Friendship is when people know all about you but like you anyway.
Dana M. has been my BFF since the tender age of twelve, when we met at August Boger Junior High and bonded over Judy Blume’s Forever and Wifey and Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Our love of British new wave and obsessive passion for all things Duran Duran cemented our thirty-six year and counting bond.
Dana M. is one of the funniest and most generous people I know. She has always reached out for me, looked out for me, and shared whatever she had with me. Therefore, I was surprised but not shocked when she offered to pay for my plane ticket so that we could spend part of her thirtieth birthday together in Venice.
In November 1999, despite our long friendship and a big girl’s trip to New Orleans in 1995, we had never traveled abroad together. I know growing up we assumed London would be our inaugural jaunt to the Continent, but for reasons I can no longer recall, Venice, Italy was our first destination and we were very excited. Ready to shake things up and treat herself, Dana had chosen to begin in Italy before starting out on a much longer trip to England and beyond. I could only get my shifts covered for a few days but jumped at the offer to accompany her part of the way. Three days in Venice is three days in Venice, so bags packed, passport in hand off we went!
Dana and I had been best friends 18 years before we traveled together which says more about the time we grew up in, our family’s background, and our finances than it does about our friendship. But traveling with someone snaps things into focus like nothing short of cohabitation or marriage can.
I don’t remember the flight but do remember the water taxi ride to Lido, one of the islands off the main isle where we would be staying. I don’t have the skill to describe the light that dappled the churning, algae-green waters as we sped along. Or the thrill of watching the city rise before our eyes like it was emerging from the sea, a jeweled gift from Neptune. The masts of gondolas and other boats swayed gently like Renaissance court jesters. It was a truly breathtaking and novel way to enter a city.
Our hotel was decent, unlike our crossing, nothing to write home about, except it was weirdly cold. As a sweaty girl, I do fine in cold, but Dana with the California sun baked into her bones, not so much. She was less than happy with the accommodations, but since we were only going to be there a few days, we decided to stick it out.
I didn’t know it at the time but rolling with a less than stellar room was a sign of future travel habits to come. We were both still new to travel---Dana more so than I---and with no family adventurers to call upon and no knowledge other than what we had read in books or seen in movies neither of us had any hard or fast rules on what to expect or what we would or wouldn’t put up with. Or at least we didn’t at the outset.
Looking back, I realize that the Venice trip is where I learned to see my best friend as an adult who has very definite if softly spoken opinions and not just the wicked smart rebel who liked to skip school despite living right across the street, and who could waltz in the day of a test and ace it after barely cracking a book. I also discovered things about myself and established three of my hard and fast travel rules: two of which are: Don’t eat anything you can eat at home and when time is limited, hit the ground running.
Dana, a much more laid back person than myself---just about everyone on the planet is more laid back than me---didn’t seem to establish any rules but more solidified a personal style: Do whatever is easiest and most comfortable and avoid a map whenever possible no matter how lost!
Waking up late on our first full day, we talked languidly about plans for the day, with food being the first order of business. I have always liked food. When me and my brother were growing up, my mother made it a point to have us try any and every kind of food from frog’s legs to Benihanas. I’m not as adventurous as some, but I’m game for most things especially if they are aesthetically pleasing. And at the time of the trip after eight years of living in NYC and working in restaurants, my palate had evolved. I loved food and loved to try new things, appreciative of the ambiance and ingredients of wherever I dined.
After a childhood in Cali with a mother who didn’t cook much (Dana’s house was Totino’s Pizza Rolls Central. I couldn’t get enough!), decades before Alice Waters put it on the culinary map, Dana had a different relationship with food. She liked what was tasty, convenient, quick, and familiar. Hence her suggestion that we pop into the McDonald’s down the street. McDonald's. In Italy, Mickey D’s in Venice!
Me and my BFF have many things in common. Love of good music and nerd humor chief among them, but we are also extremely different. One of these ways is Dana is unfussy and I am a snob. I have always been a snob. I get it from my mother. Now before you judge me. I’m not a mean snob. I don’t mock people to their faces nor am I intentionally cruel about their tastes (or lack thereof!) but anyone who knows me well knows that I like pretty things, tasty things, not necessarily expensive, but again aesthetically pleasing, be it a Cuban heel, a gooey, viciously stinky piece of Pont-l'Évêque cheese or where I have my first ever meal in Italy.
Because she is my bestie, I comfortably unfurled my horror flag, protesting that I couldn’t possibly eat at a McDonald’s in Italy. Dana didn’t care. She wanted what she wanted and besides, it was her birthday trip. She ate at Mickey D’s. I did not. And we survived, learning something vital about ourselves and our friendship. I also forged my third rule of travel, which sadly I don’t enforce nearly enough.
What’s my third and final hard and fast travel rule? It’s a good one, perhaps the best one of the three: When traveling with someone, speak your mind, hear the other person out and then be willing to go your separate ways and meet up later.
Dana and I did a lot of meeting up later on our first trip abroad but like any true friendship, absence only made the heart grow fonder, the tales sweeter, and the bond stronger.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in December.
I promise to be naughty and nice and even better,
I’ll be showing off my right hook.
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!
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