Just to Clarify…..

All the previous information regarding traffic in Cairo….it was with an UBER driver. We had a ride with a taxi today! These guys must be decendents of the Pharohs – fearless warriors. We got in the middle of some sort of wide spot in the road where traffic was converging from about 6 directions and our little Hundai Matchbox played chicken with a Class A, 40 passenger Tour Bus. He WON and he barely slowed down from his frenetic pace. I was grabbing the door handle! Uber drivers are Pikers!

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More Traffic Observations

Dispute resolution – Cairo style. Get off of your motorcycle, lay it down, walk back to the bus and tell the bus driver that he obviously disregarded the 6″ space between vehicles rule and made one of the most fearless drivers on Earth a bit edgy. This is done verbally. NO gesticulation, as in Italy, no weapons, as in the USA, no police interference, although Police are riding in the back of Mini Toyota trucks covered with a plastic  Nissan shell custom fitted to accommodate TWO officers seated back to back each looking at traffic through a 4′ x4′ opening into the traffic, with a Russian Kalisnakof on their laps.

Getting a verbal lecture in Egptian traffic by a Disturbed fellow travelers was a sight to behold. There is not only decible level to consider, although I have certainly heard louder, it was more the emotional force of the language and the pitch and tone that was so clearly a lecture and a deriding. Interestingly, it is ao way conversation. The offender takes his punishment and remains silent. The offender gets to say his peace until he is satisfied and does not end his lambasting with any hand gestures, he simply goes and gets back on his motorcycle.

I watched a similar infraction take place in Kom Ombo while we were in a shiny clean, undamaged, 9 passenger tour bus. Another bus, not loaded with foreign tourists, well worn, even tattered, and without windows, since their presence in the opening would have impeded airflow, infringed on the slightly tighter margins than allowed in Cairo. If I did not have glass in my window I could have put my coffee cup on the bent elbow sticking out of the window of the passenger in the next bus.

This caused our driver to open the window of his vehicle so he could remind the driver of the local. bus that he was out of compliance with local traffic restrictions. This was delivered with the same pitch, intonation, emotional and decible level as the tirade I had witnessed in Cairo. It came in two waves, as he obviously had more to say, yet not answered by the other driver.  He simply took him verbal beating in silence. However, I suspect he was grinning on the inside.

Kom Ombo is a small town on the Nile where the presence of English signage is radically reduced – however, I did make note of a single sign in English, with not even Arabic subtitles. It was hung over the door of sizable establishment. It was red with white capital letters. It read. ISIS HALL.

 

 

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BACK TO THE WILD SIDE

Ok, I hope I can remember with the vivid detail needed to get you back in the car with Mohammad Saheed, I believe I left you as we arrived at the car and he had to get warmed up to the outrageous idea of my sitting in the front seat. It wasn’t as though he was offended, it is as though he couldn’t imagine why I would want to do that, but you know, I wanted to see everything and talk to him about what I saw. I sort of forgot we can’t communicate.

Once that was settled and he loaded my baggage he wanted to take a selfie, I smiled, he snapped and showed me the result. Two smiling faces – one brown, one gussuk white.  He grinned and said, God is Good, yes? I agreed God IS Good. That seemed to break some barrier and after that we were buds.

Getting out of the airport could have been anywhere in the world, including Anchorage airport on a warm dark night (if we had any of those)  But then, we entered traffic. I don’t remember the first few minutes as we were trying to find out communication style since language was not a big winner, however it didn’t stop us from talking.   He told me, “I am English” I smiled and nodded but inside I thought, we, maybe but six generations back on your father’s side, cause dude, I’m not buying that.

He did had a vast vocabulary of English words compared to my 2 and he asked if I wanted coffee or tea. I looked around in the cab and wondered if he had it stowed under the seat, sort of like the airplane snacks on a twin otter heading to Kenai. But, as I looked around he pointed and said No,no, here and pointed to some sort of cafe along the road. That was a new experience for me, to have a cabbie want to stop for tea.  Then we passed a McDonalds, I just shook my head which caused him to ask, “no like?” to which I gave my firm response. So, he was certainly up on his interactive polite English, this gave me the ridiculous sense of security to ask a question way outside those perimeters. So, what is the main industry in Cairo?  It took 4x as long to convince him it didn’t matter if he answered my question than it took to ask that dumbo question, but he was never really convinced.

