Boo Jason Wu and Target Too

It was kind of early for a Saturday morning but I could tell my wife had somewhere she wanted to go. She gives off a certain energy- even our cats can feel it.

“Are we going somewhere?” I yawned as she got out of the shower. “Target has some of that Jason Wu stuff again.” “Didn’t we waste our time trying to get some of that stuff last time it came out?” “Yes, but that was days after. This stuff is going out this morning.” “Okay,” I said “so I’ll take a shower while you dry your hair.” “I’m not drying my hair,” she replied. 

This was serious. I put on some deodorant over yesterday’s and grabbed a T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap to cover my bed-head. “I’m ready,” I announced to no one as she was already waiting in the car.

We get to Target and beeline straight for the “designer” section. It’s not hard to find: it’s buzzing with activity and there are young ladies who I’ve never seen working at our local Target manning a welcome booth with free tiny plastic cups of bubbly water, and fruit strips for some odd reason. There are more fruit strips than the designer stuff they’d been advertising on TV for the last couple of days.

Now I’m not a great shopper, but if you give me a sniff of what you’re looking for I’m like a hound dog on the case. “Here it is,” I proclaimed when I found a scarf with a cat on it. “This is Jason Wu, right?” “It is,” replied Alex, “but I’m looking for the bags.” 

I tracked down one of the young designer ladies and asked her about the bags. “Oh, we’re already out of those,” she said, like I was some Neanderthal and didn’t know how this bait-and-switch worked. “There was a line out the door this morning. We only had four of those bags and they were gone within minutes. Would you like me to check online or at another store?” she said with a smile.

“Wait a minute, you only had four bags?” I said, drawing out the “four” for frustrating emphasis . Her smile dimmed a bit, but seconds later she thought she had one online and was about to take my credit card when she said “oh no, now there are none left online…. But it looks like they might have a couple still in Sandy Springs. Would you like me to call them for you?” “Sure, can they hold one then?” “Oh, no, they can’t hold one.” “So, I’m going to drive 30 minutes and just hope there’s a bag?” She just shrugged, feigning a slight smile.

I didn’t know about my wife, but I’d had it. I approached the welcome booth and grabbed two each of the various fruit strips, grumbling under my breath how I was going to make this useless trip to Target worth my while. The young designer ladies in red probably thought I was a real Neanderthal at that point.

When we got back to the car, I proudly showed off my largess of fruit strips. My wife must of been just as perturbed: she handed me an entire can of bubbly water- she’d grabbed two of them right out from under the noses of those designer gals- wet head and all!


The Amish Aren’t the Answer to Everything – Or Are They?

Last year we arrived at Alex’s family cottage on Lake Ontario to a mess. Squatters had taken residence over the winter and didn’t even clean up after themselves. In all fairness our brooms were a bit large for these fuzzy creatures.

Winters can be brutal here, especially ten feet from the frozen lake, so I didn’t blame the mice for coming in, but I certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for them to return. I went to work looking for any and all tiny access points. I was crawling around like, well, a mouse when Alex (being the realist that she is sometimes) pointed to the giant hole that is the fireplace. “That’s probably where they’re coming in,” she said.

The cottage had been redone, but they kept the old two-sided stone fireplace as a cool focal point. Cool, but possibly not air-tight. Okay, I thought, now how do I go about sealing that bighole? This was a not-frequently-occupied vacation home, only used in summer, so tools were sparse but I did happen to have my Leatherman. “I can fix it,” I declared with all the confidence of Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High just after they wrecked Jefferson’s Camaro.

I bought some wood from the local hardware store and went to work. Two days and two trips back for fresh wood later , I was still cursing the fact that I couldn’t get the thing to line up with the old uneven rock fireplace for a tight seal.

Meanwhile, every day we’d hear the sound of horses hoofs and a carriage running along the road in front of the cottage. This was the Amish who were building a beautiful wood deck a few houses up. Alex had heard that the Amish had produce stands around the area and she wanted to try to find them, but I was too busy not getting my project done to want to go on a wild goose-chase for fresh green beans. 

