As our plane touched down at JFK a few weeks ago on our way to Italy, I was excited that our first leg of the journey was over, and I was about to see Amy and Brian. We had coordinated our flights brilliantly, with them joining us at JFK from Philly to take the flight to Pisa.
I turned on my phone to text her that we had landed, and instead saw a text that read, “We’re not coming to JFK. Our flight was cancelled.”
I showed Mike the text and rolled my eyes. “She should know me enough to know I hate these types of jokes. They’re not funny. I’m not laid-back enough to think these jokes are funny.”
Another message popped through, this time from Brian, showing a picture of Amy apparently crying.
“Sheesh,” I said, “they really like to take these practical jokes all the way, don’t they?”
To put an end to this comedy hour, I called Amy.
“Ha,” I said when she picked up. “Ha. Ha.”
“I’m not joking,” she said with a meekness that could only come from crushing disappointment. “Our flight is canceled so we’re not flying with you. We are now booked on a flight to Paris, getting into Pisa about the same time you are.”
I looked at Mike with my hand over my mouth. I was so shocked and sad I didn’t know what to say. We discussed how we were both completely deflated from the burst bubble of flying to Europe together, and slightly anxious about having to find each other on the other side.
I consoled her and told her this was the most infuriating cancellation, but we both agreed there wasn’t anything to do but maybe drown our sorrows in a few brewskies.
The rest of the gang was getting ready to deplane so I did the awkward cross-aisle-mouth-words-and-half-speak to let them know Amy and Brian would not be on our flight. They all sagged in disappointment as well, but said, hey, it’s not like they’re not coming on the trip at all — get a grip!
So we did — we had some lunch and drank a couple of beers to pass the five-hour layover. Kelly and I led Erin and Sam in a brief barre workout along a terminal wall that had handrails. We boarded our flight, took melatonin/Ambien/red wine to help us sleep, and eight hours later we landed in Pisa.
While the rest of the group went to retrieve our tiny toy rental cars, Kelly and I waited for our diverted travelers to arrive. About 45 minutes later I got a text from Brian that only said, “We need address. No bags.”
“Unbelievable,” I said to Kelly, while also noting in my head that responding to his text would cost me fifty cents. Rather than replying we tried to find the baggage service area, and instead found a jail.
“Oh my gosh, that’s Bri!” I yelled when we saw him. He couldn’t hear us; he was inside the little prison. We saw his head through a window that looked like a teller window, with double-pane glass and a tiny open slot for paper and exchanging words. The door to the room was a cylinder, which couldn’t be rotated from the outside. Amy looked over at me with a mix of helplessness and rage as she tried to communicate with the baggage lady.
I slipped a piece of paper with the villa address on it under the window to Brian who handed it to the woman. She asked a series of nonsensical questions like “Is this a real address?” and “What is the cell phone number of the owner?” Amy gritted her teeth and said, “You don’t need the cell phone number of the owner of the house. You need MY cell phone number and I’ve already given it to you.” Kelly and I astutely observed that this was not going well.
When they were finally released from San Quentin, they came barreling out of the room with a level of frustration only known by those who have had a canceled flight and lost luggage in a foreign country.
It occurred to me then how laughable my original vision was of Kelly meeting Amy and Brian — everyone at JFK cheerfully meeting for a fabulous flight to Italy! Instead, Amy and Brian were yanked around, luggage-less, and anything but excited. Kelly would later admit to Brian and Amy that she was slightly afraid, given the thundercloud of anger hanging over their heads, but of course, who could blame them?
This is also why no one minded in the least when, an hour later, we were all standing outside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Brian, Amy and Mike looked for ten minutes and then said, “People, we need to eat. Peace.” We all said please, do whatever you want, you deserve an award, please have a drink on me, etc.
However, my mom, Erin, Sam, Aaron and Kelly were not quite ready to leave. We walked up to the Duomo and decided to go inside (the shade from the 95 degree heat was motivation enough). It was stunningly beautiful, and we spent about fifteen minutes exploring the interior.
The building across from it was the Baptistry of St John, and we entered and were instantly somewhat underwhelmed. It was still large and beautiful, and deeply impressive for a building completed in 1363, but it was very plain, with little adornment of any kind.
There were signs for silence throughout the circular room, and Erin nudged us that the ticket-taker was walking into the room, presumably to shush us. He entered and gave a “shhhhh” that was practically deafening, and then he mounted the baptismal font to stand in front of everyone. We had no idea what he was doing, and then without warning his voice rang out in a clear, deep tenor.
“Ooooooooooooooooooooooooh, ooooooooooooh, oooooooooooooooooooooooooh,” he sang, going deeper with each note. He held each note about three seconds, then would change to a different key. The most incredible thing happened: his voice never stopped. He was showcasing the baptistry’s acoustics in an astonishing way — as he sang, each note lasted far longer than he held it, building on one another until it sounded as though a hundred men were singing around us. It was spellbinding.
Kelly looked at me with eyes as wide as the font, and mouthed “I have goosebumps.” I did too, so I gripped her arm as we listened together. I closed my eyes to amplify the sound, which so filled the room it was as if we could see the music.
Just as simply as he entered the room, the man exited it. Everyone stood there in stunned silence, unable to move. Finally we burst outside and exchanged exclamations about what we’d just heard.
When we reunited with Mike, Amy and Brian back at the car, they were as refreshed as we were — the lunch and beer had treated them well. We felt like we had been traveling for days, and we had — two plane rides and a tourist stop and we were feeling the wear and tear. We all agreed we couldn’t picture anything better than getting to the villa for a swim, so we piled in the car and headed on our way.