Andreas greeted me at the entrance to the dining car. He nodded slightly and said, ‘Buona sera, signore. Your table is ready.’
He escorted me to my table, held the chair as I sat down, and then handed me the evening’s menu. Before he could ask me about an aperitif, Christian in spotless whites and chef hat was at my side proudly describing his creations for tonight, starting with an appetizer of steamed fillet of turbot and cannelloni filled with salt cod, Caviar, and dill cream, moving on to an entrée of roast rack of lamb and dry fruits in a spiced juice with fresh coriander yogurt complemented by buttered autumn vegetables and baked potato, followed by a selection of fine cheeses and a dessert of a marbled chocolate sphere with morello cherries and Szechuan pepper ice cream. Coffee would come with a variety of small pastry delicacies.
To the annoyance of a couple across the aisle that seemed anxious to use me as their audience, I buried my head in the Herald Tribune, raising it only to savor the exquisite courses each paired with an appropriate wine. After finishing dinner just shy of midnight, I headed back to my suite, avoiding the invitations to tarry in the bar car which was too noisy and crowded for my taste at that hour. Once alone in the cabin, I pressed the steward button. Vincenzo tapped lightly. I opened the door and ordered a cognac.
Bill and I had planned this trip together. The intention was to start in Venice for a week of museums, opera, and relaxing cappuccinos in Piazza San Marco. It would be our fourth visit to the paradise of cities. I had booked us into a boutique hotel overlooking the Grand Canal. Then it would be onto the Orient Express for a couple days passing through Vienna on our way to Prague. Bill had never been to Prague. I had been twice at politically momentous times—1969 and 1989. I was anxious to share the beautiful city with him. Back on the train, we would head through Paris ending in London and spend an additional week there enjoying Covent Garden, West End theatres, the British Museum, and the Tate. I had reserved us a room at The Goring Hotel near Buckingham Palace, which unbeknownst to me would six months later be used by one Kate Middleton and her family on the night prior to a small family wedding.
Yes, Bill and I had planned this trip together.
And we had planned TO TAKE this trip together.
But, he died.
I knew he would be furious with me if I didn’t still go.
So, for better or worse, I did.
The only in-depth conversations that I had during the three weeks were with Bill, sometimes reminiscing, sometimes joking, sometimes cursing him for not being physically by my side.
People mourn in their own unique ways. Some immerse themselves in the company of others.
I find solace in solitude.
That will change sometime, likely, maybe.
* * *
August Farewell, my memoir of our 33-year love affair that culminated in Bill’s sudden death from pancreatic cancer, and my novel, Searching for Gilead, are available through http://amazon.com, http://barnesandnoble.com, http://amazon.ca, http://chapters.indigo.ca, http://amazon.co.uk.
The picture below is of Bill’s chair across from me at our table on the Orient Express. What a surprise – it’s empty.