He cogitated a  while and then said with a bright smile, My sister is English.  I thought, hmmmm, same great,does great, great, great grandfather or she lives in England maybe? I smiled and nodded, and he was off.  You know that text and drive thing we worry about, yeah, not so much here. While driving, though not too fast, because there was million cars around us honking and weaving in and out. He simply picked up his phone and with both hands made contact with his sister.  They had a stimulating conversation in Egyptian or Arabic while I watched out the window at the battling  matchbox cars,  three wheeled mini trucks, and motorbikes of every description vying for a better position in crawling traffic. Then he hands me his phone. My Sister!  Uh, not so much, his BROTHER, who did speak English quite well.  He explained his brother’s English was not so good, I told him is personality was brilliant. He asked if I wanted to stop for tea or coffee, I confirmed my negative (I really wanted to sleep very very soon.) He wanted to know if there was anything else I needed and we signed off. Mohammed’s concern for my comfort seemed to know no bounds.

As we crawled through the typical neighborhoods surrounding an airport in a major city I got a view of Egyptian poverty….it is measured on a scale I have not seen before. I was stunned by the number of billboards and business name in English, even the Arabic signs had English translations. Not at all what I expected.

I would be lying if I said I had no apprehension before my trip, not a lot, but some. The last President was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and they still line up and shoot Coptic Christians on a regular basis here, even though you don’t read about it on FB. SO, seeing so much English began a new thought process for me.

Signage was a passive observation, traffic was much more of a visual imperative. Cars passes so close to us on either side I thought we would certainly have a collision, the use of directional signals was random and  not really predictive of future behavior. They cut  in front, ran alongside, just barely not crunching your fender, changed lanes continuously, honked endlessly, all while motor bikes darted around in and out, tooting intermittently, or as one fellow did, simply tooted continuously. I guess he may have been driving more aggressively than most.

This was, of course, on the freeway, a 3 lane super highway. Their genius concept for increasing roadways has nothing to do concrete, asphalt, road closures or construction. By simply having the two innermost vehicles at any moment, simply each staddle a broken white line they instantly created 2 additional lanes, one on on either side of them. Bingo, a four lane highway made from a three. Of course, staying in your newly created lane was obviously not adequate to speed up traffic so that is where the jockeying comes into play. I did notice there was zero smack talk, road rage or instructive hand gestures used during this madness on the highway. Apparently, a polite society.

When we finally left the superhighway we began our journey though the streets of Cairo to Garden City where Mona lives. This is where the madness began. There were people EVERYWHERE!  They were walking in and out of traffic with perfect calm, no hesitation, not even eye contact with the drivers. Crossing the street where EVER they wanted, crossing several rows of cars, I hesitate to say lanes because none of that applied here in downtown, Children walked into traffic, teenagers in groups, single men, a couple of hajib-ed women, old men….dogs seemed to hover near the edges.

Cars kept driving, or rather creeping along, people kept walking, I guess you could say that the pedestrians had the right of way, but it had a unique look. No one got hit, or bumped and no pedestrian seemed upset though the closeness of the calls was hair raising. All this amidst the honking, weaving, and jocking. We came so close to hitting a man once the headlight was illuminating the weave of his galabaya, I froze like the deer in the headlights and the pedestrian seeing my face gave me a smile. I nearly fainted.

I think that the best I can give you is for you to imagine that you have 1,000 mini matchbox cars in a box. You shake them up and throw them into your bathtub, then sprinkle in 350 mini people, 42 toy soldiers and add honking sounds in the background, then sift a pound of flour into the air that somehow hovers.  That is a pretty close substitute.

