There are several dates forever etched in my mind. Chalk it up to a love of history or a bizarre fascination with numbers but there isn't much I can do about remembering the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, the time in April the Titanic sank, or the fact Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C. Perhaps more to the point, I'll never forget Dominic, my childhood best friend's birthday. This morning, as I do every day on this year no matter where I am in the world, I proved as much by texting him first thing in the morning.
Last night after I cleared customs at Managua Airport I tapped my cab driver on the shoulder after seeing a sign with my name on it. Who is this wannabe ninja? he must have thought. Growing up, there weren't a whole lot of ways having a long and funny Italian last name came in handy but the hell if I can't pick it out from a crowd, especially in Central America.
My driver was a young man, likely flirting with 25 or 26, sporting a Yankees hat and a white t-shirt. We drove through the dark night down desolate roads where street lights were practically obsolete. It was hard to tell how dark it was since his windows were also tinted. Probably not as cutty as it feels, I tried to convince myself.
My only entertainment was the familiar sounds of merengue I used to hear on hot summer nights when I'd mosey up to Washington Heights for a hearty Dominic plate when the hustle and bustle of Manhattan got to be a hair too much. I could also make out flashes of thunder off in the distance as I wondered if I remembered to pack my umbrella.
A few minutes into the drive he asks, "Nick, do you speak Spanish?" There was so much hope in the inquiry I felt not only embarrassed, but sorry. "No, I told him. I could hear my father's voice now dos decadas passed saying, "I don't understand why you signed up for French again. You live in California and want to move to New York." Looking back, the old man had a damn good point.
I tell him I speak a little Italian and for some reason want to clarify it's not because I'm half. I want him to know my dad is from Brooklyn, not Palermo and that the only reason I know more than "ciao," or "grazie," is because I took the initiative to do so through tutors, movies, music, Duolingo -- lots of Duolingo.
He nods as Spanish speakers always do when I imply any language deriving from Latin is the same. But it's not, especially when I speak it. I really should stop brining it up.
Finally, I arrive at my AirBnb in Granada. Waiting for me at the front door is an elderly man and woman straight out of Central Casting for doting aunt and uncle. They are warm and hospitable and instantly I feel as though we're family. I half expect them to tell me to clean my room. I take a picture with Aunt Ines, who is almost painfully adorable.
It's a humble space and far more than I need. I decide on the bedroom closest to the front door and opt for the single bed instead of the double on the other side of the room. Before long, they're gone and it's just me and some stranger's home in a country I may have needed a minute to find on a map a year earlier. The way traveling should be, I think to myself.
Just before bed I take a peek at the photo and see Aunt Ines is beaming. I am happy too, sporting my usual outfit no matter what time of year or place on the planet.
I must be the only man in all of Nicaragua wearing a scarf.