Then Alex told me I might want to ask the Amish to help fill the fireplace hole. I was frustrated, but I knew I could do this simple job, so I blurted out “the Amish aren’t the answer to everything Alex!”

Well, I finally finished sealing the hole, and we happened upon an Amish produce barn. We took home tomatoes, corn and beans that smelled so fresh you could almost taste them through your nostrils. We had a feast around the newly sealed fireplace hole (that admittedly the Amish could have done better than I) and we toasted them and our little furry mouse friends who would hopefully have to find a new home to shelter in next winter.

Riding Meteors with Monet

Entering the cottage feels like walking onto a boat. The lake rises from a bank of windows as you look out at the churning water on the other side of the glass. It’s a bit disorienting to see nothing but water and horizon from inside this land-dwelling structure.

They say a meteor about a mile wide is buried below Lake Ontario at the Canadian border not far from Chaumont Bay, New York. Some people think it creates its own weather pattern and is the reason for unexplained shipwrecks and other sorts of mysticism. I’m not sure about all that, but I will say that this place can be otherworldly. 

My wife’s family cottage on Point Salubrious is one of the few west-facing here that is basically at water-level and only about 10 feet from the bay. Next door, there’s a stone chimney half-submerged like an ancient ruin marking where another such place existed.

 There’s water now on three sides. We are surrounded by sand bags, the only thing (along with a new seawall built just last year) that keeps the water from coming in after big storms. You wonder why anyone would try to keep this place afloat (pun intended).

But then, the sun sets on any given night and you know why.

We’ve seen sunsets from Paris to Positano, from Montecito to Montana, but these here are, well… otherworldly. They can start innocuously enough but always seem to end up like a French impressionist’s painting. It’s like Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and Gauguin- paintbrushes in hand- are all riding their own meteors up in this sky.

A Cold Blast on a Hot Summer Day

It was probably 100 degrees according to the blacktop index- that’s the actual temperature plus 5 to 10 degrees, depending on how heat-absorbent the pavement you’re parking on is.

We got out of the car and put on winter coats, hats and gloves and asked our visiting French god-daughter Ines if she could guess what we were going to do on that hot summer day. “Ice skating?!” she answered with glee. I felt a little bad about the fact that we were not going ice skating, but my wife assured me this would be an experience Ines would be talking about back in France one day.

I grabbed an industrial steel flat cart as we approached the warehouse-looking structure. Once inside, we scanned our card, took a left and stepped into the biggest walk-in refrigerator this side of the Big Chicken. Ines’ eyes widened as she took in wheels of cheese bigger than her head. 

“Holy moly,” she said with her French accent, mimicking something that we must have uttered too many times in front of her when she was learning English. At least she didn’t say “Jesus Christ” which was another idiom she picked up probably in the back of the car while I dealt with Atlanta road rage.

We walked the aisles of Restaurant Depot’s walk-in refrigerator like we were taking a stroll on a winter day… in the middle of summer. Employees in winter-onesies nodded as we passed. 

Besides the cheeses, they had more meat than a carnivore could care to imagine (the whole goat definitely pushed the limits of our comfort-level), there was floor-to-ceiling fresh produce, and even live fish in the back… and that was just the cold section. There was a whole nother side of the place dedicated to dried, canned, boxed, bottled and bagged restaurant supplies. This was where Atlanta’s restaurants, food trucks and caterers could get anything needed to run a food business.

Still in the cold side, we saw some people shivering as they shopped in their summer t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. The place had loaner jackets, but they were as crusty looking as the crustaceans they sold. Now Ines understood why we had her dressed like Nanook of the north. 

That night, I admitted to my wife that it was a memorable excursion, but the next surprise would have to be ice skating. Always one for a theme, Alex wondered where we could get a Kristi Yamaguchi outfit for Ines.

