Eat. Drink. Busker.

The Biagetti family reunion took place in a small region of Italy about two hours south of Bologna and twenty minutes from the coast. It was like stepping back into a simpler time where families ate together every night, meals lasted three hours and no one was in any hurry to move on.

The Biagetti family is large in numbers and mammoth in heart. For four days we ate, we laughed and we lounged poolside at a ridiculously gorgeous villa that slept the 17 of us Americans who had come to Italy and hosted the 30 others who would stop by throughout each day. On the mornings that I was not weighed down too much by pasta, pizza or Rose, I awoke to do my practice on a patio overlooking sunflower fields and lavender bushes. It was a dream.

Kristen and I have birthdays one day apart (which is a big part of why I am here at all), also her cousin Libby and I share our birthday, so with three people turning older during the week we had plenty of cause to celebrate. The villa we all stayed in is owned by a man named Ercole (Italian for Hercules) who along with being an Italian Innkeeper is a famous florist – he does the flowers for Vanity Fair’s annual Oscar party among others.

So on this birthday, my 36th , Libby’s 17th and Kristin’s (let’s call it) 29th, Ercole the florist to the stars decorated a heavenly confection for us girls and then he graciously provided most of the entertainment for the night. As Kristin’s Aunt Lisa perhaps put it best, "Ercole is such fun you find yourself wanting to make sure he like you.”

Kristin and I asked to be his floral assistants at next year’s Oscars. I’m afraid we might not have conveyed this desire strongly enough, but you never know where the two of us might turn up.

The four days that I spent with the Biagettis were so filled with love that I can barely convey how overwhelmed I was to be with them all. Italy has always been special to me, I am a chunk Italian myself and each time I arrive in this country I feel instantly happy and grounded. This time I realized part of why that is, Italy is love, it is all heart and passion and comfort. Ciao Bella Italiano.

Then we were on the move again, off to Spain, likely the only new country for me on this leg of my travels. Neither Kristin nor I had ever been to Barcelona before and what better reason to visit.

Leading up to this trip Kristin was deep in planning for her time in Africa and I was moving my base from Colorado to Ohio. Because we were both so tied up with other tasks we never really did any planning beyond Italy – other than buying plane tickets. This has proven to be really fun, in that we have no expectations so when we stumble on Cathedral Sagrada Familia four blocks from our barely-researched-yet-perfect-for-us hotel, we smile and think of ourselves as leading charmed lives. Then some days we get hopelessly lost, spend a small fortune we could have avoided if we had invested in a guidebook and generally make international arses of ourselves.

While in Spain we followed in the footsteps of architect Antoni Gaudi whose macabre textural style compelled us from one building to the next and finally to the surrounding the home where he lived for twenty years.

Each day in Spain we would get up at some very civilized late-morning hour and then pretty much just randomly head out, blissfully unknowing of what we might stumble upon. Of course this method of travel comes with mixed levels of success. The stumbling approach led us to a market where to “save money” we decided to eat at a stall, which we assumed would be cheaper than a sit-down restaurant. That lunch ran us about $60, which was decidedly more than the previous day’s sit-down lunch.

But all-in-all the stumble approach treated us well. When you don’t know what to expect… you have no expectations so you are often pleasantly surprised.

One night we stumbled out way past dark. We had a beer here, a glass of vino there until finally we tripped right into a very short man who looked like he was impersonating Prince, assuming Prince ever wore red sequins and rode a flower-covered bike. Prince Jr. led us to our final bar of the night where two very drunk Irishmen bought our drinks because, exactly a year before, I had visited their home town of Letterkenny (thanks cousin Shannon for that one).

High off free booze we stumbled home past street performers of every shape and size. Kristin calls them Buskers, a new term for me but one she says is widely used. Men and women laden with latex paints, oil-based makeup and non-breathing fabrics mime, mimic and dance their way to Euros from the passersby.

Earlier in the day on La Ramba, a.k.a. Busker Row, I saw a man wearing just a black Speedo walking down the street, odd because there is no beach there. People were staring at him gape-mouthed and upon further review I realized his Speedo was actually a tattoo. Some quick deduction and I screamed “Kristin! Look at that man!” upon which we began chasing after him cameras at the ready.

The crowd in front began parting, women gasped, men looked dejected and once we rounded the bend we saw why. He was HUGE. I mean like… good luck finding a woman who would think that was a good time HUGE! And not only that but he was entirely tattooed – entirely!

Not really sure how to segue smoothly here so I will move on to a topic not related to size but rather to eyes. I fell deeply in love with Spain, yes because it is beautiful and because Barcelona is so cosmopolitan and historic at the same time, but mainly I fell in love with Spanish men. (Elephant man mentioned above, notwithstanding.)

If I love Italy because of its people’s hearts, I love Spain because of its people’s eyes. Tall, thin, mocha-complexioned men with hazel eyes are everywhere. I was actually uncomfortable in the presence of so many truly beautiful men. And sadly, not since the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago have I been so attracted to so many men I stand zero chance with before. At least, the memory of all of those beautiful creatures will fill my dreams for a while.

To rebound from the night out with mini-Prince we boarded a train to the beach. Forty-five minutes from Barcelona we got off along with about 5000 other people and crowded onto the mile of sandy beach dotted with rental chairs, topless women and gay men. It was a perfect day of rest and recovery. Tanned and detoxed we left ready to continue our journey.

And just like that another four days had gone by. Kristin and I took advantage of my last visit to a Red Carpet Club (before my card expires, and I am regulated back to general seating), in the Barcelona and then the Madrid airports on our way to our final destination together… Paris.


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