 

 

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Temple of Karnac

 

 

SPEECHLESS

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A Ride on the Wild Side

I could tell you about just getting out of Alaska- which was a goat rope in itself, but, they did unlock the door for me to get on the jetway, so I guess it was not all bad.   The extensive pat down at TSA started to feel like we needed a room, unpacked luggage, bomb testing of my orthotics, multiple times, and my little tube of Airborne highlighted for a triple search compounded by the colonoscopy really put a cramp on my timing.  Luckily, I M NOT A THREAT.

Or, I could give you the details on the tasty treat of Slow Food Presidium Black pig I had for lunch with BREAD, yes bread – which I can gloriously eat in Italy.

However, I am opting for graphic account of the cab ride from the Cairo airport to Mona’s house. It really deserves a thorough going over.

To give yo context for my point of view you should know that I:

  1. Grew up in Brooklyn
  2. Have had many cab rides in Manhattan
  3. Have been crammed in a car the size of a wheelbarrow with 3 other overweight Americans in Honduras where we used the sidewalk as necessary and 4 way intersections are a game of chicken
  4. I have had a cab ride on New Years Eve in Naples
  5. I have gotten from Wasilla to the Airport, parked and made the plane in under an hour (I am not actually proud of that – it was in another time of my life)

So, when I tell you that you haven’t lived until you take a cab ride in Cairo, I am not just whistling Dixie.

My brother and his sister-in-law, who lives in Cairo, planned my cab ride down to a gnat’s eyelash for me and sent written, detailed instructions via email, then checked in with a phone call to make sure I got the email, then sent a text or four to confirm I was still moving across the planet as described on my itinerary.  I texted my movements from touch down to baggage claim (they do not subscribe to the Alaska Airlines 20 minutes from gate to you or 500 free miles), at Customs where they check your Passport to insure you got your VISA, then you go to an agent who looks you right in face, not to see how your journey has been going or if perhaps you need a glass of water, but to flick his eyes over to the Passport photo (American, White Hair, Old Lady, round face – look at Passport, close enough), then they put the Passport thru a reader, Stamp it with great authority and about as much pressure as you need to tamp a good espresso,then hand it over to you and on to the next like they were gutting fish on the slime line. It’s not personal.

Ten feet past the Agent-in-a-Box, is a Free Standing Agent, less formally attired, who also checks your Passport. From there you take your baggage to a line where they check your passport and then you run your baggage thru a giant x-ray machine.  You pick it up yourself and put it on the belt.  Apparently, alcohol is not the only thing cheaper in Rome because I watched a women manhandle some gargantuan box up off the floor and on to the belt. It may have been a washing machine.  However, my colonoscopy results must have been faxed over to the agent in front of me because he just waved me on to exit the final set of doors.  I left Anchorage 3 full days ago…I have not had a drop of alcohol in this time.

Before leaving the airport I was hoping to buy a bottle of water. Like Mexico, you need to drink bottled water here, and I was dry as a bone. I found a giant coffee shop with no lights on, three tired items in the showcase and one frail looking young man behind the counter. I grabbed a water, and then another one for Mohammed Saheed, the driver who was to meet me at Door Number 4 with a sign with my name on it. He was clearly not one of the over 1,100 men with signs wandering around looking for people or the 8-10 smartly dressed handsome young men who tried to sell you a ride just before you exited the building, but he might be thirsty too. I pulled out my Alaska Airline Magic card and he said, No. He then said something I could not discern. I said, I have no Egyptian money. He repeated his comment, but I didn’t get it, so of course, I did exactly what you should do when confronted with someone who does not speak your language, I repeated my last statement.  So did he – this time I got it, “dollares” Dollars, American dollars? he would take American money?  Ok, I handed him a $10. he looked at it, turned it over a few times, held it out away from him then looked at me, not like the Customs Agent-in-a-Box. I dug out a 5, he handed me back several bills, one of them way a 10 unit note. Clearly, my money was going to go far here.

