Often when I go on my little opera jaunts around Italy Laurent - because of work or as in the case last month because he was elsewhere in the world - is not able to come with me. As a callow youth I travelled alone on vacation to England and Europe at least once or twice a year - ah the advantages of working for an airline. For the last half of my 33 years working at Air Canada I was on the road solo two or three times a month. Living in hotel rooms and eating alone in restaurants never seemed to bother me back then but recently I find I'm not happy travelling on my own. Now part of that is because I miss having Laurent around to nag at but there are other things too.
Take accommodation. In North America when you ask for a single room you'll end up with a queen size bed and the price is almost as much as a double. In Europe when you ask for a single room that's what you get - a single room (il singolo) at a reasonable price. Usually its about as wide as a monk's cell and as sparsely furnished. A single bed, a chair and small desk and that's it - though at the hotel in Torino there was a credenza that revealed a small hot plate and sink when I lifted the top. I suppose that was for the long term guest who wanted to drive themselves crazy by not escaping to a wider outside world. Now none of the hotels I stayed at this trip were less than adequate, in fact the Hotel Torino in Parma (shown in the pictures) was exceptional, and in all three the staff were friendly and helpful. And in all cases they were more than happy to recommend restaurants - all of them good - in the area.
Which brings us to the next thing - eating alone in restaurants. In North America you take a book, your laptop or suddenly find the tent cards on table the most fascinating piece of literature since Harry Potter. But that just isn't done here. Eating is an event not a necessity - or rather a necessity that becomes an event. And food, in Italy particularly, is a communal thing - its an excuse to socialize, meet friends, family and colleagues. An excuse to gossip, talk - and they do love to talk - and while away the time in the sunshine or the cool of an evening. The single diner is met with a look of sympathy: poverino, he has no woman to look after him; sometimes with an arched eyebrow: what's the matter with him doesn't he have any friends; and occasionally with simple curiosity: why would anyone be alone? I found it particularly difficult as I tucked into my Polenta Grantinée with Brie and Porcini mushrooms at I tre porcellini at Sunday lunch. Sunday lunch (pranzo) is a sacred institute here and to be alone at that time of the week is to be truly alone.
Understand that none of this is said in self-pity, more like self-realization - I don't enjoy travelling alone! And having said all that I'm off on my own next week to Bologna, just for the evening, to see Heinrich Marschner's rarely perfomed Der Vampyr. I've covered the hotel problem by booking a double for single use - got a great deal at booking.com. That just leaves the dinner alone problem? So how does this sound: Harmless gentleman of advancing years desires the company of an intelligent ... Nah, think I'll just have a tramezzino at the Teatro bar.
06 novembre - San Leonardo di Noblac