Sandy Asks ....
Dove es il foro? la sabbia? il bagno?
Greetings from sunny Italy! Due to the miracle that is the internet, I am able to post this month's column from the midpoint of my travels and O the things I have done! Tossed my coins in Trevi! Lost my way in Pompeii! Dribbled the pseudosands of Costa Amalfi and danced the macarena at a wedding in Cesena. All this and the purpose of my visit - the sand sculpting competition in Jesolo - hasn't even started yet.
For the adventurous soul who would follow in my feet prints - I have learned some lessons from which you might benefit:
Flying to Europe
I have only one important message to convey here. On most any international flight, you will find yourself plied with multiple foil-wrapped handiwipes -- way more than you will need for the purposes of the flight. Do NOT send them back with your dirty dishes. Rather, stash them in your backback for later.
The Language Thing
All Italian men know at least three questions in English: Are you married? How old are you? Are you alone?
Even if you are old and ugly, if you are female you will get some part of your anaotomy pinched, poked, prodded or patted while in Southern Italy. Guaranteed. The Italian word for ugly is bruto and I think it sounds just like what it means. I tried to learn a few important words and phrases before my departure (i.e. E ricco e singolo? - "Are you rich and single?" which I have not yet had the opportunity to use). Italians really do say Mama Mia! and when I am having problems communicating I find that a Spanish word will often do in a pinch when I can't put my tongue on its Italian equivalent. Too bad I don't know more Spanish words...
All roads lead to Rome, but some of those roads are pretty damn winding and dove (dó-veh) is the word I have used the most. Dove is the Pantheon? the Forum? Fontana Trevi? The signs are there but the arrows are ambiguous and the names in the guidebooks are different from the ones used by the locals. Smart people already know that Florence is Firenza, Naples is Napoli, and Cesena is prounounced Shezaina. The rest of us have to figure these things out the hard way, usually by making asses of ourselves.
But -- look stupid and desperate and weary enough and you will eventually find a kindly native willing to explain things very sloooowwlly and LOUDLY to you - in Italian. And your job is to nod and smile and say grazie and then cast around for someone else that looks like they may have some small command of English. (I hereby promise that in the future I will treat all stupid "ask sandy" questions with respect and deliberation and that I will deliver my smart-ass answers very sloooowwlly and LOUDLY.)
Traveling by Train
Number one rule: do not pack a bag that you cannot easily hoist over your head. If you do, you will be obligated to the man who helps you and will be forced to answer the aforementioned three questions.
Be wary of trains that have assigned seating. I boarded a train in Rome for Bolgna - a two-hour trip - only to discover that my car was in fact the dining car and my assigned seat non-existent. The official is uninterested in this problem and when presented with it simply pretends he doesn't understand English. So I lug my bags from car to car, eyeing a vacant seat for a long enough period to convince myself that it is truly vacant. I no sooner settle in than someone with ticket in hand is giving me that internationally-understood look that says, "get your bruto butt out of my seat." I spend most of the trip sulking in the space between cars, thinking about all the money I paid to stand.
The Italian cuisine is justifiably hailed as among the world's finest, and if you eat everything that looks good, you will most certainly become fat and bruto. You will not want to eat at McDonalds, but if you do, you will notice that a big Mac in Italian becomes a Burger Royale, and you will not be given any ketchup for your french fries - not for amore or dinero.
Dining in an Italian home is a journey mined with potential faux pas. If someone cooks for you, it is really bad form not to clean your plate, an insult to the cuchina. But, if you clean your plate, you will have more food heaped upon it. If there is a graceful way to exit this type of situation, I have not yet figured it out.
Italian weddings are much like American weddings - except that you are expected to eat and drink for about 7 hours straight after the ceremony.
A Few Other things I have Figured Out the Hard Way...
Italian hotels must ask for your passport by law. Sometimes they keep it for your entire stay. And sometimes they forget to return it to you, so you must take it upon yourself to remember to ask for it back. Being reunited with my passport after a 3 day separation was one of the highlights of my stay in Positano.
Do not get a hairwrap in Rome from a Jamaican dude named Mike. He will give you a crummy wrap, overcharge you for it and use the opportunity to relieve you of any loose lire that may be peeking from your fanny pack.
When the city gets too oppressive and you wonder if you will ever see a friendly face again -- head to a beach and build a really bella sand castle. Your attitude will improve, your confidence will soar and friends will appear from nowhere.
Italy is lovely, the people are friendly and passionate and I have enjoyed about 75% of the minutes I have spent here. But there is no beach like my home beach -- and by the time this report appears in print I will be on my way back to Texas and glad of it. Till then, Ciao!
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