A Kid and His Convertible ~ Part 5 of My Generation

The yellows and oranges of fall were just starting to color the October Atlanta foliage. This was usually a time for high schoolers to sneak Schnapps into football stadiums, but for me it was time to work. I had to pay my dad back for the Alfa Romeo, and put a few bucks aside in case my mom actually gave in to me seeing The Who.

I’d landed a job parking cars at a local restaurant. It was as upscale as its poetically pretentious name: The Lark and the Dove. It sat cradled in a hill above the freeway, so when you walked in you had to go down a set of stairs into the dining room. It almost gave the effect of being announced at a royal event: Doo, da, da, loo! The Jones’ of Sandy Springs. Only there was no horn, just some light and easy jazz, and there was no official announcer, just one of the revolving door of beautiful hostesses leading the Jones’ to their table.

Not that I spent any time in the dining room. I was lucky to get a cup of the soup du jour, but on this crisp evening one of the sous chefs brought out just that.

“For you amigo.” he said as he handed me a thick and creamy broccoli concoction with steam still coming off the top. I stupidly tried some without letting it cool and immediately spit it back into the bowl so it wouldn’t burn my throat like it just did my tongue.

“No good?” he asked.

“Too hot.”

“Pinche gente! I tell them turn down fire, but they don’ listen to sous chef. In Mexico, I chef, they listen.”

Miguel arrived in the spring from Mexico and got a job at The Lark through his cousin, who did cleanup for the restaurant. His brothers had already moved out to Atlanta when they heard about all the construction work in the booming metropolis. But Miguel wasn’t like his brothers who could carry fifty-pound bags of cement, or bang nails, or work on their knees laying floors all day. No, Miquel was more of an artist, and his medium was food. Unfortunately, he had to pay his dues by making piping hot broccoli soup instead of spicy hot tortilla soup.

“What does pinche gente mean anyway?”

“Fucking people.”

“Like people fucking?”

“No, like when you…” He held up a fist like he was pissed off at someone.

“Oh, I get it. Like when a guy driving a nice new car hands me some spare change for a tip. Pinche gente!”

“Si!” exclaimed Miguel even if he didn’t understand every word of what I had just said. He headed for the back entrance where all the kitchen crew came in and out. “Adios muchacho.”

I ate some more soup now that it had cooled, and got my tickets and key board in order for the night. The job was easy as long as you were organized. Knowing your cars was helpful too.

I heard the deep rev of the engine before I saw it: a newer model Mustang, cleaned all the way down to its shiny tires. Good for a two-spot at the very least, I thought to myself as I eyed the young-looking driver.

I worked for tips. No hourly wage. I’d usually get a dollar per car, sometimes a five or even twenty on the rare occasion. I’d gotten pretty good at figuring out how much of a tip I’d get on instinct as soon as the car pulled in: Buick with the seat pulled up so the old lady driving could kiss the steering wheel?… Change from a coin-purse if you were lucky; Big Cadillac with white leather seats?… Peacock who might give you a five or a ten; Red Ferrari?… Not what you’d think. Two or three bucks tops. These guys didn’t get their Ferraris by throwing around cash.

Parking cars gets you right into people’s personal space. Especially their smells. You could tell if someone was trying to get laid, or why they weren’t getting laid the minute you jumped into their car. A lingering smell of perfume and a sexy Sade CD queued up and you knew someone was trying to get laid. Fast-food wrappers and stale cigarette smoke and you could just feel the frustration. Some people never cleaned out their ashtrays. Others never cleaned period. Some tried to cover up smells with worse smells. Then there were the brand new cars that smelled of leather and whatever magical concoction created what can only be described as new car smell.

I opened the Mustang’s passenger door to a waft of a tropical island and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. She smiled demurely at me as she got out and pushed back her slightly damp hair, revealing ocean-green eyes. I stood there dumbfounded with her door still open.

“Shut the door!” the driver growled from his seat. And as soon as I did, he took off.

