A uniformed passport officer in Fuimicino Airporto gazed at the long line of bleary-eyed travelers and said, in a blasé, beautifully accented voice, “I don’t know why you wait in line. Come through here.” We all came through there, only to be waved through empty booths. No one asking us suspiciously, “How long are you here? What is the purpose of your visit?” No one flipping passport pages, comparing face to photo. Spooky. Felt illegal and wrong.
I fetched my luggage and then, driven by some sort of Hitchcock-movie based anxiety (“Mr. Linton, your wife never checked into the country.”), I went back to the glass booths. A nice woman in immigration stamped my passport–-- still not scanning it into her computer -- and said, “When it gets busy, we just send people through.”
What’s the opposite of heartening?
I confirm my national identity to a knowing barman at the café by carefully perusing the coffee menu and then ordering a curved red-labeled bottle of Coca-Cola. He looks vaguely disappointed, as if he’s saying to himself, “Ah, Americans.” Or maybe, “Hmmm. Americana.”
Drinking my Coke, I eavesdrop where I can, wondering about the people around me: the Chinese-looking girl shouting in Italian to her uniformed co-worker, the sharp French couple bitching at each other about their luggage, the British couple working up the nerve to use the ticket machine, the Eastern Europeans with the tight pants and the pointy shoes saying, Yan iss nie, Yan iss nie. I assume it’s the same as the Russian “I don’t know.” But, you know, yan iss actually nie...
My college French is never so fluent as when I am trying to speak another language. It’s like a cuckoo hatchling trying to shove the others out of the nest. I brushed up on my 36-word Italian vocabulary, and I can follow quite a bit on a survival-but-not-philosophy level. But thanks to those years of drilling French, when I open my mouth, Buon giorno is followed by Ça va? And Que’st que c’est? comes out instead of Come? A good time to simply listen.
Impossibly, we discovered some bad food in Rome. One of my companions ordered pizza tunno. So he was kind of asking for trouble. Fact: tuna really has no place on top of a pizza. Luckily, gelato is the patent cure.
Witnessed a motorcycle crash:
Looked up just in time to see driver and cycle separately cart-wheeling into a light-post. Even with the driver up and shaking his fist at the car that had turned into his lane, it was horrifying. Impossible to imagine that he and his bike missed hitting a pedestrian. Unbelievable that he stood up and walked afterwards.
We are here in Italy for a sailboat race, so my skipper’s boat and its attendant parts were shipped over from the States with a dozen or so others. Four Lightnings per 40-foot shipping container, and setting up the boat has a certain frustrating rhythm. The process was well organized, but it inevitably drags on small details that take a long while to resolve: Who has a hammer? Where is the third life-jacket? Do you have an extender for the lifting bridle?
Getting done, we look out to find Lago Trasimino is flat. Comme un mirior. Or rather, Come uno speccio. Whatev. Sailboat racing has just a few requirements, wind being the primary one. We decline the long paddle to the racecourse for the practice race and instead maneuver close to shore to discover which bits still need to be connected: topping lift, vang, coarse halyard adjustment on the jib.
Gelato awaits us at the top of the hill in the tiny walled old city of Castiglione del Lago.
World Championship racing:
Our scores were not as impressive as we hoped they’d be, and the sailing was both beautiful and ugly, smart and stupid, scary and boring. In other words, kind of the usual thing in this sport. On the other hand, since it was a World Championship, we had pomp, circumstance, live bands, and a parade for both the opening and closing ceremonies.
We rented a car -- what amounts to a midsize sedan in the form of a Toyota Yaris --–and spent our non-racing hours touring the Umbria side of Tuscany. Assisi, Sienna, Montepulchiano. As not much of a drinker, I drove after lunch. There’s a particular, fierce, mechanical joy in navigating a series of uphill and downhill curves with a zippy stick-shift. And with that scenery! Made me nostalgic for the sport cars of my past, and reminded me again why I drive a stolid automatic minivan.
Of course driving con brio (with FEELING!) comes with a downside: like picking the toll lane at the autostrada that accepts credit cards -- only to discover some idiot had shoved coins into the credit card slot. Naturally, the slot spat the credit card onto the ground. The ground, mind you, being kind of inaccessible since I’d pulled into the toll stall with mere inches to spare. Con brio, indeed.
Ever back up on the Jersey Turnpike out of a toll booth? In Italian? With your co-pilots sleeping like innocent babes? And I'd really meant to keep my resolve about cleaning up my potty-mouth.
Never have I been so happy to survive a mere driving experience.