Clutching my bounty I walked out the door to a mad scene. A line of gates held back a throng of people over a 100 feet long and one in 10 had a sign with someone’s name on it. Simultaneously, a group of strapping young men began to coalese into a group and started chanting. A few older costumed guys materialized with djembes and the group broke out into what sounded like a fight song.   I guessed it was an out of town team telling the locals how they were going to beat the tar out of them at the squash courts tomorrow. I crossed the street and started surveying the signs until I came to my name, and then up to the face of the card holder – big grinning Mohammed, so happy to see me like we were old friends.  He waved me in the direction I should walk and then found me and we walked to the car. I tried to hand him the water I bought for him while explaining in English, he did not understand, so I repeated. I bought one for him and one for me. No comprende. I reached in my bag and got out the other bottle, demonstrated my intent, and he finally understood and took the bottle. He thanked me. I recognized the word. I asked someone to teach it to me on the airplane.

I asked (well, pointed) to si tup front. He was not sure that was OK with me, kept checking, the seat, up here, in THIS seat, the floor in front of the seat, before he closed the door, after he closed the door. We gestured our questions and consent. This was going to interesting.

Sorry gang, I know I promised the car ride, but I gotta get some sleep, boat trip down the Nile tomorrow. I promise, it will be worth the wait.

Nonna

 

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Where’s Bonnie when you need her???

So this is my first check in from this trip. If you are not receiving updates you can sign up.somewhere on this site, but for now, I don’t recall how.
I have spent thelast 2 hours trying to hook up my shiny new hotspot, but it is not so easy. The bubble of panic was rising in my chest at least 4 times as every step seemed overwhelming. More detail later about following directions. Right now I have surrendered to the varagies of technology and having a free Starbucks, worth every penny, at teh Alaska Lounge. You should try it, amazing for $25 . If I was out in the waiting area there would likely be dead people around me having been murdered by me.
So, at teh lounge they only make 3 kinds of coffee preps, I order the Americano Machiato – they didn’t know how to make that so I walked them thru. Forget about the blonde roast, it is every bit as bitter as their regular roast. While I am explaining what that is and how to make it another person in line told me a story of how he ordered a macchiato in NYC and got something different form Starbucks

(uh, yeah, he got the real thing) He said, Where is the rest of my coffee? On my mission to educate everywhere I go, until I get to the otherland, then they educate me.
Well the lights all went out here in the lounge, not sure if that means its time to leave or not, but I am going to pack up and head for the S gates.
Talk to you again the next time I have wifi
Nonna

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Overdue Updates

Once friends joined the group it is harder to find the time in the evening to blog, but we are in Miaori on the Costeria Amalfitana and have settled down a bit. Have a gorgeous view of the sea and the church, and yesterday was the Patron Saint’s day. Madonna di Mare. Mary of the Sea. Lots of small seaside communities have shrines to Mary for protection of the fisherman. It was a unique and wonderful opportunity to see a local festival without a cabillion tourists. Fireworks at 5 AM, followed by music from a 20 piece marching band.

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No pix yet from that experience, but these are the vegetable buffet from Bari with 4 types of mozzarella tons of veg and then my frutti di mare pasta dish. It was delightful.

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Now THOSE are the Tete di Monache (breasts of nuns) Historically they have been covered in a thin fondant and have a glazed cherry  on top – leaving nothing to the imagination. However, the glaze and cherries seem to be slowly disappearing and these, in a more naked form, usually with powdered sugar are seen more often.  I had a fantastic variation of this, now called Sospiro (a sigh) in Soverato. They had filling of cafe, pistachio, lemon cream,and hazelnut.

Picked up the friends in Rome,  nothing is easy, dropped off my car and all the STUFF I had already accumulated for tasting, and wandered for 1.5 hours trying to find them. Eventually we connected, got our bigger car and headed for Naples.

It takes courage for most Americans to go to Naples, guide books used to warn people away, but I love it there. It feels like NYC in the 60’s before Guiliani cleaned things up and the horn honking is just like back home.  You have to have bravado to cross the street and driving in town is an experience.  BUT, our hotel was a few blocks from the piazza Garibaldi and I just said to my companions, take a breath, relax and sit back. We managed just fine, found our place with Good ol Carmen the Garmin and had a lovely room, with the worst breakfast ever. We just went to a pasticceria down the street and had the best sfogliatelle I ever ate.  The place was 60 years old and everything they make is excellent, we know because we tried quite a few things  🙂  Hmmm, I am not taking enough pictures apparently because I have none of those fab pastries.

