5 min

You are who you know

Echos of our parents bubble up in times of crisis

STACKED. Month two of Abi Slone's adventures in Europe began in Girona, Spain. Credit: Megan Richards

My wife has a saying. “You’re roots are showing.” She doesn’t mean it’s time for a trip to the salon, but that everything you thought you weren’t because you spent your whole adolescent and semi-adulthood fighting is finally surfacing.

You can try to disagree. Say you are nothing like your parents and dismiss any impact they’ve had on your life. But if you really look at your behaviour — the way you interact with people, handle money, give and receive love and deal with a crisis — you can see them, rising to the top.

After more than 30 years the surface of my personality has started to ripple. Fortunately I’ve spent years readying for the waves.

Five days ago began month two. We rang in February with a glass of vino tinto at Blanc, a restaurant in Girona, Spain. My wife and I clinked glasses, looked into each others’ eyes (which is customary here to guarantee good sex) and embraced the month ahead. The next day we set out to the airport headed for Pisa, Italy and then on to Lucca for our month-long stay.

Flying Ryanair, the Ireland-based no-frills airline, I had read the horror stories about overweight baggage costing you double your flight and so my wife and I left a total of 16 kilograms with our friend in Barcelona to pick up on a future visit. My mother, in a similar situation, would have trusted in the universe. Whomever checked her in would give her a break, not charge her any fees and let her go with a smile and a “Have a good trip.” My father on the other hand would have made sure that his luggage fell below the weight restrictions before even leaving Canada even though this was the only flight with such constraints. In fact it’s possible my father wouldn’t have even made the trip.

Thankfully I netted out somewhere in the middle. Check-in was a breeze and once seated at the gate I turned to my wife and asked, “Do you remember the address of the apartment?”

Her response (since I am the administrator of our life)? “No. Didn’t you write it down?”

As it turned out, no matter how many times I flipped through the book we brought for that express purpose, I did not in fact write it down. I could almost hear my father’s voice, “Always be prepared, Abigail.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just connect to the airport WiFi and pull it off my email.”

Something to remember when travelling? Not everyone is as work-obsessed as North Americans. Which is why we love to travel. What it also means is that not every airport has a WiFi connection.

“No problem. It’s Piazza San something that starts with a P. How many of those could there be?”

With a small sigh of resignation my wife turned another page of Newsweek.

Before boarding I made a trip to the ladies room and spotted my salvation — an internet terminal. I pumped in my euro and logged into my email. Not only was I able to get the address, but also her cell phone number. It was a small miracle.

Two-hours later in a downpour we arrived in Pisa. We picked up our soaking wet luggage and bicycles and bought our bus tickets to Lucca. We would be at our new “home” in just over an hour.

My mother in this situation would be feeling self-satisfied. She had made it all the way to Italy. She could handle it, and if she couldn’t someone would surely help her out. My father wouldn’t even exhale until he was in the apartment with the rent for the month paid. I was managing to breathe both in and out. That was a good sign.

After running back and forth in the pouring rain with all our belongings trying to locate the actual bus stop, our transportation arrived and we soon were standing inside the medieval walls that surround the small Tuscan town.

Bikes on our backs, suitcases in hand and rain above I channelled my never-shy mother and asked a taxi driver, not for a ride (I’m sure to his amazement) but for directions. In my non-existent Italian I managed a “Scuzi, Piazza San Peirino?” He used the universal language of pointing and counting and sent us off. At this moment, soaked right through our clothes, neither one of us was loving Italy. But we were still loving each other.

My wife led the pitiful two-lesbians-and-too-much-baggage parade down the three blocks to the apartment building and I could feel the rose-coloured glasses of my mother beginning to settle in. That was until we discovered our landlady wasn’t there. So now, we’re in a small town, after closing time with a dead cell phone and no idea how to work the pay phones, in the rain.

At the end of our street I spotted a pizzeria that I had missed through the falling sheets of water. I reassured my wife that a phone was close at hand and started off at a run. In the dark. In knee-high black wedge-heeled leather boots. In the rain. On the cobblestones.

Standing in the doorway, blown by the wind and water, all I could manage was, “Telephone?”

“No” is also universal. But they pointed me toward a piazza a couple blocks away with a pay phone. At this juncture, despite my father’s seemingly tough exterior, he would have hailed a taxi, packed in his wife and his luggage and headed back to airport. I, on the other hand, held onto my mother’s optimism by a thread and ran down the street, hair plastered to my face, mascara stinging my eyes.

After several attempts in the dark I figured out the phone, found our landlady’s phone number and left her messages with what I hoped sounded less like desperation and more like excited anticipation. Then, the return run. Back past the pizzeria and down the dark cobblestone street.

Twenty-minutes later, spent putting together our fold-up bicycles so we didn’t have to lug them up the stairs (this genius idea thanks to my wife’s roots) the woman with the keys arrived.

The apartment — three times the size of our Barcelona digs — was more than we expected. Things were looking up. We paid her the deposit and she said good night.

The next morning we were ready to take on the day. First to the grocery store just outside the walls and then the bancomatico for some cash. My father would have come prepared with enough traveller’s cheques to last the entire year. At the moment when all three of the bank machines we tried didn’t give us any money I wished I had too.

With no cash, we resigned ourselves to a night in with a bottle of Chianti and some good food. Once we finished the fresh tomato-arugula-buffalo mozzarella salad and some salami it was the lessons from my mother that lifted our broke spirits. MIA and Hot Chip and living room dancing and trust in the universe.

And that was a wave I didn’t really mind. ‘Cause when I opened my eyes I was right where I wanted to be. In an apartment in Italy with my wife, Chianti in hand.