As I begin writing, I am filled with none other than my all too familiar friend, mr. bittersweet, as I can't believe my days of vacation freedom are already up and most importantly, my days in Rome have evaporated as quickly as I expected them to. This is of course because I have been lucky and priviledged enough to have visited the old country enough times to have developed a love/hate (mostly love) relationship with it. If I remember correctly, I have landed in Italia in:
1984 - 1989 - 1992 - 1996 - 2000 - 2003 (1 month in Florence) - 2005(1 month in Florence) - 2008 - 2010 - 2013 - 2014
Hmmm, quite a few visits I'd say. Yes, maybe it's time I allow for other countries to top the list and I do plan to do so, there is so much I want to see (Liverpool, as a random example, not because it is the motherland of The Beatles or anything like that...). However, I will maintain my returns to Italy on the regular as much as I can as it is the land of my parents, my grandparents, my bisnonni, and many other generations prior.
Learning the language
In all of those trips and at different ages, I was exposed to the historical monuments, cities, artists and language thanks to my parents. For example, I finally saw the military casern my grandfather Alfredo served at for two years during the war; it was quite something to finally see it and picture him at a young age, walking the streets of Rome as a soldier. Also, thanks to my parents, my sister and I learnt the Italian language as our first language until the age of three and then learnt the French and English languages at once while going to Montessori. Moreover, to ensure we developed the proper accent and our Italian writing, we were also enrolled in Italian school every Saturday mornings (no morning cartoons for us!) for 12 years. this was even encouraged by my father's rule of speaking only in Italian on Saturdays and listening to LOTS of Italian music in the car. I polished my Italian furthermore when I stayed one month in Florence with a friend in 2003 and took more classes there. This is all to say that my parents went to great lengths to transmit the Italian culture and we were told the story of why our grand parents and their children (my parents) decided to leave their home, their country to come to Canada in 1958 time and time again, allowing us to better understand the sacrifices that were made in leaving their world behind. That is why I have a particular feeling of pride when I speak the language in Rome and I get immediate recognition from the Italians themselves, as they approve of my Italian skills and are often surprised, even, that an Italo-Canadian speaks that well. I always thank my parents for having insisted and pushed us, no matter all the ranting and complaining, they never gave up.
Day 1. Attitude towards tourists five minutes in
After having been in Italy multiple times, I have discovered that speaking fluent Italian in Italy gets you an immediate badge of recognition as well as a protective barrier in the following sense: no.1 they respect those who invested in learning the proper Italian and not just the dialect, and no.2 they can no longer try to say something behind your back either. Once they know you speak, you are "one of them" so forget 'bout it! They listen and treat you better. This has nothing to do to criticize them, it is a reality that is quite understandable as the big cities live with millions of tourists everyday that often only speak English and it could get annoying I suppose. Make no mistake however, like in any other country that welcomes tons of tourists every day, there are those that will try to scam you one way or another and speaking Italian Is an armor against those individuals. I experienced this yet again just last week.
Within five minutes of landing and exiting the plane. Someone tried to get us to take a ride with a shuttle which would take us directly to our hotel instead of the train and I was not sold on the idea but we decided to give the fellow a chance. Within 10 seconds of speaking with him, he wasn't happy with us as we weren't moving fast enough to his taste (he was probably trying to fill his van and we were the last couple and he was in a hurry). Never mind that we are jet-lagged and haven't slept. Never mind that we are a little wired. Never mind that we are on vacation and don't want to be hurried by a stranger and finally, never mind that we were considering ditching our original plan for this bozo - he treated us like merchandise. I finally answered in Italian and told him "signore, con calma per favore" which means "please sir, let's do this calmly" and he essentially saw it wouldn't go very far with us so he cursed at us and walked away. To which I will not write here what I responded but it was in two languages (sometimes one language doesn't cut it) and it involved a gesture. Like I said, speaking the language is ammunition in Italy. They cannot screw with you and if they do, you can send them to hell properly and in a satisfactory manner for your sake, which I did :)
Day 1. Meeting friends
Our trip was inspired by a family wedding. However, seeing that we had been to Italy less than a year ago, we decided to go for a shorter duration, one week. It was the first time we had gone for such a short amount of time in Europe but it did not make it any less pleasant…it was all the more precious. Since Philippe and I have already visited most of the important cultural areas, we were able to skip all the fuss and focus on more relaxing activities until the wedding. We also arranged for us to arrive in Italy at the same time as two of our great friends: Joey and Lindsay. They had just embarked on quite the Italian exploring journey as it was Joey's first time to Europe. We were fortunate to have been able to meet at the Spanish Steps in Rome and enjoyed an evening of bubbles and carbs!
