Home Commentary A State of Mind State of Mind: On the Road — Notes from Italy

State of Mind: On the Road — Notes from Italy

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I just returned from a few weeks in Italy. Here are some journalistic observations. 

Should you choose to visit Italy, be prepared. Italy is about half full of Italians, who, as comedian Steve Martin might say, have a different word for everything. Well, almost everything. My grandson pointed out to me, “Gramps, the words ‘pizza’ and ‘pasta’ mean the same thing in Italy as they do in Vermont.” According to my Berlitz phrase book, he is correct.

All those different Italian words have about 35 syllables each and almost always end in “ay.” Even five-letter words seem to have 35 syllables. I eventually gave up on trying to understand when spoken to and hoped I would hear ‘pizza’ or ‘pasta’ if they were uttered and could just raise my hand.

As I mentioned, Italy is about half full of Italians. The other half of the population consists of tourists, all of whom were at the Vatican City the day we visited. Joining those tourists were all the children in Italy’s schools on field trips. This gave a new meaning to the travel-agent term “shoulder season.” 

True to the concept of “schooling,” these kids formed colorful moving shoals of humanity that murmurated around you much like herring in the North Sea. Each shoal followed its own lure, consisting of a stick with a colorful scarf or a small stuffed animal attached to it and held aloft by the tour guide for that group. And many of the groups wore T-shirts of a matching color to make the kids easily identifiable to the guides. These T-shirts often had things written on them in Italian, such as “Nike” or “Old Navy,” which just reinforced the sense that you were in a foreign country.

About the closest you will get to parking in Rome is maybe Naples, so do not even think about renting a car.

Because of nonexistent parking, Romans drive very small cars. Roman streets were designed back in the days of chariots, so even a two-passenger Smart ForTwo car seems bigger than a GMC Yukon Denali XL on a Roman street. Also, judging from the width of the sidewalks, the ancient Romans must have been very thin. It is, however, possible to pass an oncoming pedestrian if you both turn sideways and shuffle.

If you have never been to Rome and are considering a trip there, do not be fooled by studying the city beforehand on Google Earth. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” by those two guys with a wolf for a mom, but they definitely built it on (more than) seven hills. The steepness of those hills is not readily evident from “Street View” in Google Earth. To give you a bit of perspective, there are 135 Spanish Steps. 

No matter where I went, I felt I was living that old dad joke: “I had to walk to school every day. It was uphill both ways.”

In addition to its ruins, Rome is known for two things, great food and being the center of the Roman Catholic religion. Although this is not a truly scientific observation, I am convinced that there are at least six or seven restaurants on every block in Rome. That means at least 12 to 14 waiters trying to drag you off the street and seat you at a sidewalk table. Each of these restaurants is separated from the other by a Catholic church. So if you can’t find something to please you on a restaurant’s menu, you can always stop in next door for confession and possibly a communion wafer to sustain you until you can peruse the menu at the next restaurant.

Finding your way around Rome is challenging. That is because of a peculiar aspect of Italian culture — a tendency to not be forthcoming with important information. On one occasion I walked about four blocks looking for the name of the street I was on so I could find my location on a map. Once I found that street name, I had to walk back four blocks — uphill. 

A charming activity while you are in Rome is to toss coins into the Trevi Fountain. According to the legend, which goes all the way back to the middle of the last century (the film “Three Coins in the Fountain”), if you throw one coin into the fountain, someday you will return to Rome. If you throw a second coin, you will find true love (note: the legend states it will be an Italian person). If you throw a third coin, it means you are ready for marriage. 

So if you want to return to Rome and marry an Italian, throw three coins. Just start practicing now to build up your arm strength, because for it to be valid you have to throw the coins with your right hand over your left shoulder while you have your back to the fountain. Trevi Fountain is as popular with tourists as the Vatican, so the closest I could get was the equivalent of throwing the coins from center field to home plate at Fenway. I think I may have hit a tourist from Long Island near the second base area with three Euros.