Dona and Joe’s European Vacation, Episode 2: Sadness and Soul and Sumptuousness

There’s seems to be no way to tie today’s aspects together, so I’m not even going to try.

1. First was the 9/11 Memorial, which we visited early today. It is a place mostly of silence. On any given day thousands of people visit the museum built on the grounds of the World Trade Center that was destroyed in a terrorist attack in 2001. Many of them weren’t born by that date, but I suspect it doesn’t lessen the effect the remains of the buildings, or the twisted rescue vehicles, or the statistics of lives lost have on our collective psyche. At first, when one enters the museum, there is the lingering rage at the attack itself: the how dare they murder our innocents; how dare they attack us on our homeland. But as visitors descend to what was the bedrock foundation of the original towers to view the exhibits, this changes. Even the most boisterous in the crowd become quiet. What can one say amid the recordings of phone calls from the doomed to their loved ones? What words can describe the bits and pieces of lives lost: ID cards and fire helmets, children’s clothing, a pair of slippers?

For me, the rage melted into respect for the dead, for the survivors, and for the rescuers who did not sleep and kept working for days knowing that someone might still be alive under the rubble. It is hard to want to kill even the enemy then, because their hatred is so petty and insignificant when compared to the lives taken, the effort spent.

Hence the silence. Better to treat hatred in the way it deserves, to simply refuse to acknowledge it. Hatred seeks our attention. It thrives on it. Deny it that goal and it eventually dissipates.

A woman I did not know bumped into me at one point. Above ground, she might have said, “sorry.” I might have said, “that’s all right.” But in the memorial we did not speak. She put her hand on my shoulder and we simply nodded to each other.

2. Later Dona and I visited a friend we had not seen in about 12 years, since we lived in Long Beach. We knew Lynn Wagner when she and I both worked in a local printer’s building, she as a sales rep, me as a graphic artist. Since then we’ve both left our more secure careers to pursue artistic callings. Lynn was trained as a singer. She had an opportunity to return to that love, and she took it, and now commutes between the west coast and New York while she attends classes at Julliard and performs at places as diverse as small nightclubs and Carnegie Hall.

We talked about the ups and downs of pursuing a career in the arts during middle age, surrounded by people younger than us, some of whom have established careers, knowing that we might never but pursuing it anyway. We talked about the desire to try, and the desire to just get better at what we do, regardless of the outcome. How wonderful it was to share that sentiment with someone who understands. Knowing there are others who are trying what I’m trying is an inspiration. I just hope it isn’t another 12 years before our paths cross again.

3. We’ve had good luck, Dona and I, in finding great restaurants, without reservations, while visiting big cities. These are the ones down the side streets, the ones that don’t advertise, and aren’t backed by big chains or hotels. We found one in SF, and tonight we found another in NYC, an Italian place called Allora on 47th Street. The severe manner of our manager and waiter reminded me of those old, first-generation Italians I grew up with back here, men whose impatience with indecision is legendary: You know what you want? No? I’ll come back later.

But maybe our waiter saw something in us as Dona and I enjoyed what has to be the best food we’ve dined on in, like, forever. Maybe he sensed a connection of some kind, from the me of now to the one who grew up here. Maybe I was the first customer in months, among the throngs of tourists who dine there, to order an after-dinner port. Whatever, he didn’t bother with a list, but said he’d take care of it, and pulled out a bottle of 30-year and poured for both of us, and followed that up with two glasses of Limoncello, a drink popular in my ancestral land, and didn’t charge us for any of it.

I’m still trying to figure it out, which is okay because it’s more fun to try to figure out why people do nice things than evil ones.

If you’re ever in Midtown, go to Allora.

So maybe there is a thread in tonight’s blog after all. Call it motivations—why people do what they do. I’m not going to push it, though.

And I promise, Dona will start blogging soon.

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5 thoughts on “Dona and Joe’s European Vacation, Episode 2: Sadness and Soul and Sumptuousness

  1. JGPryde

    Your dinner reminds me of a failed but recovered TDay dinner in Boston. Our reservations at a 4* seafood restaurant were worthless when we arrived and the place was in chaos. So we walked down the street and found a Family owned Italian cafe with an available table. Best Turkey Risotto I’ve ever had and the service was friendly and fast. Perseverence pays off.
    Interesting post.

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