Day 2. Men in suits and shopping
Among those famous relaxing activities came none other than the shopping. Phil and I adore shopping in Italy as the size of garments fit us perfectly and hardly ever need adjustments. The quality is better as usual and, don't we know it, Italians are always ten steps ahead of us all in terms of trends. On the topic, one of the things I admire most of Italians is their confidence. The way they wear their suits so fitted, how they select daring colors and how women strut down the street will make your head turn no matter who you are. The well known "bella figura", meaning that looking good and proper no matter was is a must, truly is reflected in these Italian cities. If you want to see true locals walking around, just look for men wearing slim fitting suits in 37 degree weather, the rest are tourists wearing shorts, tank tops and flip flops carrying cameras and water bottles. That being said, we did our fair share of shopping to garnish our closets with the winds of Italian style that we are so fond of. For myself, I like to dress differently to begin with (I wore bell-bottoms in high school while everyone was in their baggy pants "grunge" era), so I love finding new pieces and out-of-the-beaten-path outfits.
Day 4. The Wedding
The wedding was spectacular. The ceremony was held in a beautiful yet not enormous church and in Italian and German (the bride is of German origin), after which there was a toast in this beautiful garden located in the back of the church overlooking the entire city. We then walked to a close-by orange garden for pictures and once again had access to a breathtaking belvedere. The dinner took place in this scenic private garden/club. There was gigantic pool, a large table adorned with different kinds of "aperitivo" and tapas and an open bar to great our salivating faces. Everything was thought of: the seating arrangements, pictures of the couple hanging on a string going from one tree to another, candles hung from the tree branches which gave a festive and cozy feel to the evening and the music was great too! Guests were quite the international crowd - coming from all parts of the world and having lived in many countries in the past as well, just as the newlyweds had themselves done. I had the opportunity to speak with so many interesting folks and discovered that Roman Italians are quite the singers. Many of Antonello's (my cousin, the groom) buddies often gathered to sing the following chorus:
"Belli come gli sposi, la mamma non li fa più - S'e rotta la macchinetta s'e rotta la macchinetta. Belli come gli sposi la mamma non li fa più, s'e rotta la machinetta et non si aggiusta più!"
Which in essence means: "Gorgeous newlyweds like these, mom doesn't make them anymore, the machine is broken and you can't fix it!" which is simply to laugh and for all to sing along together. I really loved how expressive the guests were, I felt like I fit right in. I always feel like the overly expressive one in my group of friends or even in my family but there, my energy was totally channeled at the right level.
Needless to say that the food was delicious and that the sweet table, unlike our Canadian traditions which includes salty delicacies, truly only offered sweets (dolci) and what a treat they were; tiramisu, cannoli, pies, cakes and fruit. Phil made a few trips to the table but I was already quite stuffed with the tiramisu I had chosen. I, of course, took many pictures to freeze as many charming moments as I could. On that topic, one of the many things I appreciate of my friends and family is their patience in my rituals of walking, stopping and getting into weird positions because I spotted something worth the capture. Phil, especially, never says a words and patiently waits while I get it just the way I want - one of the many things I so treasure in him. Here are a few of my favourite shots:
All was magical and quite inspiring and nothing will ever compare to a Villa in Rome and the outside setting that can be seen above. A touch of old-schoolness was added as the dress code warmly encouraged wearing hats. I LOVED wearing this fascinator, we all felt like royalty in a way and it made for an interesting looking crowd. I was a bit scared that no one would be wearing the hats at first and didn't want to make it awkward by wearing one alone (with my sister and mother) but it turns out the dress code was fairly respected.
Day 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. THE FOOD!
