We stumble off the plane and go through customs and immigration in a bit of a fog, and I have remembered the passports, so that’s good. A driver that Giorgio has arranged for us meets us with a sign bearing my name.
He is exactly what I would expect an Italian driver to be, wearing an Armani suit and polished shoes, middle-aged and dark-haired, very attractive and speaking about three words of English, which I find out after I have a whole conversation with him and realize he has not understood a word. He has a very charming smile, and I picture him with his wife, being deaf to her conversation in the same way, but giving her a charming smile to make up for it.
Outside the city of Milan itself, Italy looks like Kansas except the signs are in Italian and there are mountains in the background. The mountains make me hyperventilate a little; I had forgotten there would be mountains. I hate it when I can’t see forever.
You’re in Italy, I tell myself. You are not going to break out in hives because there are some damned mountains in the background.
We are on our way to Jessica’s castle in a small town outside Verona, and we pass numerous buildings called Autogrills and they seem an enigma to me. What are they? They don’t seem to be gas stations or convenience stores. But there are so many of them! I could ask, but the driver would just give me a charming smile.
The houses climb up the side of the mountains, like Athens but not as crowded. They are orange and yellow and pink and umber. This is a culture that built its cities before zoning laws.
The sun is a winter sun, but the light is still Mediterranean. The sky vaults high overhead and curves like a cathedral ceiling. In Kansas the sky is closer to the ground and you can touch the stars on a summer night, a fact that makes the heavens homey and less inclined to inspire awe. I begin to see how Da Vinci got his start here, and Galileo, too.
We pass a pocket vineyard the size of my front lawn. I think about the possibility of planting grape vines when we get home.
The driver has a GPS installed in his car, and I can see it from the backseat. It is giving him directions, telling him a sinistra, a cognate for sinister, and it gives me a start to realize it means something along the lines of “on the left”; I’m left-handed but not accustomed to thinking of it as sinister.
“This is Italy,” Jessica says.
“Yes, it is.”
“Finally,” Jessica says.