Travel Stories

Man trahkt

Mahn trahkt Got lahkt.

I've always loved this expression in Yiddish (Man plans God laughs), the English equivalent of which I believe is Man proposes, God disposes.  And there is no better place to demonstrate the verity of this power the invisible scriptwriters hold and have to mess with you, notwithstanding what you hope will happen to your character in the play you are starring in, than when you have plans for travel in foreign lands.

So, first my dear friend Carmine, who is moving back after 40 years in the US to the little walled Renaissance farming village he was born in in Italy, asks me to join him for a visit there.  And, of course, I jump at the chance to combine such a trip with the return trip I have been promising myself to Bosnia for decades, when I no longer have decades.  Besides, Carmine is a fascinating curious fellow who will be able to show me aspects of Italy not generally seen.  Ah but then he says he can no longer get away.  There is too much on his plate.  His sister has cancer.  His brother has troubles.  Carmine is closing the garage that has been the foundation for his fortune, his pride and province.  And trust me, when I say fortune I mean fortune, because money likes Carmine, is drawn to him, accumulates in his pockets and his apartments in Boston and Italy, in trust fund documents he cannot read.  But lest you get carried away with envy for Carmine's good fortune remember only this.  Six years ago his beloved only son Daniel, to whom the business was intended to go, and for whom life was partly lived, was driving home after a long week working with his father in the garage when his motorcycle met an immovable object and Daniel breathed his last.  The same year Carmine divorced.  The same year his only daughter married.  The same year his first grandson was born … Daniel having made the space for Dino.

I am also drawn to Italy by the fact that through the miracle of Facebook I have found my dearest childhood friend and literal blood brother Alan, who I have not seen in over 60 years.  The pictures of this now 76 year old man with his cane, pot belly, and twinkly eyed smile reveal a face quite familiar to me, evoke a warmth and wonder quite familiar as well.  I write Alan to say I am coming to Italy and that I would love to see him.  But all he sends back is his smile.  So I write more extensively, my life an open book before him – marriages, children, careers, political proclivities, narratives, poems, entreaties, confessions – all revealed on my Facebook pages, my website, and in my words to him - and all I get back is his smile, hanging in the air with anticipation, like that moment after a symphony performance has been completed, before the start of heartfelt applause.

Well fine then, mon bon ami, survivor of the Nazi horror, escapee from occupied France, refugee in Bronx tenement project apartment, if I cannot get word from you on the Internet I will invade the tiny Italian alpine village where you have taken refuge and root you out by dint of my own ferocious curiosity and attention.  But no, that will not be possible, Alan finally writes, he is in Sicily for vacation.  Nothing more, nothing less.  And I am left with only memories of his parent's Bronx apartment, of afternoons we loved one another as boyhood friends do, of the protective aura I believed I offered this small, quiet, shy refugee, and of the kindness he showed me, the warmth and appreciation, nay, perhaps admiration, he felt for his American friend.

Okay then, no Alan, no Carmine, so why spend any more time in Italy when my central purpose is really to return to Lijesnica, the Bosnian village I lived in 52 years ago?  Who needs these wide boulevards lined with blossoming heavily fruited orange trees and cannoli?  Who needs fountains overflowing with tourists and young lovers kissing in doorway?  I'm going back to Bosnia. 

And in a flash that can only be understood as magical it is so.  I am in Sarajevo and these pics are taken the same day after I arrive ... one from the top of the mountain where the 1984 Olympic bobsled run was built, the other from the base of a diff mountain showing the lieteral spring from whichthe Bosna River flows.  altitude also matters.