Today, we visit Padova. Padova is a town about 50 kilometres from Venice and it is where my uncle and aunt live, as well as my two cousins and their families. This has been an adventure in the making for some weeks. I lived with my uncle and aunt when I was fourteen (I turned fifteen when I was there), but I haven’t seen them for thirty years, so this was some kind of big deal.
We had had dinner with Paolo the night before and had agreed to meet at that station at around 10am to 10.10am. The morning was full of me getting aggressive with the kids (and Myles; let’s face it) about what they were going to wear. I had been out in the Campo earlier in the morning to ring Paolo and to make sure that all was well, and then, blind panic set in. What to wear? This eclipsed Jane Austen by a factor of 12 (at least), and it wasn’t just me either. There was Paris to convince to wear his hair in a hair tie (and to wear a conservative jumper; imagine his delight), there was Zelda to get into a skirt (which she did; a black one that she wore with leggings and long, black boots), there was Myles who had to be told that he couldn’t wear a purple tee shirt under a khaki shirt, there was Niccolo who couldn’t understand why he had to wear a clean shirt. And there was me. What the hell was I going to wear? I had about six outfits that I swapped between and ended up in the skirt I bought in Barcelona, a simple black top and my new shoes from Paris. The fact that I can recount this in detail might give you some idea how anxious I was.
I was still sick from Milan, so I opted not to eat breakfast in case the whole tummy thing flared. We marched to the station in double quick time, me doing the whip, whip, whip thing with the kids (‘no; you can’t stop, what are you doing? Why can’t you go faster?’). And there was Paolo waiting on the steps of the station. We bought the tickets (or rather, he did; the system was down but the train was local so all was well). And then we were on board and the whistle blew. Toot, toot. We were off to Padova.
After forty minutes, we were in Padova. We waited for a bus and then away we went. Baring in mind that I lived here for four months when I was fourteen, I was expecting that it would all feel familiar. I was shocked when nothing (NOTHING) looked familiar. It was a town I had never seen before. How could this be? How could I remember nothing??? Even was we passed through the centre of town, and the [Prato de Valle]; nothing. Perhaps I wandered underneath that portico over there? Perhaps. But it was like it had happened to another person. I must explain that I, in fact, spent most of the four months in Padova walking around. I was a walking fanatic – I walked from their apartment to Padova pretty much daily. I knew my way around. And now, I knew nothing.
There was a flicker of grief for this. Where did that girl go?
Then we got off the bus. And there was my uncle, Enio. He was looking worried; we were a bit late. And when he saw me, he told me that I hadn’t changed at all. How nice is that! Thirty years, and no change. Well, perhaps not. And thirty years had managed to erase any knowledge I had of this town, so something had changed. We walked down streets I should know (damn it!) and it was not until we arrived at their apartment block that there was a tremor of a memory. I knew this place. And there, across the road was the canal I walked up and down thirty years ago and thought up plots for novels, and imagined what my adult life would be like (for those who are curious; it currently bears no resemblance. It is a blessing. Living the life imagined must be a trial. You would learn nothing; you would have no humility or empathy).
We went upstairs to the apartment and there was my aunt, greeting me like it was yesterday. She asked me about any changes, and took me around the apartment; things had changed – the kitchen had been moved and all the rooms redecorated except the one in which I had slept all that time ago and this was a gift. I could see myself there. We had champagne (or prosecco) and awaited Raffaele and his family. And then in he swept. He looked just like he did when I last saw him (so I did recognise something, and not everything had changed). His wife was charming and warm, and his kids were great. Niccolo and his son Matteo were sudden best friends. I love kids. How do they do that?
We left for a restaurant around the corner. There, we met Riccardo, my other cousin, and his wife Valentina. So we were all together. And it was time to eat.
I can’t be effluvious enough about my family now. They rose to the occasion, Myles chatting to people with whom he shared no language, Paris holding court with Riccardo who does speak English, Niccolo playing word search games with Matteo in Italian and Zelda smiling and doing her best. God they are great, my family. Things were good, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and Enio and Angioletta were charming hosts.
At the end of lunch, Raffaele offered to drive us back to Venice. It was kind, and we accepted. On the way, we did some reminiscing, which was kind of good for me. We talked about how he would take me around on his vespa, and going to the mountains to ski, and his friend from Nigeria who had two wives (about which he then told me a story; when they were sitting their final exams, this friend received a telegram telling him that one of his wives had just had a baby. In the middle of the celebrations, Raffaele made the observation that he had not been back to Nigeria in the last ten months. The celebrations ended).
Back in Venice, Paolo walked us to our apartment and we said goodbye. We went upstairs to rest. It had been a huge day. After a lie down and some chores, we went out again and looked at the city at night; the canals, the calle, the shops, the people, and we bought ice cream. It is the only way to get the kids interested in anything. We speculated that we might come back in the day to buy some things; bags, stockings, a mask for carnivale.
At home, we all got into bed. It was the best sleep I had had in weeks.