When we left the Museo we had to cross a very busy little street packed full with tiny cars all 6 inches apart and moving and honking, with the requisite motorcycles darting everywhere, passing on the left, on the right and at any moment. We were in front of a crosswalk so I knew we could cross at will, but my compatriots were a little hesitant. I took a step into the street and looked back to Margaret who had a wide-eyed look of apprehension but was following closely, a few steps into the crossing and you could see that the cars would stop for you. Felt a little like Moses parting the waters – MGM style.

We did the bright spots of Naples in a day and a half, including the Cafe Gambrinus, a lovely relic of the times when Naples was the last top on the Grand Tour of Europe and the literati gathered there to argue the finer points of life. It is beautiful, gracious and grand. I finally had a nocerino, which is hazelnut cream, coffee and sugar. It was a glass of dessert. Wonderful. I usually park myself at the stand up bar and watch the maestro at work pouring fast coffees from 4 or 5 hand pulled machines typical of Naples. It is a show for only the price of the coffee.

Via Georgio Amedeo, the street that sells nothing but figures for your Presepi – or nativity scene, did some shopping and headed out of town.

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Io Bisogno una Dentista I need a Dentist

Getting from airport to downtown is as simple as pie in Bari, AND I remember how to get to my hotel. Since the day is shot I just plan to settle in and have some dinner and start figuring out the dentist thing. I mention my requirement to the night desk clerk. His response, “In Bari??!!”, with the implied, “are you kidding, in this dump of a city” could have been off putting to someone new to town. However, Bari is a million and a half people, the second largest port in Italy and a commercial center. I felt sure that a dentist would be able to be found. His recommendation was that I visit the hospital, they had a clinic there. Something told me to just wait til the day shift showed up and see what that produced.

Yelp works in Italy I discovered, so I surveyed my choices and settled on a particular dentist, with some level of confidence.  Of course, I also did my medical research online as well about broken teeth and what one might do about it. My particular concern is that I was about 3 days into a 5 week journey and a patch may not be the best solution.  The folks at the Adria Hotel made the call for me in the morning, which was a blessing, since they have at least tourist English and I was able to explain my problem (I have only enough Italian to keep myself out of prison, which is often not enough for everyday life). The dentist could see me that day for a xrays and a look-see, yippee!

I have to admit here that I am a dentophob. Mock me if you must, I don’t like to go and I don’t go often so I don’t know what the modern Alaskan dental office looks like these days, but I now have a very good idea about Italian dentistry. Of course, check in and sit and wait, that’s standard. When it was my turn to go in I had to do the bootie thing. SInce one or two others were before me I got to see the procedure from a distance. You approach a machine that looks a little like a mini treadmill with a handle for gripping. Standing in front of this contraption you insert your foot in a plastic lined rectangular hole and then pull back your foot. Your foot emerges in a blue plastic bootie! You do them both and only then can you enter the inner sanctum of dentistry.

On a side note, at one point a young man came in with a box of booties and reloaded the machine and then left. I saw this as the equivalent of someone loading a printer cartridge for you. It seemed odd that the staff didn’t simply do that task.  It would be in keeping with the detailed division of labor I have seen in this country over time.  I suppose it is to continue to have enough work for people, but I am only guessing. Like union workers, you don’t overlap, you do your  job, they do theirs. It is similar with small shops. If you sell tobacco, then there are certain approved items you can sell, but you can’t just add pens and pencils or throw in some vitamin C tablets for convenience to the customer, that is the purview of the stationery store and the Famicia.

Two lovely ladies got me xrayed, poked and evaluated and the happy result of that was the assessment that it could be patched the next day and off I go on my Abruzzo adventure. 🙂 Not one word of English spoken the entire time.

