Americans in Italy, Spain, and France are somehow always in the market for new sunglasses. Today I’ll wear mine, the ones I found after trying on all the different styles in all the different cities. I’ll pretend I am abroad in a European city; I might just ask for directions with an accent. “Eh, zee museo? Here, no?” I’ll cross my legs at an outdoor café, writing in my journal, wearing a twist of patterned silk around my neck, in observation mode. When I’m through with espresso, I’ll move on toward a euro café full of racing leather, numbered shirts, and midriff, where I’ll sling back Sancerre and gulp orange mussels, dipping crusty bread into a lake of Thai-spiced coconut milk. I’ll stab a tub of mayonnaise with salted fries, and I won’t need a napkin. I’ll even have dessert, and the syrup they call wine to go with it.
I fear it’s time for sunless tanning lotion. Soon the sundresses and shoulders will twist on the streets of Manhattan, above espadrilles and tanned calves, above white summery pedicures. It’s that time again. Time for sunglasses, outdoor seating, and oysters… for shell jewelry, glowing white on tanned skin. For main course salads and white pants. For a pot of crème brûlée, beneath a green awning, above white linen, beside a half-full bottle of Pellegrino.
I move through cities without direction, in sneakers, inhaling architecture and absorbing flat faces. I look for dogs and miss Linus, see fashionable men and wonder if their wives chose their ties, see nuns and wonder what their hair looks like, and who, if anyone, cuts it. I hear small girls, with small folded white socks, ask for small things: a scoop of ice cream, some change to toss into the fountain, a balloon.
We all ask strangers to take us to where the locals go. Concierges everywhere grow weary from the request, “Nothing touristy. Tell me where the locals go, where the good hole in the wall is.” This from a woman wearing shorts and a fanny pack, holding a map. You have to imagine he sends all the other tourists to that same destination. So you quit doing that, and instead walk without direction, hoping you’ll stumble upon a secret gem of a restaurant. Nothing is as thrilling as learning something new.
Not unlike a new love, there are few things more rewarding than believing you’ve found something amazing that no one else has gotten wind of yet. For that moment, it’s your secret delight, and it feels warm. Your wine tastes better there, and the spaghetti is unlike anything you’ve tasted. You understand the idea of the Greeks and their ambrosia. You’re certain this music you hear will follow you in life, and when you’re back in the U.S., you promise to go to the Tower Records international section. You’ll load up on this music and play it when you’re cooking. When you are back in America, though, you have new to-do lists involving milk and film development, phone calls, let-me-tell-you-all-about-my-trip plans, European-looking gifts for those you forgot. But when you meet with friends to speak of your trip, of the weeks you were gone, you do it in minutes, sharing only one or two stories, speaking of your lucky find, of the beach you discovered and were on alone, of the fish you almost caught, of the guy you danced with until morning. You suddenly have less to share; it wasn’t for them. They won’t understand how you felt near that fountain, how you remember more the face of the gypsy who blessed you than an entire face of a city. They won’t comprehend the small white moments you felt on the train, as you passed rolling farms, wondering about the hands that tended to them. They will compliment you on your sunglasses, and you’ll thank them, wishing you could remember more.