The Splendor of Rome, Part 1
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— I don’t like to travel. I prefer staying at home with my dogs reading a good book while curled up in my cozy office with a cup of tea. Who wants to go anywhere? I don’t even want to travel to Saluda just five miles away. In my view, a person is complete in this world with a book, a cup of tea, and a pair of golden retrievers.
But, there is such a thing as fitting into the world and every year I accompany my husband on the annual Virginia Bar educational seminar, which takes place in some exotic place. This year’s courses were presented in Rome.
The last time I went to Rome was 1963. I was 19 years old, far more flexible than I am today, and working in sales with Trans Canada Airlines in Cleveland, Ohio. They had sent me on an orientation tour of Europe. To think I traveled to London, Paris, Rome, and other cities alone and at such a young age, totally unaware of perils that might threaten a single woman now seems incredible. I wonder if 19-year-old American women can still travel the world alone.
Our travel day was brutal even for those who like to travel. Say goodbye to dogs; drive to Richmond to board charter bus for Dulles; go through security; 3-hour wait to board; 10-hour flight in seats wedged closely together; and cold, shriveled up roll for breakfast. All of this to face Italian customs and immigration and a long wait amongst a swarm of 50 or so lawyers while we waited for luggage and our bus that would take us to our hotel.
Yet, all this was worth those few moments when, after so many hideous hours in flight, I lifted the plane’s window shade to peer out at the splendor of a sunrise over the Alps. For a moment I felt as if I were seated with God and looking down at his most beautiful creation. What a fine froth of pink icing laced the snow-tipped mountains below, which lent the appearance of a thousand scoops of dessert just waiting for someone on a perpetual diet to devour. I think it was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life.
Travel is not for the impatient, exhausted, weak of heart, or anyone over 70 years of age. I was quick to collapse in bed at the St. Regis Hotel and drift off for a few hours of much-needed sleep.
We awoke several hours later with fierce starvation and jet lag and headed for a Republic Square sandwich shop. A grilled mozzarella cheese, spinach and tomato sandwich on a homemade crusty roll seemed like the best meal I had ever eaten, and all tossed down with a $5 Coke. Welcome to the Euro zone where a can of Coke is now $5. I think a glass of wine would have been cheaper.
We soon met our excellent Italian guide for a quick orientation walk through the neighborhood locating good restaurants for meals, a grocery store and, of course, what every traveler soon needs far away from the comforts of his own medicine chest—a pharmacy where they speak English. Perhaps it’s not my brain that has a problem with traveling, but my body.
That night the Virginia Bar met for a welcome reception in the grand ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel. We looked a haggard group that had been through a war, but were recovering by bits and pieces. We may have needed a few more days to recover from the 6-hour time change. Exhausted, I sat down unable to stand and provide even the tiny energy necessary for cocktail chatter. The wine helped numb the dazed brain and body. Sitting next to me was a retired Virginia judge, a kindly gentleman that looked as if he had heard everything under the sun during his years in the courtroom. He missed his cat.
“My cat jumps into my suitcase when I’m packing for a trip as if to say, ‘Please take me along,’ ” he said, with the saddest look on his face. I could see he was miserable so I treated him to tales of my heartbreak at leaving my two golden retrievers.
After my woeful account we were both so gloomy I thought we might burst into tears. “I want my dogs,” I said as we left the party for the solace of our rooms and sleep. “I want my cat,” the judge responded. So there you have it—a judge and a writer, two soul mates from Virginia quite distraught without their beloved pets while in the midst of the splendor of Rome.