Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Texan in Italy - 17 Curious Days - Day 6

Over the next several days I will be telling you about my recent challenging, weird and wonderful 17 days in Italy. However, in the peculiar world of blogging that means the first story is on the bottom! So, if you want to begin at the first, go to the bottom. This is Day 6.

Day 6 - September 7, 2007

My sixth day in Italy was a gloriously beautiful day for weather. I strode out of the apartment into a bright and clear day of 72 degrees. The birds were singing. Cyclists rode past and smiled, then spoke as if I were their longtime friend. I was on my way to the Hotel Fedora, confident day 6 would be bring my luggage to my possession. BEG was wearing Stephanie’s clothes. Bob Cozens has loaned me a fresh shirt for today. We learned how giving and kind our friends can be and Stephanie and Bob definitely stepped up to the plate when it was really needed. It was odd to see BEG in clothes that didn’t quite fit. She didn’t have a hair dryer. She didn’t have make-up. We bought her a comb just the day before. And despite it all she kept smiling.

Christina saw me walk through the door of the Fedora. She smiled as if she had a secret. I knew my luggage surely had arrived. Nope. Apparently Christina was merely happy to see me. I would have loved for that to have been enough to please me but I was beginning to feel as if the gods had aligned themselves against me. I dug down deep to find a philosophical thread to hang on to. It was still a beautiful day on the Adriatic coast. Hard times can bring perspective. I wasn’t on the streets in a near hurricane trying to shelter BEG and find a place get out of the elements. No. The sun was shining and I had a place to sleep, so I wandered about the philosophical nooks and crannies of my brain searching for the optimistic thought or two that remained employed and on the job of keeping me sane. Those thoughts seemed to go out of their way to raise their hands to get my attention and let me know I had reasons to be happy. I headed for the too noisy phone booth whilst scratching away at my itchy ears. A call to the US, specifically to Continental Airlines, was my mission. My intuition told me they were sitting in the daddy chair at the table of my luggage troubles. I talked to Maurice at Continental. He was helpful in a hopeless fashion, meaning he tried hard but worked the policy line of Continental Airlines, a script certain to kill my every optimistic thought previously described. He told me the luggage was still in Houston. Yep. My image of the bags circling the carousel n Houston was remarkably near the truth. His explanation was as follows. “Mr. Seven the problem is that KLM Airlines was your last carrier and I see you have given them all the required information, but they have not requested that we send the bags.” I of course asked why not just go ahead and send them since the owner of the bags is on the phone with you requesting them? Nothing doing was the message I received, but it was delivered in corporate apologetic language. Gotta do things like the airlines do them. Can’t send them until KLM asks for them.

So, I hung up and I called KLM in Bologna. No answer. Again.

I walked back to the Hotel Fedora. Christina decided now was the time to deliver unfortunate news. She told me the Bologna Airport had been under siege for the past two days by students unhappy about something completely unrelated to airport functions. At least that is what I surmised from her valiant efforts to communicate in my sole language. She told me they had been calling about my luggage for 3 days but no one would answer because the police had closed the entire airport. I told her it was no concern anyway because I had been told my bags are in Houston, safe from unhappy students. She asked me “What is a Houston?” Never mind. My ears felt like they were on fire. The itching had stopped! Now they just felt hot and a little bit scaly. My lips burned in the same way.

I went back to the phone and called KLM airlines in Amsterdam. I was transferred to Maurice’s corporate evil twin who told me “Mr. Seven, we are waiting for Continental to send us the bags. We can get them to Bologna when order is restored to the airport, but they must of course send the bags to us first.” Catch 22, long dead in literary circles had been resurrected and had reached into my life and doomed me to wear my blue shirt and green slacks a while longer.

Much more conversation took place on the phone. Let it be enough to know I ended up pounding the sides of the booth and screaming at the evil, corporate line reciting KLM employee while simultaneously worrying about what the devil was wrong with my ears and lips as if I could not decide which current affliction to focus upon. Like all unscheduled temper tantrums by an alleged adult I can safely assume I did not advance my case.