So, imagine my disappointment when the dentist had a look the next afternoon and he pronounced it broken and a root canal was required. The news is bad enough, but getting the news was real work. Since dentists probably don’t see many foreigner in their regular practice, learning English is not on the top of their list. Soooooo, trying to understand his rapid fire Italian and make sense of any of the words he was using was very disconcerting. I mean there was NO baking or cooking terminology for me to hook into, no tourist Italian, only technical, full strength, full speed dental-speak, at which point he stopped talking and looked to me for a response. I am sure I had a deer-in-the-headlines expression on my face because he launched into a further explanation which may have been the same exact words or a recitation of the Martian alphabet. I have no idea. At this point it was clear to both of us we were stuck. The assistant came over to assist in the explanation. Using, no doubt less technical language, she re-explained the issue.  No English, no comprehension.  Finally the Dr. resorted to sign language and wagging his two index fingers as though they were walking along the strada I asked- Roto?? (Broken?) Yes!

After that he added pantomime to the Italian and I could determine that a patch was not going to be the answer- whatever was the answer still eluded me no matter how many times he repeated it.  Eventually, I turned to the x-ray hanging near my head and pointed to a tooth on the opposite side of my mouth asking if it was this. No, no he shook his head the other side. I hung in with the tooth in question because I wanted to know if it was the procedure he was telling me – root canal, and that tooth had a clear one going on.  Eventually we connected on the x-ray and both were clear – root canal!  Yeah, I got it! Wait, what, a root canal? Holy Crow I wonder what that is going to cost – and I remember my last root canal about 40 years ago, awful experience.  And, he didn’t do the work, another specialist did. I had to come back another day. Things were getting worse by the minute. How long was I going to be in Bari I wondered.  I traipsed out to the front desk – where they also spoke no English.

The endodontist only came in on certain days and those days were Wednesday or Friday of next week. It was Friday today.  Then there would be another appointment after that, one week later.  My head was spinning, my plans were crumbling and I was having to now determine if I wanted to put myself in the hands of a foreign dentist with only Italian Yelp reviews to guide.  Most of my brain capacity was trying to figure out how the heck this was going to work and only enough remained present to try and communicate that I had friends coming from Alaska and landing in Rome by then. Eventually, one of the ladies picked up the phone and called somebody. They had a brief discussion and she returned to our conversation to say the endodontist would be willing to come in on Monday for me.

I was extremely grateful and simultaneous gut-punched, a strange mix of emotions. We settled on a time, the total cost was 700 euro, and I knew it was time for a coffee. I left the office and wandered down the street in search of a cafe and then looked down to discover I was walking in my blue plastic booties.  That sort of snapped me out of my funk a bit and I retraced my steps, deposited the booties at the dental office trash and got on with it.

 

The coffee didn’t change my mood, neither did the pasticiotti I ate, but I returned to my hotel room, took some deep breaths and asked myself what I had to be grateful for. The list was long, including that these people were so helpful, I was in a big city, I had room on my credit card to pay, I have dental insurance that might cover it, I had time before my friends arrived and a root canal is not the worst thing in the world by a long shot, and they weren’t suggesting an extraction, just to name a few. Gratitude changed everything.

When the day came the procedure was so quick and painless I was surprised it was over. They made a mold and I will return for a temporary, but likely not the ceramic final, since 2 additional appointments are required for fitting and one week apart for each. I just don’t know how I could manage it. For now, stress I didn’t know I had is gone and I am ready for the next town.

Ciao!

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What’s All The Shouting About?

Tonight I am in Sulmona, the small city in the mountains of Abruzzo and the home of the Confetti.  If you are Italian, have ever been to an Italian wedding, or are from the East Coast you probably know what confetti are. You usually get a half dozen bound in white netting as a gift to the guest. It is an old tradition and I don’t know if  it still happens anymore, but I surely remember them from my youth. They are also called Jordan Almonds; a hard white sugar coating over a whole almond, occasionally not white, but never at weddings.

As I am cruising through Abruzzo a little quicker than I planned I learned that Sulmona is reachable by car, and since we have a wedding in the family coming up I really wanted to stop and purchase some authentic-as-it-gets Confetti. But that is not what this little post is about.

