Day 1

Posted by Whit Barringer , Sunday, May 27, 2007 3:44 PM

CT 8:45 A.M.
IT 3:45 P.M.
So. I’ve been up intermittently for almost 50 hours at this point. I have come by plane, bus, and taxi to an apartment at Vie de Pilastri No. 63, and it’s wonderfully old and foreign. But my God, the trip here. For those of you who might be traveling this summer (or ever), this little account will be the best gift I could give you.

Little Rock - Domestic Flights and Groups Don’t Mix

If you can avoid going abroad with a group, I’m inclined to encourage it. Here’s why:
At LR National Airport, thirty some-odd students convened between 9:45 and 10:00 A.M. A fiery (and coincidentally red-headed) Australian woman, with a PERTH, AUSTRALIA lanyard around her neck, tackled us head-on while her colleagues moaned at the sight of us. After doing a roll call (in a busy airport – you can guess the complications), they began to scan our passports and decide how many check-ins we had on baggage. I will say this now:


We had people with anywhere from 51 lb. baggage to 78 lb. baggage (the limits are 50 lbs. and up to 70 lbs. with a $25 fee – above that it doesn’t get on the plane). Some people (except for those over 70 lb) thought they would take the $25 fee and go on. However, we were transferring to Air France in Houston, and they charge $115 per overweight bag. No one wanted to take that. So we had a mad dash to empty bags. People who had one bag were given another one to check (max checked: 2), stuff was left, choices made, hair pulled. Then they finally printed our tags for our luggage, which read that our destination was Houston (our layover before going international). The Aussie said not to put them on unless they said Paris. There’s a problem with this that will become apparent later. (Hint: We weren’t going to Paris.)

Anyway, after that fiasco, we went through security, which, to be fair, has gotten quicker… Just more annoying. I’ve been through three security checks at this point, but it feels like twenty. Shoes, belt, pocket contents, laptop, carry-on – all on the conveyer belt. Walk through detector. Stuff everything back where it was.

The Little Rock – Houston flight wasn’t so bad. My feet were cramped (feet will be cramped no matter what: get what you need out of your carry-on and store it; you need all the leg room you can get!), but the flight was quick ( 1hr. 45 min.). But here is where our prior problems all combined and became one ugly monster. Here’s my advice again:


It was at Houston they figured out the conundrum – we were going to Bologna, Italy. Our baggage was going to vacation in Paris. It was straightened out through various pleadings and an extra security scan to go fix it – until we were told the last few bags didn’t make it because there was too much luggage. Again-


Because people didn’t plan well, four others lost at least one bag – including me (and I weighed in at 31 lbs. – for both of mine!). It was an injustice, sure. But the airline will supposedly deliver my bag to my front door. I hope so. It had my teddybear in it.

Houston to Paris was… uncomfortable (read: excruciating). Cramped, crowded, and completely foreign* (as the service ran in French and English), I began to hurt badly from sitting at upright angles (there wasn’t enough room to lay back). They fed us well for dinner and a light breakfast (I have the wrapper from my first French cheese wedge as a souvenir). Once we finally got there (abt. 9 hrs. later), we had to run during our 1 hr. layover, across concourses by bus, escalator, and conveyer walkway (whatever they’re really called), to get to our Bologna flight.** Dr. Bane almost didn’t make it (he was checking on lost luggage, which required exact addresses that we didn’t have yet). I slept hard during this flight – only waking up for my ears to pop. After this short flight (1hr. 30), we landed*** and took a 2 hr. bus ride to Florence (that I again slept through).

And here we are.

By the way: everything here is NARROW. Shower, stairs, doorways, everything. Don’t carry unwieldy luggage. Also, no air conditioning – but the windows are great.

CT: 6:57
IT: 1:57

A little update.

We went exploring around town. Really a lovely place. Cobblestone streets are not kind to feet, nor are the drivers. I swear to God they try to hit pedestrians and aim specifically for Americans.**** The streets are crowded and mostly one way. It’s absolutely insane.
We ate a place called Caffe Nuovo Poste. Luckily, the man spoke enough English to talk us through ordering. It was really a cool place: for us, we pointed at sandwiches in the case (note: “salad” means lettuce and sometimes tomato), they grilled them Panini style. Wonderful thing about most European countries that I know: tax is included. Six Euros means six Euros, not a penny more or less. In fact, we discovered a neat little store called Nine-t-Nine, the equivalent of a dollar store. I bought one thing and got a cent back.

Anyway, we went to the grocery store, where people brought pets. We were bewildered when we were offered to buy a sack, and we all said no. Drinks come in liters and weirdly shaped bottles. From there, we went and visited another set of student apartments, and set off to find the Duomo, our meeting place for tomorrow. After walking for a while, I said, “Did we miss it?” Someone else said, “How could we miss it? It’s supposed to be huge.” Indeed, it was. And I still saw it on accident. The thing is absolutely beautiful. And so extremely large. I have video to show just how large it is (with people for scale) because pictures just couldn’t describe. And the intricate work!

