Monday, 11 April 2011

Roman Holiday

As yet I have not been invited by a Pontifical Commission to attend the May 2 blognic in Rome. But I have been invited to Hilary White's May 3 Roman blognic, and B.A. said it would be worth the price of my round-trip ticket just to go to that. (Father Z is also going, so if you are a blogger who thinks Father Z is the cat's pyjamas, you might find it worthwhile, too!)

I am going to Rome. And if, through the will of Providence, I am invited to the PCCS/PCCC blognic, I will already have my flight booked. Win-win! The one sad part is that B.A. can't come. Off I go to Italy on my own--again.

I first went to Italy 12 or 13 years ago. I was Single, but I was making good money, and I had longed to go to Italy since I took my first Italian class at the age of 15. I can still remember sitting at my desk getting my tongue around the "gn" in "gnocchi." Two years later, I was the only girl without an Italian surname taking the third and final year. We watched Il Gattapardo on video. We read Alberto Moravia's "Una Donna Sulla Testa" from a photocopy. I read it again yesterday--in a volume of racconti romani--on the bus to Mass and giggled.

In the late 1990s, grown up, Single and free, I saved for my Italian holiday and reviewed my Italian textbook in the evening. This came in handy for work because occasionally we had clients who spoke Italian but no English. Of course, most of them spoke Sicilian, not Italian, but we muddled cheerfully through. I am not, as a rule, "good" at languages. But I love the Italian language, and love takes you far.

Then off to Italy I went, under the protection of a tour company that catered to twenty-somethings.

I could write a book and probably will went I find my mysteriously missing Italian Trip Diary. At any rate, I soon found myself among 30 or more Americans, Britons, Canadians and Australians, many--if not most of whom--had Italian grandparents. Three of us spoke Italian--the Italian-Canadian girl, the Italian-Australian girl and I. Our tour group leader was an Englishwoman of perhaps 30 with a rocky relationship with the Italian bus driver/owner. On one memorable occasion, she called him a dago--a word which hitherto I had never heard but only seen written in books published before 1940.

The tour provided much hilarious insight into group dynamics. The Canadian girls gently but insidiously sneered at the more patriotic American boys. The Italian-American girls flocked around the Italian-American stockbroker from Manhatten. The Chinese-American girl went to bed with the blond British guy. The loudest American girl threw up on the bus the morning after the night before. I wandered off on my own, or with the Italian-Australian girl, to speak Italian to the locals. This alienated the Italian-American girls dancing attendence on their stockbroker and before I knew it, I had a Bad Reputation.

Twelve or thirteen years later, this still makes me giggle.

Travel provides you with treasures you can ponder for the rest of your life.

Rome was astonishingly alive and gave me within 15 minutes both a sunburn and the realization that I didn't understand Roman.

Florence blew me away with its beauty and the realization that I did understand Florentine.

Venice taught me never to go to Venice without someone you love and also that the further you are from St. Mark's Square, the cheaper the gelato.

Assisi taught me to avoid pilgrimage sites when 30 busloads of devout Europeans, e.g. Poles, are expected any minute.

Pompeii taught me never to just follow people around, for if they are bored and just go out the turnstyle, fascinated you will be stuck on the outside, mourning and weeping and gnashing your teeth.

Capri taught me that if you fail to climb the mountain on your own, and you ask at a rual auto shop for help, you will not necessarily be raped and killed. Sometimes you get a thrilling return trip to civilization on the back of a moped driven by a nice young man named Ettore.

Sorrento taught me that Italian men like to frequent tourist bars to chat up young foreign women, and that undercover cops carry concealed weapons, even when they are chatting up young foreign women at tourist bars. Also, at least one of Sorrento's undercover cops (who actually operated in Naples) at that time looked exactly like Marcus on Babylon 5. Also, taking three years of Italian was a very good decision on my part, leading to zany adventures like chatting with undercover drug cops in Sorrento and asking them to prove that they are undercover cops.

It was then, I believe, that I got my terrible reputation, although of course I went back to my hotel room with my just-joined-the-tour roommate, who was as drunk as a skunk, had tried and failed to pick up a man, cursed her Italian grandparents for never teaching her Italian, and said again and again, "I'm so proud of you, Roomie, out there, speaking Italian to men."

When you are a Single woman, if you don't have friends to stay with, I recommend tour groups for the young. However, I add the caveat that you must be prepared for the Eighth Grade factor and that unless you are going with a pilgrimage group, you will have to fight and scheme to get to Sunday Mass.

The Eighth Grade factor is the sad fact that some women never progress pass their Eighth Grade (or if Canadian, Grade Eight) take on social life. They huddle together, fight for male attention and create tight bonds by demonizing other, different, women.

If you find yourself a designated demon in a tour group, find your own ways of dealing with that. There's making at least one friend, striking out on your own whenever possible and even returning to your Eighth Grade job as teacher's pet. A born teacher's pet, I helped negotiate between my foul-mouthed English tour leader and the sulky Italian bus driver.


Christine said...

In 2009 I went to Rome solo - no tour groups, just an Italian girl on the outskirts who offered me her couch. Staying on the outskirts was extremely difficult & frustrating, so I decided to change my overnight venue to a convent B&B, literally 5 meters from the Vatican. I highly recommend these places (see for more info... also Santa Susanna's is the parish in Rome for American Catholics, so give it a visit). I didn't find it that hard to navigate Rome alone, but I had to do a lot of touristy research on the fly (ie, online searches for Sunday Mass in English at St. Peter's, etc.). Happy travels to the bloggers :-)

Kate P said...

"Florence blew me away with its beauty and the realization that I did understand Florentine."--that sounds so exciting. I'd love to go someday.

I hope you do find your missing journal--even the little you describe here sounds fascinating. I love looking at my mom's album from her trip in 1969. She couldn't have been dating my dad that long, and yet off she went to Italy with the women considered his protective older cousins! (I wonder if that was a test.)

berenike said...

Christine - you've just shown why Mass in Latin is such a good idea in this age of cheap and easy international travel :)

Seraphic - funny :D

Christine said...

@berenike - Good point. I need to get to my first (as an adult, aside from once as a kid) Latin Mass.

note - coming from the US isn't so cheap. *sigh* Otherwise I'd travel to Italy during every holiday