I had to abandon my tantrum to run down the avenue and catch a bus with BEG and other US athletes and spouses. Today was an off day for the track meet officials. No events were scheduled. Our group, and others from the US contingent, were headed for San Marino, described as an ancient walled city of northern Italy. We didn’t have tickets for the trip. The tourist office where tickets are purchased was closed. We were woefully short on planning. It a phenomena that always develops when large groups try to travel together. There are simply too many talking heads and concerns about everyone’s needs and desires to create a smooth ride. I have always thought large travel groups should elect a king. The closest we had was a dynamo named Sydney Howard. Syd is in his mid 60’s and calls the northeastern seaboard of the US his home. He competes in the 1500 meters. My guess is he is every bit of 5’-4” tall if standing on his toes. What he lacks in stature he more than makes up for in energy, total number of words used in a day and genuine good heartedness merged artfully with a sprinkle of kooky, all of which renders him immensely likeable. Due to our failures in planning and lack of tickets we are herded onto a completely occupied bus and left to stand in the aisle. Syd occupies a place between Bill and me. Syd makes friends easily. He speaks loudly to a large man from Czechoslovakia seated directly beside him. The Czech, an enormous man that could squash Syd in a singular sweep of his hand smiles broadly but it is clear he has no idea what has happened or what was said. Syd informs his new Czech friend it is alright because according to ‘The Secret’ everyone has to be in their exactly correct place and all things are good. The Czech grins broadly again as if he has also read ‘The Secret’. Syd moves on to a taciturn couple from Scotland seated directly behind the Czech. They speak English in the Scottish manner and Syd tries to turn them into new friends on the spot. The Scottish husband seems to be very uneasy as Syd launches into a quiz with his somewhat shy but pleasant wife about Scottish history. Her brogue is thick, but she is sweet in nature and deals with Syd in a polite way. Syd is a bona-fide history buff and it soon becomes apparent that he knows more about Scottish history than the native couple. The husband never warms up, looking at Syd as though he is a snake oil salesman from the Wild West. Just as quickly as it began, the history lecture ends, and Syd asks me about my luggage. According to Syd my luggage is still in Houston because that is where I need it to be. He says ‘The Secret’ taught him that. I’m wishing the secret would teach the airlines how to move luggage between cities more responsibly, but I remain quiet. Syd surrenders to my inexplicable quiet and moves on to a couple from Belgium. They are polite but appear to want none of the boisterous US contingent, though I must say we were more spirited and happy to be going to San Marino than the rest of the buses human content. San Marino is no more than 20 miles from Riccione. As billed, it is an impressive ancient walled city of stone, the path to the top fortress lined with tourist shops of every type. I would learn later that San Marino is in fact a country unto itself, existing now by the grace of Italy. It sustains itself with the proceeds from the hundreds of tourist shops within the walls.

The bus rolled to a stop. Syd was in full gear asking the bus driver a dozen questions in non-stop fashion while not waiting to hear an answer, seeming to disappear from the bus in a fog of words and action. I reached up and felt of my ears. They were definitely scaly. My lips burned as if they were smeared with jalapeno juice. I stepped off the bus and gazed at the fortress tower. It would take a long winding walk of 1.5 hours to reach the top. I could see Syd already walking up the road, his arm around a new friend. I wondered if the new friend spoke any English.

Photo 1 - Bill and the Syd 'The Secret' on board the San Marino bound bus.

Photo 2 - Inside the tourist shop filled walls of the fortress at San Marino.


kathi said...

I'm taking a large carry-on filled to the brim from now on every time I travel...and I've never had any problem, but you scare me. And what in the world (I went back and cleaned that up) is wrong with your ears???

Lynilu said...

As I'm reading, my ears itch. Then my cheeks feel tingly. My right shoulder definitely needs a solid scratching. And my eyebrows itch!! What the hell is going on????

Seven said...

Kid Bratcher,
BEG and I have made a pledge to check luggage never again. Maybe if I am moving permanently, but that's the only way. We even practiced getting things into a small carry-on by rolling up clothes made specifically for travel. We also learned on the trip many things we think are vital simply are not. It can be done with a carry-on. We have the World Indoor Championships to attend in France this March. I will arrive 2 days early with a carry on...

Silver Lovely,
You are a very intense and involved reader...that is all! You're OK. I'm the one with itchy ears. You are OK.....Repeat after me, I am OK..I am OK...

kathi said...

So did you get any pictures of Christina? In my mind, she's a mix of Catherine Zeta Jones and Penelope Cruz.