age of thirty. The cobblestone streets they’d built were barely large enough to accomodate an obese 21st century man, much less a giant white van.
I think my father might have been crying by this point. His regret must have been immense. Though he’d long since recovered from his Catholic upbringing, I imagine he prayed in that van — prayed to be teleported back to the safety of Ohio. When we finally arrived at our new apartment, after nearly 6 hours of van travel, we were met by our landlord. When my father attempted to speak fake Italian, and was somehow able to communicate that we were from The United States, our landlord let out a hearty chuckle and blurted, “CHATTANOOGA! CHATTANOOGA! CHATTANOOGA!” That was the one place he knew of in America, and the only English he spoke that entire afternoon.
After we napped and unpacked, we went out for dinner. It was the most amazing food I’d ever had, and as we were leaving the restaurant, I looked at my dad and asked, “Can we stay two years?”