You’re not going to believe this. I’m on my way to Pitti Uomo now and nothing has gone wrong. I am aware, as I write this, that I may be jinxing myself. I am impressed, while staring through the windows that look out over the jetway and the hulking metal behemoth that awaits us, with just how massive a Boeing 747 is. I can’t believe it can fly. Hopefully it will do so.
It does. But something is missing, I realize while trying not to stare at the very large and very raucous beer-drinking Germans seated in the middle row of our metal prison. It is a feeling that nags at me until the hostess gives me a bag of stale, Lufthansa-brand animal crackers and I reach for my shoulder bag.
I had meant to bring my photograph of Stanley van Buren with me.
Last week, I rescued it from the cardboard folder where it had lain in ignominious solitude since an August unpacking. I placed it carefully on my desk next to my Travel Devices and dreamed grand dreams of the places I would take it, of the things we would share together: candlelit dinners, a furtive excursion into the Duomo, a tour of the Uffizi gallery - and a final, tear-studded goodbye when I lit it ablaze and sent it into the Arno (camera follows the burning paper as it flutters in the Florentine night), there to sleep and dream until another dreamer woke it.
Stanley, I’m sorry. I hope that you can find some pleasure in being left face-down on my coffee-table with a copy of Wan! magazine - someday our dreams will be realized. We are all drinking beer now. We are all German, united by the yellow-gold of the Warsteiner can and the determination that, even strapped down as we are, they cannot break our spirit.
There are things that I am excited about, aside from my direct-to-Frankfurt flight that will bypass not only the misery of East-Coast airports but also Jeff Smisek’s grotesque leer: food is the greatest of these. I tried to explain pasta just last night to a friend who is denied the pleasures of both dairy and gluten, and could only say over and over “it actually tastes like food in Italy.” It is a sensation I am eager to experience again. In that vein, I opt for airline “asian chicken” instead of “pesto pasta,” as the latter seems like an insult given my final destination. It is a poor choice, and the burned breakfast omelette (accompanied by a truly inedible patty of regurgitated spinach) is no comfort. I will say this about Lufthansa: although I admire their efficiency, in the already dire realm of airline food they are not doing well.
Upon my arrival in Frankfurt, I’ll have enough time to enjoy a pretzel and a beer - several, probably, before making the quick jump to Florence in anticipation of hotel check-ins and dinner with the lovely Gracia Ventus, who, through an absurd alignment of spheres or planets or currency values, I have managed to make a part of our entourage. I wonder what she’ll be like, in person; perhaps like Disney’s Ursula, a pulsating volume of shadow in a sea populated by brightly-colored land crabs with strange accents, her legs invisible or nonexistent or rendered obsolete by the development of large tentacles. For now, all that I can do is listen to Rammstein and count how many times it takes to chew stale Lufthansa-brand animal crackers before they lose all flavor.
I like to imagine how other Pitti travelers might sleep when packed into tiny airline seats. Do they cross one leg over the other? Do they cock one foot on an armrest the entire time, socks proudly on display, monks unbuttoned (for comfort), pocket squares shading their eyes? Or do they look like I do; tired, uncomfortable, pathetic and slightly bloated?
I have come to find a perverse pleasure in The Schmooze; in pretending that I am, by virtue of my invitation, one of the Blessed. They know this, of course; they have cranked the snob appeal until the very dial has fallen off - why else would you be force-fed thousands of Pitti-Wall images twice-yearly? Sadly, upon our arrival in Frankfurt the Lufthansa agent informs me that the 12:20 to Florence is fully booked, and my flight doesn’t board until 16:00. This will leave me enough time to browse #pitti on Instagram, which I will tell myself is “research.” It is a difficult lie to believe. At the very least, my day is going better than that of the two Norwegian men waiting for ticket service - one of them, carrying a Norwegian flag and a very large Viking helmet, is screaming at his companion, who is staring at him in absolute silence - either disinterested or murderous I have no idea.
There are other people in the service line with me. I recognize some of them. I’m not talking about the snuff-suede double monks or carefully-hemmed trousers that hang just so. I’m talking, like, I RECOGNIZE these people. My response is panic. I avoid eye contact. Partly this is because it seems unlikely that they will remember me, and that is an ego-bruising I am not particularly in the mood for when my feet are this swollen. Mostly it is because I do recognize them, and in them I recognize myself. It is horrible to stare into the abyss and see it staring back at you.