Pinche gente, I thought, as I hurriedly went to grab the front door of the restaurant for the beauty with the beast. She kind of giggled as I made a grand gesture and said, “welcome to the Lark and the Dove.” Only later did I find out that she was one of the new hostesses and her name was Mia.

I was mid-shift running for cars, when Dave pulled up in his orange Camaro blowing smoke out of the tailpipe. He looked like he had just gotten done working; he was sweating even in this cold weather.

“Yo, dude, I’m not feeling too good. Where’s the bathroom in there?”

“Entry level, all the way to the back.”

He threw me his keys and ran inside. I got into his Camaro and took in what could only be described as gym locker mixed with sick hospital bed smell.

About ten minutes later, Dave came out looking slightly less sweaty than when he went in.

“Don’t go near the bathroom dude.”

“What happened?”

“I went past the hot hostess and paused for a minute to chat her up. By the time I made it to the bathroom, it was coming out of both ends. I had to leave my underwear in there.”

I handed him back his keys and said “If anyone asks, we don’t know each other.”

“Too late, I told the hot hostess I was your best friend.”

Later that evening I was waiting for my last car to leave. I was hoping to get out of there before Dave’s bathroom incident came back to bite me, so I walked into the restaurant to check on the stragglers. They were at a table with a bottle of wine between them, still half full. The waitress for that station was so frustrated, she was about to yell fire to get them the hell out of there. I had the option to give them their keys and tell them I was closing up and hope for a tip, but I eyed Mia and decided I might stay for a minute.

She was reading a book, unfazed by the frustration all around her. I noticed the title of the book had “motorcycle maintenance” in it. Who was this girl?I thought as I approached her hostess stand.

“You fix motorcycles?” I asked stupidly.

She laughed a laugh that was deep and almost musical. She thought I was being funny. She put the book down and I saw the whole title: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

“Just trying to fix myself I guess.”

Like there could be anything wrong with you,I thought, but just said “oh?”

She took that as an opening. “And I think I might need to work on my boyfriend as well. He was supposed to be here an hour ago to pick me up…”

“I’m leaving now if you need a ride?” I said as I almost threw the stragglers their keys.

“That would be nice.”

“I’ll grab my car and meet you up front.”

I pulled up in my Alfa and saw her standing there adjusting her scarf blowing in the wind like a scene from a Doisneau portrait. She got in, and that’s when I saw the headlights behind me. I recognized the roar of the engine, only this time it sounded like it was roaring at me: The boyfriend had arrived.

He got out and approached my car door before I could blink. His tenor matched the roar of his engine. He was a big guy, but only looked bigger from the low seat of my Alfa Romeo. I held up a finger and said “let me get out and we can talk about this” but as I opened the door and started to stand, he punched down on me. I slunk back down in my seat.

A song drifted through the darkness of my concussed mind: “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” I wasn’t sure how long I was out, but when I came to, Mia was still in the passenger seat next to me holding a towel to my bloody lip. No boyfriend in sight.

“I am so sorry,” she said, “he has some anger issues.”

“Maybe you should give him that maintenance book.”

She smiled at my joke, which was just what I needed at that moment. “There’s just one thing we have to do before you take me home,” she cooed.

“What’s that?”

“Well, this is a convertible right?”

“It is.”

“Then why is the top not down?!”

“Well, it’s kinda’ cold out.”

“Doesn’t this thing have heat?”

“It does.”

“So, crank it!.”

And that’s just what we did.

After dropping Mia off at her mom’s place, I cut through the curvy roads back to mine and smiled thinking about her smile. I put my hand out in the crisp night air and let it float with the stream, the closest to flying I could get.


The Land of Incongruity

We were looking at houses in California again. My job had an opportunity for me out there and we thought it might be nice to get back to the land of sand, sun and fun.

We looked online at places up and down the coast from San Diego to Bodega Bay, even back to LA. We spent 15 years in Los Angeles before moving to Atlanta, but didn’t really want to rewind our lives, so we focused more on places like Santa Barbara.