While I am sitting on my bed catching up because it is pouring rain outside, there is a shouting match going on somewhere fairly close. I am in the old city center, I mean old as in passed through an arch to get here.  The housing is all apartments, 200 or 300 year old apartments. The original zero lot lines. With this configuration the shouting may be coming from 4 or 5 families away but it is likely not more than 150 feet, cause it is loud, and continuous, and primarily one woman doing all the shouting.  After a good 5 minute tirade a male voice got a few vocals in, although loud enough to qualify as shouting, it lacked the energy and emotion of the female vocalist.

I compare this to last night’s shouting match at a lovely hotel in Chieti – another one night stand for this gal. The Nuovo is a really nice place, and quite full.  Not a single English comment in the reviews so it has the panache of a real old Italian hotel, including the thin walls.  Every bump, bang and train announcement was heard. Fortunately the trains quit about 10 PM, the shouting lasted a bit longer.

It started with a young, innocent looking fellow knocking softly on the door of someone named, Litta, or something like that.  The knocking and the calling got louder, and more earnest, although frantic, as the minutes passed. Apparently,  Litta was not answering and the knocker was expecting she would.  I’m guessing a lovers quarrel, but I have no idea. It got quiet for a nano second and then the tirade began.  It sounded like a legendary  berating. I have no idea what language was being spoken, they were not Italians.  I left for dinner and there was a actual tribe of people puddled in the doorway of the room with someone shouting.  Men, women, babies, the knocker, perhaps Litta, who knows, but it was not a convivial meeting. The alpha male was strident and articulate – and long-winded. He was thrashing someone when I left, and was still at it when I returned. During my dinner downstairs I saw a young  women leave with child in tow. Around 10 pm it all stopped.

The night before that I was in Lecce in a small B&B and yet again there was the shouting and hollering and long diatribes. Then, around 10 pm, it got quiet.

I do not know the social norms of Italy but I am beginning to think that people need to let off steam and it’s all good until 10.

 

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Stay Awake, Stay Awake, Stay Awake

It was 8 AM when we landed on Italian soil, an hour late – something about a flashing yellow light on the dashboard, no matter. My usual first act is to get a SIM card for my computer so I have WIFI. No Vodafone in sight. OK, I’ll find one at the train station. Foggy with sleep deprivation I choose my path.   Taxi – 95 Euro, Train 13 Euro, Bus 8 Euro. I stow my bag in the belly of bus and wait for the driver to finish his lament to another driver about (fill in the blank), his cigarette, his bus-ly duties and then climb aboard. A pleasant hour later we arrive at the monumental, beautiful Central Station in Milan. It is an experience in itself.

Walking through the portal brought back the memory of my very first trip to Italy. I arrived that day at the huge, empty,  slightly menacing station about midnight. As I headed to the last ticket window I heard movement behind me. I turned to see the two young men who had been sitting on the floor against the wall were now approaching me. I turned and shot them my best “Fuck off, Bucko” look, a remnant of New York City life, and the pair of them literally started walking backwards from whence they came. It’s a different place now and it is morning.  Still no Vodafone, so no WIFI, save whatever anemic connection I would find at the hotel.  Yes, the hotel, I can’t remember exactly how to get there, although I have stayed there before. My mind’s eye can see the exact location on the map, but where am I in relation to the map?  Which door to exit? Which way is north anyway. I need coffee.

Somewhere in the Miami airport my suitcase began to drag a bit. I thought it must be a piece of schmutz I picked up and backed the bag up a little to release it. That seemed to work, but the problem arose again shortly.  Before I boarded in NYC I discovered that one of my wheels was losing it outer tread. I rescued the pieces and put them in my pocket contemplating which negozio (store) in Italy would be specializing in Super Glue and whatever would they call it.

I have no pride around the fact that my luggage was supremely fashionable in 1999, and that now it is not.  I don’t care that I must now tote a CPAP machine hooked to my luggage with no way to pretend it is my computer and I am an important business person, because it says ResMED right on the bag. But, I crossed the shame line with the incessant clickety clack of a broken wheel. Impossible to ignore by anyone in a ten foot radius, unrelenting, and increasing in intensity if you try to just move faster. Resigned to this embarrassment I simply kept walking until I found the Bar I mentioned in my first post. That coffee, the Lindt chocolate, and the KIMBO crew lifted me adequately to assess the situation properly. I was hungry AND tired.

