Well, the month of May came and went faster than I desired. I had been anticipating its arrival since I got a phone call from Rome in March; May was going to be nothing short of face-cramping happiness as I was going to welcome not one, but two Italians to the Lone Star State.
This was Fili’s very first time to the U.S. and he was about to get a Texas sized welcome from several anxious and eager folks. We all counted down the days together, and when their arrival finally happened, it was, of course, a moment to remeber. They were finally HERE. I hugged them tightly and couldn’t believe Filippo was here and Claudio had returned to my home state of Texas; It seems that not matter how long or short the time between visits, it is always a beautiful shock to be face to face with them again. And regarding Fili, I mean, my family had heard about this guy and even met him on Skype a few times, but here he was in the flesh and about to meet them.
First, dinner at my parents’ home. When we arrived the lawn was lined with Texas flags and welcome signs. As we pulled up to the house, my heart began to pound with overwhelming joy. Mom, Dad, and Sister greeted Claudio and Filippo with hugs and kisses, true to the nature of good, southern hospitality. Of course they know Clau very well and this was nothing less than a family reunion. However, when they met Fili, it was one of those profound moments when my mind takes several shots, like a camera, to memorialize this intensely beauty occurrence. Finally, after all of the stories and photos, my life in Italy was becoming even more of a reality to my family with the introduction of this friend, no longer just a character in my stories, but an actual person.
The next few days were an effort to acclimate Fili to the States and to the time change; jet lag had gotten the best of him. We bobbed through the city sightseeing around Houston, visiting my office, taking in local eats, and laughing at anything. After a bit of rest we hit the road, headed to New Orleans, Lousianna. I was excited to take the guys to NOLA as it is one of my favorite cities for its culture of food, music, and enchanting creepiness. The mood in Nawlins’ is something that can’t be recreated and must be experienced and felt to understand why it is still alive and kicking despite the efforts of economics and natural disasters such as Katrina in 2005. As we approached the city, the forecast looked gloomy for our weekend. Nevertheless, with these two I was sure to enjoy this trip and this was evident when we arrived at our quaint, private Airbnb cottage tucked away in the Old Algiers neighborhood.
Most of our time in NOLA was spent walking up and down the streets of the French Quarter and Garden District, looking at architecture and people watching. We found a bar in the Quarter that became our sort of “go to” spot. The beer was cheep, the staff was friendly, and outdoor seating on the balcony made it a perfect perch at the end of each day. We even took shelter from the rain one evening at our little spot, watching the storm rolling in from the south from the balcony. By sunset on our second day we had already consumed at least two Po Boy sandwiches each, stuffed with Gulf shrimp, crawfish, and crab. I personally enjoyed watching the guys stuff their faces with food covered in Creole and Cajun spices or sauce, underscored by the thick sounds of the Zydeco squeeze box and laughter from locals and tourists living up to the City’s mantra: laissez les bons temps roule (let the good times roll). The energy felt right for this grew composed of 2 Italians and one Texan. Ducking in and out of various shops in the Quarter and stopping to watch street performers do their thing, none of us had agenda and sort of just let whatever was going to happen, happen. On our final day, however, we made the hour long drive to the countryside so the guys could see an actual American plantation. I chose to take them to Oak Alley, as it is probably one of the most iconic homes and has been featured in a lot of films and music videos. It was slightly overcast when we arrived, but the site of the oak lined path was simply remarkable and I was excitied to share this moment with my two European friends. Once we got on to the property, we were directed toward the slave quarters; rows of tiny houses with hardwood floors where those who worked the plantation lived. Claudio and I began looking around as Fili dropped slightly behind until he finally caught up, asking, “I don’t understand. What is this? What are we looking at?” I guess I never properly explained the situation or what a plantation actually was to someone who has very little experience in American History. He eventually came to an understanding of the reality of this left over piece of the American Civil War error. The sky was heavy with rain clouds but it seemed perfect for this day. A day spent walking the haunted grounds of history.
The drive back to Houston was rainy and accompanied by conversations about Hurricanes. I tried to explain the different categories and recall historical storms like Alecia, Katrina, and Ike. Hurricanes, after all, is a part of the Gulf Coast culture and windows left of the ghostly X’s from these storms, buildings still boarded up, and, of course, hurricane evacuation route signs sprinkle the roads and highways from NOLA to Houston. The bayou culture spans this stretch of the region and you are certain to find everything from Jesus to Voodoo, Blue politics in Red states, and over 5,000 varieties to hot sauces, some.so.hot they can burn a jole striagjt tjlihh your esophagus. I was thrilled to be driving these rosds, telling these stories and facts, giving them a peek into this culture and even a hint to my own background; an insight to what built this thing called Carrie.
