We reached Malpensa airport safe n sound about 7 pm last night after a long afternoon drive from Piazzale Roma, where we picked up a one day Eurocar rental.
Piazzale Roma is the end of the line once you cross the long car/train bridge from the mainland, where and cars come to a stop at the gateway to Venice. Since our escape car wasn't immediately ready, we went across the street where we dropped $300 in an Italian Coop store -- mostly parmesean, other cheeses, olives and proscutto, then driving on the A4 via Lago Garda.
We stopped for about 2 hours at Sirmione, a natural land spit sticking out into the expansively beautiful lake, the largest in Italy, where a medieval castle had been built for us to visit on this gorgeous April day. Hints of summer already in the air with motorboats floating gently on the water. It was Saturday so the Italians were out in forza, as well, lining the stone paved streets and enjoying the remarkable beauty of the location.
Of course the Romans had built their own turn of the first millennium spa resort on the point of the promenade looking out toward the nearby snow-covered Alps and deep blue of the lake, as they must has done in Bellagio on Lago Como, as well. Definitely, those clever Roman proconsuls, governors and the like knew how to live well in their sumptious classical Italian villas, precursors to the new capitalist elite who drive these roads in their sleek BMWs and Ferraris and build multi-million euro vacation homes along the lake.
Altho, the Romans still had to head north at times to fight the uppity Germanic tribes, the Visigoths, Vandals or similarly vagrant types back before Christianity changed the nature of the world and eventually, between Pope and Emperor, finally united the people of these lands under a nearly common religious orientation...
But such rough and distant history seems far, far away on such a lovely day with thousands of tourists with us enjoying the pristine skies and la dolce vita, Garda-style.
After a bit of touristic shoping for Gita, Tek and Laxmi in Sirmione, Shaku, Leah and I then drove half way up the western shore of the lake, softly inclined gentle slopes where some of the best northern Italian wines are produced (the Soaves come from the eastern shores).
In this respect, southern Lago Garda is unlike the awe-inspiring Lago Como with its steep mountainous cliffs dropping almost vertically to the lake, and even more remarkable views of nearby snow-covered ridges. It certainly felt like summer was almost in the air...
Then, as planned, we turned away from the luscious Italian landscape that has been such a balm these past two weeks, far from the maddening crowds on Kathmandu's streets, to reach Malpensa by 7:15 pm. So with plenty of time to return the car, get ourselves organized, check-in, stand in line for our boarding passes and order Ms. Leah some chicken nuggets.
We also had time to help the birthday girl select a very grown-up, shiny black Bennetton hard-shell suitcase for her 10th birthday. Although in remarkably good spirits for the whole trip spent w/ three semi-adults (her parents and grandmother), she was a bit blue that her birthday was being spent on an airplane and in airports. Thus, she was/is very thrilled with her special gift, one she had been pondering and discussing since we arrived in Italy. Since she had to accept that we weren't going to be upgradec to B class from Milano to Abu Dhabi, the new suitcase purchased at the exit gate of Italy, was a fun alterntive. Clearly our little Leah is now well on her way to becoming a serious traveller.
In fact, Leah wanted to know why, when I asked if the three of us could go into the Etihad lounge together when we arrived at 6 am, the woman here in Abu Dhabi explained that Shakun will soon become a Silver member when she didn't say anything about Leah's status. "I've flown as many miles as Mommy on Etihad!", she noted rather presumptiously (altho probably correctly...). I told her I'd check when we are back in Kathmandu.
Fortunately, the Filipino Etihad lady checked her computer and said that since I will become a Gold member after my flight to Kathmandu (which didn't make much sense as these were 'free' mileage tixs for Shakun and me...), she could permit Shakun and Leah to join me in their Etihad lounge (where there is food, drinks, space to rest, free computers, a complimentary 15 min. massage and free showers).
I had tried to encourage her by noting that today was Leah's 10th birthday, but that seemed not to hold any charm for her. Even when I leaned over the counter to say that 'Leah's birthday is more important to me than a Gold membership...'. She responded bluntly by saying that the Gold membership was more important. Such is the way of the world, as we know.
At least we were able to relax for those eight hours between flights, especially after no sleep last night on the plane from Milano to Abu Dhabi. However, I did watch two very good European films, one excellent modern Italian ('A Prima Costa Bella') about a reckless, sensual mother in the 50s and the impact of her over-sized personality and life on her children, then one French starring the beautiful Sophie Morceau, who I first saw in a French film in BKK in 1982, about the letters that she wrote to herself at age seven reaching her a few decades later and the impact that earlier innocence has on her today. Splendid and one of the reasons I so enjoy flying Etihad... the variety and quality of their 70+ film selection.
Anyway, we are here now back at home, at last. Our own Giardinella Lichhavi. Maybe not Renaissance or Italian or on the banks of Lago Como -- but it's ours, we have planted almost every plant, tree and bamboo. I'll take it any day over a business class lounge or gold card. It's home, it's quiet, it's tranquil and it is our piece of heaven on earth.
Having seen a thousand years of Italian paintings, frescoes and ceilings trying to depict that sacred image through the values and norms of the Christian faith, moved and touched by those expressions of the suffering, motherhood, devotion and the divine, I still am content to be at home surrounded by nature, g-d's greatest creation and our greatest teacher, bare none.
So, to sleep as my mind is floating a bit from the lack of sleep and deep store of memories from the past two weeks...