We got married in Santa Barbara and always talked about moving there someday… Well, that day is not today. You’d think with all the natural disasters California has had in the last couple of years that prices would be coming down, but they are not.

Alex and I both moved to LA at the same time without knowing each other. This was just after the Northridge earthquake and some riots back in 1994. It was a buyer’s market.

The housing bust of 2009 brought some coastal California prices back down to not quite Earth, but maybe the stratosphere. Since then, they’re back up in the stratosphere.

When we lived in LA the highest priced homes for the super-rich were probably 10 to 30 million, today there’s a home for sale in LA that was originally listed for 250 million, now discounted to a bargain-basement price of only 150 million. The taxes alone could feed a small village… or a big one!

We aren’t among the cake eaters, so were looking at more modest homes in the million dollar range. Did I just write that, because looking back on that sentence the words modest and million dollar seem incongruous? But that’s where we all are right now in today’s USA; the land of incongruity.

Well, we ended up staying put in Atlanta. We do buy a few more lottery tickets these days, since that’s what it would take for us to get back to Cali in any better form than when we left. Of course those lottery tickets have gone up to $2 a pop… and so the incongruous Ferris wheel turns.

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The Prosciutto Caper

“Naples is Rome’s dirty little brother,” someone had said at the beginning of our Italian journey. Well, if that’s true, then Positano is its sun-kissed, lemon-scented cousin, and we were reluctantly heading from the cousin’s to the brother’s for one final night before our flight home to America.

The drive back up the coast was just as scenic and beautiful, and just a little less acrophobia-inducing as the way down. For Alex’s sake, at least our car was hugging the mountain now as we drove north, not brushing up against the edge of the 1,000-foot drop where she sat going south.

After the curvy excursion, Alex got her bearings and noticed we were passing the same grocery store we’d stocked up at on the way down. “Oh, let’s stop here!” she said excitedly. I thought our trip was done, so I hesitated, but knowing Alex I decided to just go with it.

We went in and she knew exactly what she wanted to buy to take on our flight home: little balsamic bottles, olives, cookies, jams. Anything that looked uniquely Italian and not findable at our local Trader Joes, or World Market.

We had enough to fill a small bag so I was heading to the door thinking we were done. Then we turned the corner of an aisle and there it was: the giant leg of prosciutto.

“We have to take this home with us,” Alex said. “No way,” I replied. “Do you know how much just a small packet of say 10 slices costs in the U.S.?” “Not cheap,” I said, “that’s why we don’t buy it much.” “Exactly… do you know how many slices you can get out of this leg of prosciutto? I mean, do the math.” “Well I don’t think we can take it home with us on the plane, with customs and all,” I said. “No, we can, I had Lana check.” Lana was our house-sitter. So she had this planned all along, I thought. “Okay, fine, but our suitcases are full so what will we put it in?” I asked as one last attempt at stopping this madness. “We’ll buy a duffle bag or something.” “Just for the prosciutto? You’d better rework your math on the whole slices per leg thing, if you want to buy a bag just for the prosciutto.”

We ended up finding a box at the Naples hotel. I still didn’t trust our intel about being allowed to carry meat across borders, so we put the leg of prosciutto at the bottom, Alex’s sweater on top of that, and some cookies and jams on top of that, just in case someone opened the box to see what was in there.

We got up early with our contraband, and headed to the airport. About 2 minutes away from the hotel I was pulled over by an Italian cop. I thought maybe we could use the prosciutto as a bribe, but didn’t have to: the guy must not have wanted to write up an international ticket, and let us go.

Once near the airport, we found the rental car return and got everything out of the car and looked for a shuttle to no avail. Apparently, it was too early for them, or maybe they were late, or maybe it was just an Italian thing. We saw what looked like a taxi and got in. He drove us about 100 yards and arrived at the front of the airport and demanded 30 Euros.