While our trip to NOLA was short, there was still plenty to explore in Houston. We started at the Museum of Fine Art Houston where we saw a Ron Mueck exhibition and later explored the rest of collection room by room. The world famous Rothko Chapel was also not to be missed and made for a quiet, reflective moment on a hot afternoon. Of course one could not host two foreign friends who had traveled more than 14 hours
to get to Space City and not take them to Space Center Houston, the home of NASA’s Mission Control. The museum portion of the center is largely geared for children, but the opportunity to see an actual space modular and tour a ship could spark the imagination of any adult with child like wonder and awe. And to make things even merrier, we had the chance to see a real astronaut speak in the NASA theater. It certainly resurfaced some of my most happy childhood memories, sitting there with Fili and Clau, their faces and eyes fixed on the man who’d been to space on five missions! It’s was pretty darn magical.
Our time was inching closer to the end of the weekend meaning only days left before I had to say goodbye. But, I had one more surprise up my sleeve before they departed the U.S. When our friend Julie learned that they were both coming to Houston, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to see Claudio and at long last, meet Filippo. So, we decided the best thing would be a surprise. Fili was eventually brought in on the little secret and helped me sort out some details on how we could distract Claudio. Finally, she arrived and while the reveal didn’t come with balloons or blow horns, the subtle realization the she had driven 8 hours from Tulsa and waited in her car until the perfect moment, was warm and genuine and perfectly suited for a Julie style surprise visit.
The last three days passed quickly and we spent most of the time eating, laughing, and drinking Lone Star beer at a small bar just blocks away from my place. Before their arrival, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t have enough to show Fili and he would leave unenchanted. However, I recalled his face on his first day when he saw a real, American neighborhood for the first time in his life and it wasn’t on a screen. His lit up smile and eyes were enough to remind me that these two are some of my dearest friends and we could quite literally be in the worst situation and still find a reason to celebrate life together. On the evening after their departure, I dreaded walking into my home. It was too quiet, too empty, and I knew I would miss waking up to the sound of Italian being spoken in the mornings. However, there was a lingering energy from having some of the most profound people in my life all under one roof, from Rome to Tulsa, here in Houston, Texas.
For me there were some moments I don’t want forget about this time, even if they seem insignificant on the surface. I keep a mental note of those tiny moments because, for me, they are actually the big ones. The ones to replay when I miss our time together.
- “Look! It’s just like the movies!” – Filippo was overjoyed at the site of Americans checking their mail at the mailbox. To me, this is an every day occurrence, but to him this was something only seen in movies. They don’t have curbside mailboxes in Italy, y’all!
- All My Exes Live in Texas – Last year before Claudio came to Houston I sent some Texas-centric music to him, instructing him get familiarized with some of them as they are “Texas legends…staples!” So, of course he did it, and he knew every lyric! I will never get over this adorable scene. This Italian ballet dancer singing George Straight?!? It made me feel a guidy happiness, as it will continue to every time it happens.
- Baytown. The muggy soil of which I was planted and grown. This dirty little vlue collar city of which I harbor a deep love/hate relationship with is located on the San Jacinto River and where I spent my childhood. Baytown is a city that can be missed by someone visiting the Gulf Coast. I mean, why bother? For whatever reason though, I was shocked that I had never taken Claudio to Baytown before. So, on the day we left for NOLA, we made a pit stop. First at Snowflake Donuts on old highway 146 to get a dozen of the best donuts one will ever eat, and then on to the old hood of Glen Meadows. We weaved through the streets as I pointed out various spots significant in my perosnal story until finally we were stopped in front of the home in which I spent my formative years. We looked for a moment as I pointed out where my bedroom was located, the tree Sister and I used to climb, and to the sign above the door my dad made in the 80’s. “Bless this home”, it reads and still hangs there today. As we were leaving, we got stuck behind a train at the tracks adjacent to the neighborhood; a familiar set of tracks and fixture of my childhood. As I watched the train slug by, I peeked at Filippo sitting in the back through the rear view mirror and then to my right at Claudio. Both of them were gnawing on a glazed donut, looking around at the scene. I thought to myself, “If I could go back in time and speak to a 13-year-old Carrie…GIRL! You are okay. You are so okay. Your life is going to be more beautiful, more exciting, and way more special than you could possible imagine. Trust me!” Ya, something like that.