Every morning we had a descent breakfast that was included in our hotel package (including miniature Nutella spread packets - heaven). As for the rest of the day, Phil and I manage what we call the "food fund" money we set aside especially for the food we will consume and of course, enjoy. Me sometimes will have small lunches so that we can indulge and splurge in a tasty and memorable dinner together. That's pretty much how we handled things this time as well. We often wen back to this champagnerie that treated us very well and served us finger food while we sipped on prosecco and the boys swigged their beer. Therefore, we saved space for dinner. My family and I went to this local Italian restaurant that served authentic Sardinian dishes; a cute spot that my parents had discovered a few years back and that we'd already been to. We all made sure to order something different so that we could taste as many dishes as we could. As for me however, I went for a classic choice: Rigatoni alla carbonara, generously sprinkled with parmeggiano cheese and topped with fresh olive oil…heaven on a plate.
Day 6. A few cute spots and random moments
Day 7. Late departure, London madness and The universe
On the day we left, we were having breakfast when all of a sudden, my father realizes he may have lost his Samsung camera. The look of despair and sadness on his face truly affected me because this is my father we are talking about and he doesn't deserve that and also because I know first hand what it is like to lose all your photos (either because the camera ate the film back in those days or because someone stole my camera in high school - bastard!). It is one thing to lose an important and high tech toy like the Samsung camera I am referring to, but even worse to lose days and days of memories trapped inside the camera. The thought of it being in someone else's hands drives me insane. We, of course, all asked where he thought he may have left it and the moment he said here in the lobby, I jumped on the seat feet first and bee-lined to the reception and lobby to check if it was there - might as well go right away instead of sitting there doing nothing but feeling hopeless. As I did this, I marched right up to the reception and asked the first man if he had perhaps found our camera. He answered no, as he looked around the desk, that there was nothing that had been reported. I decided to look on the lobby benches myself, though I knew the chances were slim to actually find it there at this point. In fact, it was no where to be found. So I started to walk back to the restaurant where my family was having breakfast when all of a sudden, I realized I hadn't even described the camera really and hadn't even asked the second man present at reception if HE had seen anything. I turned on my heels immediately as a new surge of hope filled every part of me, I knew then that I would find it, somehow.
I did precisely as I thought: I asked the second person at the front desk if a camera had been found. The moment he asked me to describe it, I knew he had it as he was heading towards a drawer. He opened it and, to my delight, pulled out the white Samsung camera! I thanked him endlessly as even another guest in the hotel mentioned how lucky I had been to have found it. I raced back to my family and handed it over right away. I'll never forget that moment when I turned around and went back one more time to ask in more details about the camera as I felt I already knew then that it was found and waiting for me to pick it up in the drawer. I felt at that moment that the universe gave me that opportunity to spare my father from that loss as that camera was so important to him. A kind and generous soul didn't deserved that while being on vacation with his family. I didn't know it then, but having found the camera came at a price.
Later on, Phil and I got ready and as we were waiting for our taxi ride to the airport, I was showing my mom my new blazer that I had purchased in a store near the hotel. I loved it as it was comfortable and just my size (Italian size!). It was a bit hot to wear it then so I stuffed it in my handbag for the plane...a bag that was sort of overflowing and that didn't have a zipper to close it properly unfortunately. Once at the airport, the taxi driver wishes us well and at terminal three, we start looking for the tax refund custom counter to complete Phil's tax refund process. It was a bit more complicated than we expected as we had to first check in our bags - but not Phil's since it had the taxed merchandise - and then return to the customs counter and get the papers stamped and then mail them and finally, check in Phil's bag. Let's just say, we did A LOT of back and fourth during which I kept checking for our passports and cell phone all the times to make sure I didn't lose anything of value. We go through security which was quite busy, pick up our things and cross over to the other side where we picked up a few gifts at the duty free. We then take a tram that brings us to our gate and decided to get our last tramezzino (little sandwich) and two cappuccinos. Time passes until we finally board the plane. We take off and finally, then, just then... when I am comfortably sitting in my seat with my seat belt on, I realize: MY BLAZER! it's gone! I lost my blazer! I knew it was hopeless right away since I had not seen it in a while, at least not since we passed security so it was far far away...I felt my face flame up as I came face to face with the harsh reality that we were in mid-air, quite literally, and also, because I knew I had lost control of my handbag at one point and that costed me my all too new and too cute blazer.