I was starting to smell a scam. “Look, I appreciate you taking us 15 seconds up the road, but I don’t have 30 Euros. I can give you 20.” He then promptly showed me an ATM, but I held my ground. An airport security guy was eyeing us, so the man took the 20 and left.

We then stood in line with our suitcases, and large cardboard box full of meat. The security guard who saw me arguing with the taxi guy came over with another security guard and they took us out of the line and into a room off to the side.

The room was lit by the creepy glow of bare halogen bulbs. There was a table in the middle of the room and shelves full of odd items surrounding us.

“Put the box on the table,” said the bigger of the two not very kindly. I did.

“What’s in the box?” asked the man. “Just some cookies and jams… a sweater,” I replied. Then he turned the box over and opened it. He pulled out the glistening hunk of pork and smiled crookedly. “Ah, prosciutto,” he said. Then he looked through the other things and told us we could go- without our box. As we left we saw him put his head through a conveyer belt hole and yell, “scotch!”

Walking to our plane Alex said “well that’s the last we’ll see of that prosciutto. He and his friends are going to be drinking scotch and feasting on that for weeks.”

We got on the plane still a bit sweaty from all the drama that morning and Alex noticed our box all taped up and being put under the plane with the other bags. We got home and discovered that it was all there: the cookies, the jams, and the whole leg of prosciutto. And we learned the word scotch in Italian isn’t just a drink, but another word for tape.

It was a crazy, beautiful, fun and frustrating trip and we were looking forward to getting home. “Arrivederci Italy!” we both said at the same time.


The Sirens of the Mediterranean

From our porch overlooking Positano we could watch the sun set and the moon rise over the Mediterranean, and enjoy Alex’s cooking.

I know, some would think it a sacrilege to cook for yourself while in Italy. We did have some lunches and dinners in town, which were good, just not unbelievably good. For the prices they were asking, they should have been orgasmically good.

We had a kitchen and the best view in town looking out over the roof-tops of the luxurious Le Sirenuse hotel, named for the three islands in the distance that the sirens of Greek mythology were said to inhabit, luring sailors off their course with their beautiful songs. (Those hotel rooms were probably $1,000 per night, and we had the same view for a fraction of the price, with a kitchen!)

Alex could be a Top Chef, Iron Chef, Bobby Flay-beater, Mario Batali-basher; all of those combined. She had procured local ingredients like lemons, herbs and spices, and the liquid gold of the region: aged balsamic. Just fresh bread and that balsamic was heavenly, but we also had incredible home-cooked steak Florentine, pork chops, and pizza right on our balcony. We even pulled the dining room table and chairs out to the porch to eat in style.

I joked that we could cook for strangers and rent out the balcony for a few nights; help pay for our trip. Alex laughed, but I was semi-serious. “We can go out to the street with a sample platter and lure them in like the sirens.”

“Well we’d better take some singing lessons,” was all Alex had to say to that.


One Eye Open in Positano

The drive to Positano was surreal for me and scary for Alex who was in the passenger side closest to the edge of the 1,000-some-foot drops. This road looked like it shouldn’t even be there. It hugged the mountain, midway between sea and sky, the width of about two Alfa Romeo convertibles. So it was a bit of a surprise when a giant tour bus lurched around a corner coming our way like a misplaced whale on wheels.

The “guard rails” along this death trail, were either non-existent or consisted of about two-feet of ancient stone. I had to pull a little closer to the edge to let the beast go by. If Alex had her hand out the window just then, she could have dropped a penny in the ocean for good luck.

A few motorcycle swarms, a couple of drag racers, and quite a few whale-sized buses later we came upon our destination.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun when Diane Lane’s character goes to surprise her young Italian lover at his place in Positano and he talks to her from his balcony overlooking the Mediterranean sea; that’s the apartment we rented for a week. We didn’t know that at the time, only later while watching the movie.

The town rises up from the sea like a tiered wedding cake with a one-way road encircling it. When we pulled up to the front of the apartment, there was no place to park so we had to do a lap.

