Friday, January 6, 2012

Italy -- a Funny Country

Back from the wilds of Africa, we checked into a perfectly ordinary, brightly lit, run-of-the-mill, tourist hotel, a quick shuttle bus ride from Milan’s Malpensa Airport. Normally, such a nondescript, modern hotel is not what we would choose, but its simplicity was a most effective succor after complicated Morocco. We were so happy to be in Italy and needed a few days of down time to sleep in, regroup, repack and finalize some travel plans before Chris and Caroline arrived in just three days. How many ways are there to say, "We're excited!"? I’m sure we came up with each and every one as we discussed and anticipated our children’s entry into Italy.

In the few short hours after we arrived at our hotel, Italy had us laughing. Morocco had been a fairly serious expedition and we desperately needed some belly laughs. We checked in, dragged our bags into our hotel room and were hit with the blistering heat of Dante’s Inferno. Joe futilely searched for the climate controls and then headed down to the front desk to ask them to reduce the temperature. He soon returned with this brilliant and very serious advice: “If it’s too hot, just open the window.” So much for Italian energy conservation! We burst out laughing as we let in the refreshingly cool December air.

Next on the humor progression was the book I found among the many pulp fiction paperbacks stacked on the hotel lobby bookshelves. There were dozens of titles in the Segretissimo spy novel series, all of them with sensational titles and illustrated covers with busty, weapon-wielding women in various stages of undress. But my favorite of all and the one that made me laugh out loud was, L’Abito Non Fa La Monaca. It featured a pretty young woman fully clothed in black and white religious garb holding a flaming gun, a fierce look on her face as she shouted at her adversary. I was pretty sure I’d gotten the translation right, but double-checked with Google to be sure. Yup, translation on target: The Habit Does Not Make the Nun. I wondered if there were more Nuns With Guns titles in the series. I chuckle even now when I think about it.

The fun continued over dinner. Spy nun novel in hand, we headed to the hotel restaurant where we looked forward to toasting our safe arrival in Italy. Our waiter, 50-ish with shoulder-length gray hair slicked back and into a bit of a flip and ceremoniously clad in a starched black tux, greeted us oh so graciously and brought us to our table. The formality seemed somewhat excessive for the simple surroundings and modest menu, but he was enjoying his role and so we enjoyed watching him. It very quickly became apparent, however, that all was for show. While he acted as if he were on the wait staff at Le Grand Vefour, he actually had the abilities of an absent-minded professor. We asked if he spoke English, he stood up tall and said, “but of course.” He proceeded to translate some of the menu items for us, but most of what he said made absolutely no sense. In the end, we went with the items that included words we knew like, “gnocchi” and “penne.” I thought I would be safe when I took his advice on the antipasti dish he confidently declared was a salad but I ended up with a huge platter of salami. When attempting to order some wine, we pointed to a listing for Chianti and pencil poised on his order pad, he shook his head and announced with some regret, “No. No more.” We then pointed to a Valpolicella and received the same response. We tried two more times and each time were told that they were out. When I asked what they actually had, he walked to the wine table directly behind us and we could tell he was having a hard time figuring out which bottles matched the listings on the menu. After about five minutes of watching him fumble, I got up to see if I could help him and thank goodness, a much younger waiter came over and put us all out of our misery. He quickly found a bottle of red that worked for us, proceeded to open it and we were finally able to have our toast. “Here’s to Italy -- a very funny country – may she always make us laugh.”

Pictures of our adventures:

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