Three weeks ago I was driving in Italy with Nancy Silverton and Ruth Reichl. The next day we were having lunch in Modena at Osteria Francescana, one of the world’s greatest restaurants.
We had left Umbria a day early so we wouldn’t have to worry about an l..A.-style autostrada calamity and were headed to a tiny hamlet outside of Bologna to meet friends for lunch. On her website, Ruth would later wonder how we could have found it without GPS.
Now, Ruth Reichl is one of my favorite people in all the Milky Way. A quarter of the time on The Corner if someone says they say my girlfriend today, I don't know if they mean Nancy or Ruth. But, that line not being able to find the restaurant without GPS annoyed me. I coulda found that place with my own GPS; a map and - if needed - the ancient practice of pulling over and asking a human being “Excuse me. Do you know where this place is?” You might have to ask five or six people, but eventually you’ll get there. It’s a wonderful part of the adventure of travel.
So, this drive. We get off the autostrada south of Bologna at an exit called Sasso Marconi and Ruth turns on her phone GPS Lady. As every turn approaches, Lady says “In 300 meters, turn right.” Followed by an “In 200 meters, turn right.” Then a “In 100 meters, turn right.” Hey, Lady, I get it!
At one roundabout, we go around three times, Lady has to “redirect”. I felt like Chevy Chase going around the Arc d Triomphe for hours in European Vacation. .
We make it to this trattoria – It's was so- so – then - with Lady - go to our hotel in the town of Zola Predosa, which we enjoy saying and which becomes our three person secret code for “Extraordinary”.
The next day, I drive to Modena – sans Lady. You can’t park in Central Modena, so I find a spot about two miles away and we walk in and are - thankfully - seated in the cool, small wine cellar. . Osteria Francescana. is very Zola Predosa. Like most people there, Ruth is taking many cell phone photos.
We leave and start our walk back through central Modena which is now 104 degrees. It’s wordless walk. More like a forced march. Ruth even goes to a market for a water. We finally get to the car and I drive off. A few blocks later, Ruth says “My phone. I don’t have my phone. I must have left it at the restaurant.”
I offer to go run back to the restaurant. Nancy says she will call first. They look thoroughly. Nancy calls the phone for them to hear the ringer. It is not there. Maybe you left at the market? She is nearly certain she didn’t.
Now, twisted me, I kinda relish situations like this, Nancy is sick of me saying “I’ll gather my Delta Force squad and accomplish the mission.” Yeah, I can be like a kid. It’s fun.
I go into Special Force mode and dash to the market where Ruth purchased the water. I tell the man “My wife may have left her phone here 20 minute ago.” He’s suspicious. “What did she buy?” “Water.” What kind? Knowing Ruth’s distaste for bubbly beverages – except very high-end Champagne – I say “Naturale.” He smiles and hands me her phone.
I thank him profusely and, of course. ask “Where you from?’ Adullah is from Bangladesh. Dhaka?, I ask, naming the capital city. He nods proudly.
I run to the car and say “Mission Accomplished.” For a moment, I’m a hero.
Ten minutes later, I tell Ruth I want something for finding the phone. Anything, she says. “I don’t ever want to hear that GPS Lady again.” It’s a deal, she laughs.
A week later, Nancy and I are south of Rome. Fueled by bad intel provided by Nancy, I make a hotel reservation in a neighborhood she thought she liked. Wrong. It is in such a faraway neighborhood that, as in Ruth’s sentiments “how would we find it without GPS.”
Behind schedule, I reluctantly tell Nancy to “Go ahead, Turn on GPS Lady.”
AT that moment, I have been defeated. I given up, at last. The end of a brilliant career. I have willingly succumbed to modern technology.
Lady starts telling me what to do. Through a warren of streets and alleys, Lady says turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn right so many times in such quick succession I feel like I’m being directed around the Nürburgring's Nordschleife race circuit in Germany. Even Lady seems to grow weary of the number of turns.
But, to my chagrin, Lady get us there.
Then, four days ago, through a small Umbrian town, we are driving Lady-less as I attempt a comeback. This drive is going to be a challenge, yet I feel that old exciting sense of adventure. We stop at a food market to get some ham and cheese. I take in my Michelin map. As Nancy gets the food, I ask the cashier the best way to get to Tavernelle, a little city not far from we stay.
The cashier starts to point out a route of tiny lines on the map. A male customer offers his route suggestion. With their guidance, I know I will make it. My GPS. We pay and so does this guy. In the parking lot, I get that heartwarming, the-world’s-all-right bonus that asking a stranger something can provide. The guy communicates he will lead us toward Tavernelle.
He drives about 15 kilometers and pulls over. Me, too. He points to a blue sign, with an arrow, that reads “Tavernelle.” I take his photo and “grazie” him a million times. He asks my Facebook name, And Nancy and I go on our way.
Once home, I see I have a friend request from one Giulio Falcone.
More importantly, my point is that they are countless Giulio Falcones around the world and in America, in particular. They don't make the news - like that cowardly, brown-smeared shorts driver in Charlottesville -and I guess that's a good thing. We wouldn't want it to come to the point where there was a story that said "man helps a man." because that goes on all the time, you just don't hear about it.
But, I’d bet my bottom dollar if an African American couple – without a cell phone - got lost in, say, Wheeling, West Virginia, or an Armenian American couple got lost in St. Louis, Missouri or a Bangladeshi American couple got lost in Birmingham, Alabama, or a Heinz 57 white couple got lost in Watts and they stopped at the local market and pointed to a map, they’d get pointed in the right direction.
They might even find their own Giulio Falcone and he’ll lead them to their own Tavernelle.