Sometimes there is no story.
Sure, the experts will tell you you're nothing without a cracking good yarn; that travel writing is all about the hairsbreadth escape from the rampaging elephant in Tanzania, or the little old lady in Krakow whose heartrending act of kindness changed your worldview forever. No doubt that's true, and I've had a few hairsbreadth escapes from rampaging little old ladies in my day. But I've also had memorable moments just sitting in a piazza drinking beer and breathing in air filled with diesel exhaust and the dust of centuries.
This trip to Italy is likely to be heavier on beer and piazzas than National Geographic moments. But it's my blog, so sue me.
My parents, now they're the ones with the stories. They lived in Rome for eleven eventful years in the 1980s and '90s. They sailed on a boat that nearly sank off Anzio and watched opera in the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. They were interrogated (and released) by the carabinieri under posted organization chart showing the Pope on top. My mother once slipped on a subway platform and nearly had her legs severed by a graffiti-crusted train car before being pulled to safety by strangers. My dad killed vipers on the golf course and saved his friend's life with CPR when he collapsed with a heart attack on the fairway.
My parents explored every nook and cranny of Italy and most of Europe, read mountains of books and made a small army of friends from all over the world.
I did none of those things. I flew to their apartment every year at summer or Christmas from law school or this job or that job. I slept off jet lag in the guest bedroom. I unpacked bags of aspirin and Life cereal or anything else that was expensive or in short supply in Rome. I sat on the terrace drinking espresso and feeding crumbs to the lizards and blackbirds and listened to the latest stories. While my mother was at work my dad and I would drive the Alfa out to the Alban Hills to drink white wine in a nameless hill town and solve all the world's problems.
Then I'd fly back home with a suitcase full of my favorite candy and flea-market cashmere sweaters and resume life under Seattle's comforter of clouds.
My parents retired to Edmonds, Washington, which is nice but not at all like Rome. So the went back regularly to revisit old haunts and friends. I tagged along when I could, sitting at the trattoria table pushing strands of spaghetti pomodoro around with my fork, engrossed in tumbling rapids of tales recounted by my mother, father and friends.
By my count this is my eighteenth trip to Italy. By my parents' account it's going to be their last. I've been beyond fortunate to have had the opportunity to share their adventure, and I'm delighted to accompany them on their last lap around the Italian peninsula. Sure, I have my own stories to tell, but this time I'm just happy to be a part of theirs.