Friday, May 14, 2010

Dear Christine

I have about seven days left in Venice. Well, six if you take out Sunday, because I'll be spending that day in Milan. Did you know you have to book your tickets to see The Last Supper in advance? Like, three months in advance? No? Well, neither did we. So barring a lucky turn of events, I guess we won't be seeing that particular fresco. Anyone have other suggestions for Milan? This will just be a day trip, so I'm looking for quick, interesting sights that will allow me to later say, "Milan? Yeah, I've seen it," and then be able to back up that comment with some knowledge.

So, we will be leaving Venice on the morning of Saturday, May 22. We will be spending Saturday night in Naples, and getting up the next morning to head to Pompeii. I don't know how much time Pompeii takes, but we are banking on not more than a few hours, because then we are heading to Sorrento to catch a boat to Capri. Three nights on Capri ought to be at least a little bit relaxing. Then on May 26 it's back to Naples by boat to catch a train to Rome, where we catch a flight to Berlin. Five nights in Rome, followed by five nights in Paris. Then back to Denver.

Denver just doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? But my pup and my nephew are there, so it's paradise as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, but the fun doesn't end there, because once we get back to Denver and unwind for about a week, we'll be off on a road trip. Probably to New Orleans first, then back west to Marfa for a few days, followed by a day or two in Scottsdale (where we will try to not spend any money, as we are definitely part of any boycott) to see Lindsay's family, and then finally back home. We're thinking late June or early July as an ETA in Los Angeles. That adds up to a total of five months away from the City of Angels. What's changed, Angelenos?

The other day, Christine teared up at the idea of leaving Italy. These are her people, ancestrally speaking, so she hates to leave them. I can only partially understand that, since I don't even have a real hometown, let alone an entire heritage. But I do like the Italian people. They're incredibly nice and they have a beautiful country. So what's not to like?

That actually wasn't a rhetorical question. I have a list. Composed as a letter to Christine. Honey, just read this when you get sad, and you'll be reminded of a few reasons to be happy you're leaving.

Dear Christine,

Yes, the people in Italy are incredibly nice. But some of them are also incredibly smelly. I'm talking about the menfolk. Why are they so against deodorant? Maybe it's because I'm not into the dudes, but I don't think that particular "musk" is what attracts the ladies. I realize they are all virile Italian stallions, but there are manly smelling deodorants out there that would not detract from their overall masculinity. Even unscented might help. And please don't tell me they object to plugging their pores with aluminum; I use a natural deodorant, and I smell like sunshine and gumdrops. So there are options. We probably couldn't get them to wear deodorant, but do you think we could get them to stop raising their arms when we're they're pushed up against us on a vaporetto ride?

Try to remember the way the Italians are about money.  They (particularly the Venetians) have a thing about change. As in coins. What, you don't recall?  Let me remind you. If you went into a store to buy food, you had to be prepared to have exact change. Or else be prepared to get an incredibly dirty look from the cashier. Seriously, your total could have been €4.96, and the cashier would have demanded that you give him/her 96 cents. And it was not always just with coins. More than once I went in to pay for something that was, say, €13. I handed the cashier €20. She asked for three more, just so she could give me back an even ten. It was insane. The worst example I saw was at the grocery store, where all the cashiers sit in chairs as they scan your items. And they don't bag. So why would you expect them to have to count change for you? They're busy! Leave them alone!

And while we're on the subject of change, I know you remember that many cashiers had a tendency to pretend that they couldn't see your hand when it was outstretched and ready to accept money. Your change was €0.70. You stuck out your hand, waiting. The cashier would inevitably place the change onto the counter in front of him/her, mere inches from your hand. If you were holding a bunch of bags and found that prying change off a counter was a little difficult in that position, too bad. You will take your change off the counter, and you will like it.

Remember how our friend Piper, who spent time in Italy during college, told me before we left that "the Italians don't know how to stand in line"? Remember how I didn't know what to make of this information?  Well, now we know. You know me, Christine.  I'm a rule-following kind of girl. I like rules. I believe in them. I don't speed. I always use my blinker. I have never even tried any illegal drug. And to me, the most basic rule in a polite society seems to be that if a particular place allows entry on a first-come, first-served basis, then whoever is at this location first is the person who gets to go in (or be served, or whatever) first. It's a pretty self-explanatory thing.

We've learned by now that the Italians didn't get the memo. I don't know what they are taught at a young age, but I doubt there's a translation for "single file" in the language. At a vaporetto stop, you could be standing at the front, right before the yellow lines that signify an area you were not to enter. People would literally shove you out of the way to stand in front of you. Or they would come around through the exit only part of the bus stop, just so they could stand on that side and start to get on the bus while others were still getting off. In any sort of store where there was a counter at which you must pay for your goods, you better have made damn sure that you noted who was there before and after you. And you needed to be willing to fight for your right to pay and get the hell out of there. Because no one else cares.

Before I got there, you were pushed out of line at a vaporetto stop. You missed your bus because you couldn't get past in time, and the woman who shoved you out of the way wasn't even trying to get on that bus. No. The woman pushed you because she wanted to be at the head of the line for the next bus.

If you need more examples to sour you on Italy, think back to Rome.  We were standing outside a museum, waiting to go into the Hopper exhibit, and there was a woman standing behind us who absolutely refused to acknowledge that we were ahead of her. Every time we shuffled forward, this woman would swing out wider and wider. I, being the polite person that I am, was unable to keep up with her because I was not willing to block the sidewalk entirely for pedestrian use. I tried. Oh, did I try. I stopped short of actually touching this woman, but it would have been obvious to every other non-Italian in the world that I was attempting to block her. But eventually this woman won the battle, and she ended up in front of us. We won the war when we chose the right line at the ticket booth and ended up ahead of her after all. But that's not the point.

So, to sum up:

Italian pros:  Nice people, beautiful country, Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, Piazza San Marco, Santa Maria Novella, David, Capri, food.

Italian cons:  Inability to stand in line, nasty public restrooms, a reliance on religious art, the Vatican

Let's compare that to America--your home, your love, where you have your roots.

American pros: Excellent line-standing ability, beautiful parts of the country, clean public restrooms, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, baseball, apple pie.

American cons: People aren't really that nice, most of them are fat, and America literally has no art to speak of, at all.  Also, offshore drilling, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Westboro Baptist Church, Arizona immigration laws.

Hmm. Maybe you have a point.




Orel said...

I experienced the hand-out-for-change thing in Germany. It's kind of like an unreciprocated high five — you're left hanging and feeling like an ugly American.

Mr. Customer said...

For just a day trip to Milan, I'd say just start at the cathedral square and circle out from there. The duomo, the Galleria, and Teatro la Scala are all right next to each other, surrounded by shops with items that no one should be able to afford.

Yeah, it sucks about the Last Supper scheduling, but they're really strict about how many people can be in there, and for how long. If you absolutely must see it, you can try to catch on with a group (many have standing appointments).

The Brousseau Family said...

Um I did not see Idaho in your summer vacation spots :) Oh well see you in Denver in August..

Erin said...

Thanks, Mr. C. We actually ended up not going to Milan. I guess we'll have to save that for the next trip.

Hello, "The Brousseau Family." Idaho isn't on this particular list, but you never know. I always seem to find my way up there.