I lost the rest of the outer wheel on the cobblestone streets on the way to the hotel, which was a blessing. Now it rolls along quietly, albeit slightly lopsided.

Milan was a one night stay but I spotted a Vodafone during my museum search and made it a priority for the next morning as I had to be at the airport to fly to Bari at 2 PM.  I took my ticket, number 50 and then looked up at the board to find they were serving number 31A. I settled in a for a big city sort of wait but it went quickly. Handed over my passport, ID and credit card and in a few moments was ready to go, he even installed the chip for me.  I never noticed that he did NOT hand me back my passport until I was on a wild ride to the Airport because in my sleep deprived state I somehow confused 14:21 with 4 o’clock, which it is not. 14:21 is 2:21 PM.

The driver turned around and went back to the Piazza Duomo, waited for me as I sailed past the door watcher who said “You must have a ticket!”, tossed over my shoulder the words “Passaporto & Aeroporto” and marched directly to the counter where the young man who served me produced the document in a flash and an apology, as if he were solely responsible for the snafu.  Of course, I missed that flight, but only by minutes, and I had purchased for $10 insurance in case I missed the flight. Why did I do that,  have no idea, but was happy I did.

I was flying Cheap-O Air so baggage is an issue. If you think that they are fussy in the US about excess baggage or baggage size – you have to try out a European cheap airline. I already found out last year that you  MUST check in online – even though they never say that on the website.  One carry on means ONE carry on- not your carry on and a camera or a shopping bag full of stuff or your CPAP.  I had already paid for my baggage online and got my boarding pass printed so I was all set.  With the miraculous insurance I thought I had things licked.

Went to the boarding agent to the check in, he confirmed i was too late to board. Go to the help counter.  I went to the counter. Waited my turn. Told the agent I missed my flight. She said we’ll put you on the next flight, $100.00 please. I said I had Insurance. She looked. Yes, you do. OK, call the insurance company and have them rebook the ticket. They must do it. I didn’t know I had the number because I didn’t recognize the email that arrived as my insurance, since I bought it in English and it arrived looking like spam. She dug up a number, wan’t sure it was correct, but gave it to me to call.  It was a +44. No idea what country that was.

I called. David answered – he was English – he spoke English. He never heard of me. I read my insurance number to him. My confirmation code.  Nope, I am not in the system.

He gives me a different number to call. I call. David answers. He says that is strange. He cannot help me, but he suggests I go back to the counter and let him talk to the agent. I get back in line. I wait my turn. I get the other agent this time. She cannot talk to the insurance company, she is not allowed. I tell David, he asks me to ask her for a particular number. She provides the number. David still can’t find me in the  system.

He looks up the number for another insurance company and gives it to me.  He hopes that works. My departure time is coming up, I hope they will have a seat left for me.

I search my phone again for the email everyone says I should have gotten with the correct number to call. I check out that weird spam that came in at the same time as my flight confirmation. THAT’S IT. I call the actual number they gave me if I had a problem to report. I dial the number, it is + 39 Italian number so I know that it is not going to be as simple as David.  David answers.

David is as incredulous as an Englishman can be. He takes my number and says he will make some calls and call me back. I hang out and wait. David calls back. He has called some contact at Cheap-O air and finds me in the system, books my flight and off I go.  I check my bag and head for some coffee.

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Ahhhh, Illy. The best, the smoothest. Love Illy.  Finish my coffee while I wait for Cheap-O to post the boarding gate, which will be 20 minutes before the departure. I shake out a few cechi, they are dried salted garbanzo beans that I always buy at the Piazza Duomo. Handy to have, easy to carry, high protein, no fat, great if you are going to miss a meal, which I have just done. They are crunchy little buggers and every once in a while you get one that missed Inspector 27’s sharp eye and it is hard as a rock.  I bit into one of those and then fished out the culprit and dropped it into my empty cup. A few seconds later my tongue found a strange empty place in my tooth. I dug out the hard cechi and found it was a chunk of tooth. I stashed it in my purse and knew that my plans had just changed.

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