"serves me right!" I thought...I bragged about it, now I lost it, good job! Until that was replaced by anger "god dammit, did we REALLY have to do all this tax refund nonsense? had I not been concerned by all the back and forth in the airport, we would have passed security right away and I would have been more focused on my bag, not the tax refund process" which was maybe true, but not fair to Phil. Then that was immediately replaced by frustration since there is not ONE thing I could do about it at that present moment. I mean, I'm in a plane, I have no phone service, no internet, nothing. I was forced to just sit in my corner and deal with the loss of that silly blazer, which still got me worked up quite a bit. I cooled off with a little music, though even that didn't seem to work. I kept on trying to recall all my steps, where did I see it last? How could I have not been more careful ? did I not hear it fall on the ground? and then the voice of reason kicked in...
Voice of reason: "Ivana, really? all this over a blazer? ok, so it was new and cute and you were all excited about it, fine. But do you REALLY need it? Do you not have enough of them at home and in the luggage you are bringing back?"
Emotions: "Ok yes…"
Voice of reason: "Would you rather have lost, oh I don't know, your PASSPORT?!?! or worse even, your iPHONE?! "
Emotions: "Hell no!"
Voice of reason: "Well now, that puts things back in perspective doesn't it. How about you finding the camera this morning? was that not awesome and was that not also more important than a blazer?"
Emotions: "Wooohh....yeah ok, you got me there big time. Photos are priceless and knowing my father got his camera back is priceless…"
Voice of reason: "WELL NOW....does that not also bring things back to a proper focus?"
Emotions: "Totally....ok FINE! it's not important and maybe it was the price to pay for the Samsung, I much prefer losing that blazer than my father never finding his camera..but can I just be a little pissed and moan about it for a while now? I need to at least let it out since there's nothing right now I can do about it!"
Voice of reason: "If you must...but leave the tax refund out of it."
Lesson learnt: select a hand bag with a zipper or wear your sweater/blazer until you are sitting in the plane.
And so, I made peace with my distracted self and we landed in London to catch our connection to Montreal. The only new problem at hand, was that we were tight on time and had to run to the gate to make it. That is until we realized they were re-doing security checks for liquids and the process took FOREVER. I was looking forward to Heathrow and even thought I'd have time to snatch a souvenir somewhere before boarding but this was just ridiculous. We just came out of a plane so yes - I might have a water bottle that the flight attendant offered and guess what, we got limoncello at the duty free in Rome so yeah, we are rebellious passengers with liquids. So of course, they were checking all the bags and ours got set aside for "in depth" checking since we failed to put the limoncello aside and my Bialetti coffee machine betrayed me as it apparently looked like something that contained water. Each bag took at least 10 minutes of checking all compartments and rigorous examination. There was no way out. I looked at my watch: 15 minutes until the gates close, F&*k!! are you kidding me?! already our plane was late, now this? at this point I just wanted to make it home - screw the jacket and all of it, get me home.
We flagged a team leader for security and she kindly checked our bags immediately as we explained our situation. She mentioned "ok we got your husband sorted out, let's get your things" and I realized I liked the sound of that :). She also advised our gate that we were racing to them and that we would be there momentarily which provided us with a little relief. Little did we know that we had to: run down the hall, take an elevator down, wait 2 minutes for a metro, race out of the metro, take two gigantic escalators up and finally...the promised land: gate C56 (or something like that). We boarded the plane and I was a happy camper! Jacket or no jacket. Six hours later, we were home minus Phil's luggage...ayayai. After what we had experienced all day, we remained optimistic and were actually told that Phil's luggage was still in London and that it would arrive the next day and delivered the following morning. Great! it's not lost and it's on its way. Woohoo!
Emo: "Still a better fate than the jacket..."
Voice of reason: "You're on thin ice…REEEEALthin"
Emo: "just saying..."
ROMA: as eternal as this city is, I would not last an eternity there that is for certain. I'm afraid I am too Canadian to tolerate the chaos and the non-respect of the rules that make the world of civilians run smoothly (like cutting people in line, the mini scams, the bureaucracy and the dirt too). Going there on vacation is one thing - a thing which I love and which recharges me. Living there is another story, thus my love/hate relationship with Italy's system.
It was a beautiful trip and I already miss the mixed smells of espresso, perfume and pollution of Rome, bringing me back to my bittersweet friend.
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
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