Detour and Introduction

Based on innumerable requests received from readers, it is time to take a brief detour in our journey and introduce one of the main protagonists: My wife of many years, the love of my life, Tina Mann, nee von Tannenberg (yes, the von Tannenbergs!). During the course of our journey I will refer to her as the SLWW (Smartest and Loveliest Wife in the World), a catchy and convenient acronym dearly beloved by her. BTW, the photo shows her the one and only time in her life thinking inside the box.

For those of you who for some reason are hazy on the von Tannenberg family, let me fill that gap in your general knowledge.

The Tannenberg family goes back hundreds of years to the old kingdom of Bukovina-Herzegovina, in what is now the Republic of Transnjestr. Old municipal records first mention Tannenbergs in 1137, apparently peasants and squirrel hunters in the local mountains. These mountains were covered with fir trees, thus Tannenberg (“Fir tree hill” in English). Then the record is silent until 1849, when the patriarch of the family, Franticek “Frantic” Tannenberg, wins the “von” title, and with it the birthright of nobility, in a lottery sponsored by King Vacislav the Lame to benefit the local humane society. Ring a bell?

Anyway, unaccustomed to societal esteem, and in spite of what seems to be a ticket to wealth, the family fails to lift itself out of poverty and is finally forced to emigrate to the New World, to seek its fortune and escape marauding Cossacks.

Why, you may ask, would the daughter of such a prominent family marry a commoner like your humble blogger? In what circumstances, you may query, would people from such different social circumstances even meet? The short answer is, what was impossible in the Old World, is possible, even commonplace, in the new. Truth be told, the von Tannenbergs remained impoverished in America, more interested in the pursuit of happiness than money. They mingled with people of all social strata right from the start, resulting in a dilution of “Frantic’s” blood line; a happy dilution, according to some.

Tina said she took an almost immediate liking to me when we met at a Halloween party at the state college we attended. I was dressed as Dracula, she as a princess.  I think she was impressed by my get up and my carefully cultivated central European accent. It must have awakened something subconscious in her, something dark and long forgotten, yet romantic. I pretended to be knowledgeable about wine, looked rakish, yet thoughtful smoking my pipe and was driving a British racing green Mazda Miata. I swept her off her feet.

The rest is history, as they say.

This shall suffice as an introduction to the background of Tina and her family. We will next return to our regularly scheduled account. Tina will appear in our journey often enough; fear not, her character and intelligence will shine through on numerous occasions.

As for your blogger, illumination of his and his family’s past will have to wait. I fear that at this point my readers would not be ready for what is to come…

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The Shape of Things to Come…

… became clearer when we got to Rome, our new home for the next few weeks. Well, it became clearer in one sense, and more confusing in another. It dawned on us that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, or in our case in California. Termini train station, Rome’s major public transportation hub was a mess. People running around everywhere, words from dozens of languages flying around, only one of which we spoke, heat and humidity competing with each other for attention, and a layout that was apparently inspired by Dante’s Inferno.

So we played Where in The World is… the subway B Line, which we needed to get to our address. It’s supposed to be right here, in the train station. Why are there no signs? Why is the only information booth “Closed”? Why am I holding my map upside down? I would love to make a bee line to the B line, but, well, you get the picture. After running around like the proverbial chickens we finally spotted the sign to the subway, replete with a crooked arrow symbol, which seemed to indicate that one would simply have to go straight, then make a left, and then go down a few steps and that would be that. Well, here’s where it became crystal clear that confusion would rule our stay in Italy. Nay, that confusion was Italy. In a word, the arrow lead exactly nowhere. Well, I shouldn’t say nowhere. It lead somewhere, namely Pizzeria “Pucchini”. A fine establishment, I’m sure, dedicated to the comfort and well-being of Rome’s traveling population and tourists from all over the world. But not a subway station. (Of course, I would have appreciated the situation more if instead of a pizzeria it had been a “Subway” restaurant, but that’s beside the point). I just stood there, flatlining, my capacity to cope exhausted. But at this seemingly insurmountable impasse suddenly my hidden genius came to the rescue. My genius lies in the fact that many decades ago I made the decision (at least I think that I made that decision) to get married to a person. But not just any person, no. I married the smartest (and loveliest) wife in the world, Tina. In addition to many impressive qualities too numerous to mention, this wife of mine is quick-witted and decisive. This she demonstrated in convincing fashion when she decided to take matters into her own hands, and flag down a uniformed gentleman who looked possessed of a certain flair of authority, somebody who may actually know what he is doing. This was the breakthrough we needed! He pointed and gestured and knew some words of our language, the new lingua franca of the world. The modern successor to Latin, whose birthplace was right here, thousands of years ago. How poignant! I shuddered from the sheer gravity of the thought, or was it from a draft of cold air coming from somewhere in this cavernous place? I was lead gently by the Smartest Wife In The World towards our destination, the tracks of Line B, which opened before us and promised to lead us out of purgatory to an unknown and exciting future in this fascinating place, the Eternal City.

And so it begins…

… with a step outside, to the light, to the wonder.

That’s what traveling is. You may squint from all the sudden light, the glare, the sounds, the movement. It’s a little scary, unsettling. I guess that’s what it is supposed to be. Unsettling. Get’s you off your butt. Off the couch, gets you going and gets your circulation up, into the right extremities, like your legs and your arms, and your heart. Gets you out of your head and into the world. The world out there, that’s so big and wondrous and beautiful. You grow into it, if you’re lucky and if you like it; if you don’t withdraw. It makes you grow. You may actually have some fun, maybe quite a bit of it. Especially, if you just let it happen, let it wash over you, let it draw you into the light. So here we’ll see where it will draw us. It will seem random, maybe, but nothing truly is. We just can’t see the hand that guides us, and protects us, and helps us go where we were supposed to be from the beginning.