Tag Archives: florence

Travels in Tuscany: Time as the greatest distance

Time is a thief. It robs us clarity and the perspectives of history It lulls us to complacency with mundane assertions, then rushes away towards the end of the day, and of our lives. Time steals from us, and we are its very willing accomplices.

That was all too apparent as Shevko stepped from his  little black sedan across from the hotel. We had both changed since the war, our lives carried upon their separate courses, but always bending back to this moment. I couldn’t contain a smile. A part of me felt like coming home. A part of me, the part always lost in the war, at last believed that something good had come from all that, besides Ana and I of course. Friendship, real honest friendship had outlasted and prevailed against 20 years of tumultuous history. Perhaps most of all, we had transcended a decade of animosities between religions, both of us wise and strong enough to parcel the foolishness and ignorance of the world to a proper place.

UNPROFOR Peacekeepers on patrol in Mostar, October 1994

Shev had grown a thick but well-trimmed beard, obscuring that boyish grin I’d recalled from our first meeting. Despite a recent divorce, he seemed happy and settled, no doubt the consequence of two young sons that he loved deeply. The last I’d  seen Shev was shortly after the war. He was still in Mostar, Bosnia. He seemed deeply hurt and unsettled then, which was absolutely a consequence of all he, his family and community had survived. Crossing Via Salvador Allende that evening in Montelupo I wasn’t embracing a long-lost acquaintance, but a brother.

He was a bit heavier now. Tuscan food and wine…and girls…had been generous to him. There were hints of gray at his temples. But for that he was the same. He held the same smirk, the same whimsy and devil-may-care attitude, the same swagger, and the same inability to keep from falling instantly in love with every beautiful woman who passed. It wasn’t as potent as when we were both younger, but the spirit was just as I recalled.

Ana joined us a moment later. She’d not seen him since the war when she arrived in the dead of night with her mother and baby brother, having escaped Sarajevo during a brief ceasefire in the summer of 1995. Detained at a Bosnian Army checkpoint on  a desolate stretch of road skirting the frontline. With a Serbian last name (she was from a mixed marriage) things might have turned out tragically if not for Shevko. His name was enough for her to pass through the checkpoint.

Ana, Shevko and his son, Leonardo in Florence

They hugged warmly. The quality of a life is in the moments that come as rare and valuable as a jewel. This was certainly a  moment I would put away and keep in a safe place, saving it for darker days for perspective. I was savoring the moment, holding fully to it, and cataloguing every detail. Time would not steal this moment from me this time. And though the moment past, swept among the torrents of time, this one I would never relinquish, now nor forever.

Travels in Tuscany:Best laid plans…

I like to think of myself as the consummate traveller. I watched the opening scene in “Up in the Air,” with George Clooney as if it was a documentary or a How-to film. If you haven’t seen it, he swiftly navigates an airport security line, deftly avoiding parents wrestling with toddlers in strollers, hapless once-a-year tourists, saps with alarm inducing piercings and hidden metal and mopes who think their ten pound Keep-on-Truckin’ belt buckle won’t attract a cloud of rubber gloved spiteful TSA workers hoping to give redneck joe something to blather about how they  should be worrying about the real terrorists(personally, stupid is just as terrifying to me).

I want to be through that line as quick and quiet as possible. When I get to the table, my shoes  are off, laptop out, belt off, change, pens and sunglasses out of my pockets. On the otherside I am dressed and gone while others are still trying to recall for a squad of miffed screeners what is in, on or around their body that is setting off the alarm for the 7th time.

I can live for a week in one garment bag and a small tote, or a laptop bag. From that I have a suit, something for a club or dinner, something casual and something for working out with clean socks and undies for everyday. Files and paper are strategically place in specific pockets for car rental, important documents, hotel reservations, contact information, maps, miscellaneous notes, a journal, charging cords, MP-3,  sundries and a camera. I even have a little pocket for salt and pepper and various little condiments-that’s CONDI-MENTS. I have it all down to a science. Ana thinks I’m nuts.

When we arrived in Italy I’d done my homework in researching every aspect of the trip. Notice I didn’t say plan, as the essence of any good adventure is in the unexpected. I knew the vaporetto schedules in Venice, the highway numbers between Mestre and Ravenna, and had even made a trial run on the Autostrada between Bologna and Florence using Google Maps Street View, but there was one thing I’d forgotten. There was one thing I’d left behind that threatened to sink the entire trip. Standing in the lobby of the Hotel L’Fiorino, having crossed two continents and ocean to see a de ar old friend and war buddy, I realized I’d left his telephone number at home.

The lobby was cooler than the  busy street outside. It was small and modern, but with an intimate feel. There were comfortable chairs near the front window. Beside the small but  cozy dining room was a table brimming with colorful maps, pamphlets and menus from local establishments. Greeting us was a lovely young woman who seemed politely dismayed over the two guests that arrived like something of a storm, babbling in a foreign tongue about this sudden and unexpected crisis. Her name was Elena, the daughter of the owner.

“What are we going to do?” asked Ana, looking every bit as exhausted from the day’s journey as I felt. She sighed and swept a lock of auburn hair from her face. Her emerald-green eyes still sparkled as perfect and brilliant as the day we’d met in Sarajevo 18 years earlier.

Discouraged and aggravated I only shrugged and remarked, “Walk the  streets calling his name.”

“Is your friend on Facebook?” asked Elena. “You are welcome to use my computer to send a message.”

It seems like such a simple thing, but we were just coming to discover true Tuscan hospitality.  In an instant Ana was tapping out a quick Facebook message to Shevko. The only question was whether he would see it in time.

Ana and I were barely in our second floor room when my phone rang. It came up  as his picture.  Though he’d changed(who hasn’t) somewhat over the years there was no mistaking that mug.

“Shevko!” I exclaimed. “Where are you?”

“Where are you?” he replied.

“The Hotel L’Fiorino.”

“I’m just down the street. I’ll be right there!”

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