Jottings from Jacquelin

Musings on travel adventures.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Italy Jot #2, July

After getting settled in Milan, I decided to head down to Florence and Rome for a quick visit.

Unfortunately, I arrived in Florence at the height of the tourist season. Therefore, I am probably the only person in recorded history to despise the center of the art world. It was completely stifling. There were so many tourists and souvenir sellers that the place looked like a tacky, overcrowded resort town and not at all like the birthplace of the Renaissance! I'll have to come back in the fall when all the tour buses have pulled out.

But, while in Florence, I finally met up with Niccolo. His family has lived in the same palazzo on the Arno since the 12th century. They were pals of the de Medicis. But what a tragedy he turned out to be!

A complete anachronism, he's a very sweet person but like someone from a prior century. He's lived at home his whole life (like a lot of other Italian men, I might add). In fact, this phenomenon of 35+ year-old men living at home, with Mama still cooking their meals and doing their laundry, is so prevalent in Italy that there’s even a word for it—“mammone.”

Niccolo has never had to pay rent or a phone bill in his entire life. And, although he's very intelligent, I don't think I could fall in love with someone who's never had to pay rent!

Most of the time I was with him, it was hard to keep a straight face because his life is so unreal. He's not a professor but he gives lectures on “The Philosophy of Renaissance Gardens." (This just cracks me up--not a topic you'd pick if you needed money to pay bills!) He told me that the American students don't ask questions after the lecture. I said, “Maybe they're asleep!" His other interests are heraldry and military history (gag me with a spoon!)

On the positive side, he did take me to see wonderful things off the beaten track and far away from the maddening tourist crowd that I would never have discovered on my own. But, it was kind of a bittersweet ending to this particular fantasy.

On to Rome. To me, Rome is more like an open air museum than a city. There are so many things to see, it's hard to know where to begin. I felt like a kid trying to stuff all the bonbons from a candy box into my mouth at the same time.

Also, the sights in Rome are so iconic—from scenes in famous movies—that it’s hard to believe you’re in a real place. Being there sort of feels like being on a movie set.

I wanted to see what was left of the Emperor Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli. It’s just a local bus ride from Rome. Along the way, I helped out a young French couple who were having problems with directions. We spent the day together wandering around the magnificent ruins pretending we were guests of the emperor. Even with just some bare walls and a few colonnades left standing, the long-gone splendor of Hadrian’s lifestyle was still palpable.

Back in Milan, I just got a computer, which is a miracle here, so I'm in seventh heaven. (Some friends lent it to me,) In retrospect, I should have brought a laptop & printer with me, but it was just too hard to know what I'd really need before I left. I looked into renting one here but it turned out to be too expensive.

At first, I thought it was cheap but that was because I didn't understand the system. I had asked the price to rent a computer and was told $30 a week. I didn't think $120 a month was that bad. However, on further investigation it turned out that if you wanted a monitor--kind of hard to use a computer without one--that was an extra $20 a week, and if you wanted a printer, another $30 a week!

Each day, after a quick breakfast, I head off to language class. I'm just going in the morning because I can't afford anything else. Things are very expensive here, especially everyday items such as suntan lotion or stamps for overseas postcards. Developing a roll of film costs a fortune!

I've asked the old couple who run the "edicola" (newsstand) on the corner to save me a copy of “The Herald Tribune” every day because I don't understand enough Italian yet to read the local papers or figure out what they're saying on the TV news. I mean I can tell someone was killed, but I don't know why. I grasp that some politicians were arrested. But what's the scandal about? I don't know! It's so frustrating I have to turn on Voice of America and have them blast me with propaganda and Top 40 hits to get to the bottom of it all!

I'm anxious for my life here to begin.


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