Andare, Partire, Tornare


The whys and wherefores of falling in love

You know, it is downright amazing that my first trip to Italy didn't result in screaming trauma every time I see a bowl of pasta. Because that first week, man - that was an iffy week.

Bemo and I had just gotten married in January, and here it was, May. I'm all prepped for my trip. It's through a study abroad thing with my college, so I figure it can't be all that bad. Besides, I was a world traveler. I had traveled in *Asia* and that was something, right? Although I would have to confess, if pushed on the subject, that my parents and the tender sheltering arms of the State Department really did most of the work, and I just hung out and watched stuff go by me. And here I was, going to head off by myself into the wilds of Europe. Which, I knew through extensive guide book readings, wasn't all that wild. But still. I could cope.

I coped just fine until my train from the airport pulled into Termini station, Rome's central train depot. From here, my task was simple - find the next train to Perugia. One that didn't require me to change trains every five minutes. One that would Get Me There. What did I need? I needed a ticket.

Ticket. Ticket ticket ticket. Apparently, in a grand conspiracy to confuse study-abroad students, somebody had hidden the ticket counters from me. I wandered around in a jet-lagged daze, my little trolley suitcase following behind me, ducking people selling wind-up toys, weaving between beggars and gazing wistfully at other travelers, all of whom seemed to have a good idea of where they were going. I finally found the ticket booths in a smallish room off the side of where the trains pull in. (note: Thank the heavens they've remodeled things. Termini is now a stylin' little train station and mall.) So, with confidence, I could move onto my next step: purchasing the ticket. I waited in line. And waited. And waited, and waited. Got elbowed in the ribs a couple of times. And got up to the counter, and asked in my best guidebook Italian, for a ticket to Perugia. A flood of questioning Italian washed back over me in a torrent of unintellegibility. I had no idea what the woman was asking, telling, or demanding from me. For all I know she could have been informing me that she had a gun under the counter and that I was to cough up all my traveler's checks. I repeated my question, as best as I could, got stared at with a contemptuous gaze, and received a ticket. Which I discovered wasn't for the right train. I think. It could have been, but it didn't look right to me, so I turned around to do it all over again. The lines were getting longer, but I spotted an automated ticket kiosk where I could select a ticket, feed my money in, and recieve my little orange pass.

Four useless tickets later, I finally had the correct one. And no, I have no idea to this day what I was doing wrong. Perhaps all the tickets I bought would have worked - and even if they were incorrect, the conductor certainly didn't take more than a cursory glance at it. Those tickets ended up pasted in a scrapbook, so I suppose I got some use out of them in the end.

Before I boarded, I made a phone call to one of the coordinators of the project, who said he'd meet me at the train station in Perugia to drive me to the hotel I'd be staying at until the apartment was ready. Very nice of him, I thought. I boarded the train, and pressed my nose against the glass until I realized that until we actually got out of the ass-end of Rome, the scenery wasn't going to be all that terrific. So we crept slowly out of Rome. And crept along through the countryside. At this point, swift me realized that despite all efforts to the contrary, I had boarded the slowest class of train, the milk run that stopped at every little crossroads. My two-hour trip was going to take forever. I was still entranced by the view outside my window, however, especially as I started to get into the heart of Umbria, where I saw my first hilltown. My heart leapt in my chest and I watched it out the window for as long as I could, until the curve of the train forced me to sit down and calm myself. It was a sight that took my breath away, and when I look at the slightly fuzzy, washed-out photograph I took I can still remember that pounding excitement I felt then.

Eventually, frustrated at my slow progress, I got out at Foligno, a largish station near Perugia, and called up the coordinator. I was quite grateful that he didn't call me any names like "stupid stupid foreigner," although he had that "God, spare me" tone in his voice. He had been waiting for me, but on hearing where I was, decided him coming to get me via auto was a hell of a lot faster than the train. (Actually, I could have jogged to Perugia faster than the train was going.) So he arrived, stowed my few pieces of luggage in the trunk of his car, and proceeded to show me that all the stereotypes about Italian drivers was perfectly true. Didn't matter though, I was feeling the wind in my face. If I was about to die in a fiery auto wreck, it was a good night to do it.

Perugia proved to be a gorgeous little city, full of bustle and life. For the first week, I wasn't really feeling the love, though. My experiences in Termini had terrified me about making contact with the local shopkeepers, and as I was still in a hotel, I didn't have access to a kitchen, so I needed to go buy a dinner or two. I did not eat for two days. My stomach was in a constant roil (and the Pepto I took came right back up again) and I was just too mortified to walk up to a clerk and point and gesture. See, this is where my intense dislike of looking stupid actually caused me illness. Now I know better, and am willing to play any kind of charade game to get what I need. Sometimes you need to bend the old pride a little bit. I remember going into a candy shop and getting what I thought would be a nice bun. The lady shot me a look like I was wearing a tinfoil hat. It wasn't until months later that I discovered that those buns were for gelato, and nobody ever just *bought* one without having them filled up with different flavours of ice cream. By itself, I discovered that it tasted pretty foul.

I finally broke through my paralysis and ordered a dinner at a little bar. Everything went smoothly, and the ice was cracked - at least, in Perugia. Rome, however, was a different story. Combined with my fear and a lack of money (Bemo was, at this point, valiantly battling with the Financial Aid Office, who was refusing to release my check to him despite his POWER OF ATTORNEY he kept waving around) I slunk around Perugia for the first few weeks. Finally, however, I gave myself a stern talking to.

I was in Italy. It was my birthday. I knew how things worked now. I had a guidebook and now the things they talked about made a whole lot more sense. I could do it. So I did. That evening I roamed through the Eternal City with a couple of new friends (roommates from the hotel I was staying at) and found out what it was like to fall in love with a place.

From then on, I was hooked.

So I doubt that I'm one of those natural-born travelers - the kind that seem to make friends with the natives on every train and in every cafe. I'm still pretty reserved, and I can't just turn to my neighbor in a crowded compartment and enquire about their health. Besides, my Italian is still so poor that I'd be able to understand only about one word in ten. But it's that time of year again - the time of year when I've been in Italy. And every time I step outside and the heat hits me, and the splash of a fountain is heard, and I see somebody with a map and a camera, I wish that it was me who was the tourist.

2:57 p.m. - 2002-06-12


previous - next

latest entry

about me





random entry

other diaries: