The Small Time Explorer is a big-time searcher of the bite-sized epic. She loves the thrill of finding something new--especially if its old--and is convinced that a small time adventure lurks around even the most seemingly mundane corner. From Argentina to the Philippines, hiking in the hills with her sidekick terrier Milo, to eating at an unknown hole in the wall, this running series of travel essays is less about the extraordinary and more about documenting the good memories-to-be.
A baby is born with a need to be loved - and never outgrows it. --Frank A. Clark
Last year on Valentine's Day, I was traveling in Argentina with Larah and Rocco, good friends from Alaska, who were celebrating their one year anniversary of a wedding I had attended a year before. Mostly by coincidence we were traveling around the same time in South America and arranged to meet up in Argentina, which overlapped during their anniversary. Though I was traveling without a boyfriend, it pleased me to see two friends happily in love in their own quirky way.
On that same Valentine's Day in 2010, I myself received two emails; one from an ex-boyfriend of a few months earlier who, much out of character, pleaded with me to give it another try; the second email was equally emotionally charged, from a high-drama trial attorney I ended up seeing for a tumultuous few months upon my return to Alaska where I was living at the time. And, though it was a day for lovers, I was relieved to be spending that Valentine's Day with friends instead.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but never have I figured out the phenomenon of love. At its best, I'm a gushing child uttering non-sensical compliments, staring longingly into the eyes of a man (or more often than not, a boy). At its worst, I have unwittingly incited a heated argument ending in tears by making what I thought was a passing joke about his boss. I have on previous occasion, while under the spell of love, knowingly made tragically poor decisions. I have also, while under the spell of love, experienced some of the most meaningful moments of my life. I find the perplexing nature of it all on par with a course in calculus. You can work on the problem for twenty minutes, thinking you have a perfect sense of what's going on, and arrive at the answer y=4x only to learn that the correct answer is actually z= 3(620y+t).
When she was bout twelve years old, I remember how my older sister overdosed on boysenberry pie after eating four pieces of it at Thanksgiving. She ended the night vomiting it all up, and for years we didn't order it again. While I resented that her poor decisions impacted my access to one of my favorite desserts, I eventually experienced firsthand that flavor of anxiety that kept her from going back to boysenberry right away. And, for similar reasons following my successive Alaskan break-ups of last year, I've decided to give this whole love thing a rest for a while.
This past weekend right before Valentine's Day, Larah and Rocco came to visit me, as a tribute to my status as their favorite third wheel, and I suppose also to visit the wonderful city of New Orleans. I was thrilled. The three of us ate at Vincent's Italian Restaurant on St. Charles Avenue.
Vincent's is one of those old school places that looks like a backdrop to a Godfather movie. Since 1929, it is the second restaurant standing where it is today, and as its predecessor did, Vincent's serves up Sicilian. Dimly lit inside, it is all candlelight and dark burgundy-colored interiors, with Frank Sinatra crooning on the stereo. The entire waitstaff have dark, slicked-back hair and tidy black and white attire with bow ties. The wine selection is extensive and on the menu are only rich, classic Italian-American dishes. It's one of those places where deals go down and marriage proposals are made. With the exception of Larah, Rocco and me, the patronage is comprised of either middle-aged men of business talking shop, or couples enjoying a romantic evening, staring longingly into one another's eyes, uttering nonsensical compliments to one another. If ever you had the urge to re-enact that scene from Lady and the Tramp with the two dogs and the shared strand of spaghetti, Vincent's is the place to go.
Since my serial Alaskan break-ups of last year, my two unimpressive attempts at anything remotely resembling romance or intimacy have been comically thwarted by circumstances beyond my control. With the most recent calamity, my good girlfriend and I decided it was the intervention of the Fates and other mystical forces; Aphrodite was telling me in no uncertain terms, that right now, I'm meant to be a fighter, not a lover. From that point on, I decided to kick my training up a notch and spend the majority of my physical and emotional energy at the boxing gym so that I can enter an amateur match some time in the fall.
So naturally, I spent Valentine's Day proper with a bunch of sweaty, unhygienic guys at the gym. I grunt a few monosyllabic words at my trainer, punch him, punch some bags, jump rope, and sweat like a pig. I tell the oversized man that he's an idiot for forgetting about my session last week and he tells me that he had to nurse his bulldog who just got out of surgery and that I could go to hell. In my current emotional state, I cannot think of a way I'd rather celebrate love than this.
On my bike ride home I see couples walking out of Vincent's, arm in arm, strolling beneath the gaslit street lamps, giggling. I overhear a playful debate about who re-gifted for whom some old chocolates and who does the dishes more. I smell cologne and perfume and hear the clicking of heels on the sidewalk. And, while I have no urge to enjoy a slice of boysenberry pie just at this moment myself, I recognize that some day I will fall in love again, and I appreciate Vincent's and all of its patrons for reminding me how charming it can be. Happy Valentine's Day everyone.