On the way back around we came upon a couple of local teenagers on mopeds talking to their friends who were standing in the street. They saw my car but didn’t move. This was the tail-end of tourist season, so they were probably just expressing frustration at the invading hordes. I tapped the horn “politely” but they still didn’t budge. The cars behind me were breathing down my neck, so I slowly moved toward the teenagers, expecting them to get out of the way…. Well, they didn’t, and I ended up hitting one of them with my sideview mirror which turned inward with the blow.

“They’re following us,” Alex said with concern. “We were only going about 1 mile per hour. I’m sure we didn’t hurt him,” I replied. The kids pulled up beside us while we climbed the hill and they gesticulated like Italians at a heated dinner table, then peeled away. We both sighed in relief, but had a lingering feeling that these kids had our number and might surprise us later.

Fortunately, you don’t need a car in Positano (as long as you’ve got strong legs and a good heart to manage all the steps) so our vehicle was parked in a lot for most of the stay. And after just a few days in this lemon-tree-scented oasis we felt welcomed.

The official tourist season had ended and we had seen the same merchants and postman and policeman on our strolls up and down the town steps. The bar by the beach even gave us a free appetizer and chatted with us like we lived there after they’d seen us in the place a few times: me drinking a Peroni and Alex an Italian wine.

We hoped with less tourists to hassle, the Italian teenagers would move on to other forms of youthful deviance… but I had one eye open just in case.


Oink Oink Italy

We did just two days in Capri. It’s a beautiful island with some great verticality, but very touristy, and very expensive: We felt like we were on Rodeo drive with a view. If you’re looking for some hundred dollar handkerchiefs this might be the spot.

We did not do the cave either… from above, we saw the long line of small tourist boats bobbing around in the choppy water below and decided it was a no. We’d have to content ourselves with the perfume ads.

By the time we got back to our car in the ferry parking lot, I was ready to get to our next stop: Positano. My wife, however, had other plans. First we had to go to the grocery store along the route to stock up. After all, we had an apartment with a full kitchen for the next week.

This is the kind of stop that I grumble about while doing, but then after eating the incredible dishes my wife makes from these stops, and my stomach stops its grumbling, I regret all the grumbling.

The grocery store was a big one, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, called Auchan. Everything was written in Italian (as it should be in Italy) and we didn’t hear a word of English. “We picked the right place,” Alex said as she got her bearings, and I realized we’d be there awhile.

Alex loves to grocery shop in different parts of the world. She can look at practically every item on every shelf. I’m more like: “Okay, here’s the meat” (toss in cart) “veggies, check” (toss in cart) “a little red, a little white” (delicately place bottles in cart) and we’re done.

At one point, I was rolling our cart talking to myself as Alex had stopped to look at a giant leg of prosciutto hanging from the end-cap like we would hang a small Oscar Mayer bologna pack back in the States.

I know from experience that when Alex stops for more than a minute, she means business, so I assessed the situation and thought “this thing is too big and too expensive and probably not even legally allowed on a plane to the U.S.” She either read my mind, or changed hers because all she said was “wow,” and we continued on.

We then found ourselves looking at a package of meat that we couldn’t make out the provenance. An older lady was efficiently grabbing items next to us, so Alex asked her in English what the meat was. The lady smiled and said she didn’t speak English, so Alex pointed at the meat and went “moooo?” The lady giggled and shook her head no. So Alex said “oink, oink” and the lady squinched her eyebrows like she didn’t quite get it.

“Animal sounds can be a little different in other languages,” I offered. So Alex pushed her finger to her nose and made a real gutteral pig sound. This time the lady brightened and laughed and did the same thing while nodding a yes and pointing to the package.

We found out later that Italians do say oink, but our accents can make it sound different. Either way, sometimes it’s great to know the language, or have your translation guide at the ready, other times it’s just as much fun to make do. This was one of the latter, for sure.