Otherwise, we shopped around a bit (having our first bites of gelato ice cream – I had melon) and headed back to our room. I got on the internet at a provider shop for one Euro and 50 cents. Not bad. Then we went out to eat dinner (which I had been totally unaware I had skipped) at a place called Eby’s on Via del Corso (I think – it was dark). We walked one friend back to her apartment and then headed back to ours, where we are all exhausted and mostly asleep (except for me).

That’s all for today. It’s two in the morning here, and I’ve got to be at the Duomo at 10 tomorrow for a walking tour. Ciao!

Other Notes:
*“Cramped, crowded, and completely foreign…”: Well, that’s not quite true. As part of our reward for our sins for taking coach on an international flight (it could be a crime – who knows?), we could watch TV on the back of the headrest in front of us. Several options (in French and English) were provided: comics (cartoons for kids), cinema (films, TV, news, and “original” that would never load), global something-or-other (constantly updated flight information – we flew over Dublin!), music (I never chose it, but the first “radio” option was Japanese), and games (solitaire, the British version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” – never brag gain that you’ve never lost on a first tier question).

What I’m wanting to draw attention to is the “cinema” option. The flight is going from Houston to France, but I never expected to see so much American influence. The TV options were such “classics” as Friends, The Simpsons, and Numbers (under action, no less). There were three French movies along with American greats like Music and Lyrics, The Dark Veil (or something like that – Edward Norton and Naomi Watts), and Holiday (or something like it - Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Jude Law).

What is really going on here? There are good TV shows that they could show. They could have broadened the spectrum from the comedy that deceptively displays what Europeans must think is American life. Friends, a show about nothing that had nothing on Seinfeld; The Simpsons, a cartoon about a dysfunctional family living in a dystopia that’s supposed to be clever and ends up being an puzzling reminder of American cash-cow-milking, and Numbers, a fledgling drama that is far from the best but better than what else was shown.

But seriously, and I’m being very serious: Friends? Really? In the episodes shown, Ross gets married to Rachel in Vegas and plays a “trick” by telling her he annulled the marriage, Phoebe and Joey get in a fight over his not staying awake to entertain her on a road trip, and Monica and Chandler look for signs for them to get married, instead opting to move-in together for a very anticlimactic ending.

This is what Europeans like to watch from America. They don’t only like to watch it; they enjoy that it’s us. We do stupid things like get married at all-night wedding chapels, are rich and stupid enough to get in petty fights, and value proximity over fidelity (which is a whole other type of entry). It’s European voyeurism, and it’s ecstasy for them to see us, a powerful giant of a country that once fell under its own scalpel of colonialism until they cut too deep, in such relative dysfunction. There’s a good possibility that the U.S. will be the one to destroy itself and take the world with it. I think Europeans realize that and take some pride in seeing us drown in our own pride.

Not that I can talk too much. I’d already seen the episode.

** “…to get to our Bologna flight.”: Along the way, I saw a group of African men in blue cotton clothing with white wraps on their heads sitting close to a security checkpoint, resting. Two or three of them were sleeping, but the rest were keeping watch over the stuff at their feet – including woven hats with feathers around the top and trim. Anyone know what this particular group would be called, out of curiosity?

*** “We landed…”, Wherein I recount a Humorous Happening: Most of us hadn’t been to the bathroom since the Houston-Paris flight (or even before that), when we were told we could finally have time to go to the bathroom. A bunch of us went inside to go and saw the door with the man, woman, and handicap sign above the door. Thank God it wasn’t unisex, but the doors weren’t really marked. We saw women wandering in and followed them. As I was leaving the bathroom, I accidentally bumped into a girl. I saw excuse me, but got no response. I kept going straight ahead when I found myself in another bathroom. A man was washing his hands. Greatly puzzled, I turned around and ran out the door, where the girl I had bumped into was pointing at the exit. I think she meant to do that.

**** “….and specifically aim for Americans.”: But the pedestrians are quite nice. They at least smile and speak. It’s like a crazy juxtaposition of New York taxi drivers (complete with language difference) and Arkansan folk (complete with different polite language). Interestingly, and somewhat oddly, enough, they can be extremely nice: The sidewalks are pretty narrow, like everything else, and a group of older men were blocking the whole thing. Going around them and squeezing past bikes and cars, I said “Scuzzi, scuzzi” (when in doubt, be apologetic: even if they don’t understand why you are, they at least know you’re trying not to offend them), when one of the men smiled at us (or me, I’m not sure – I was the only one speaking, though), and said, “Scuzzi, Cara!”

Well? Look it up. I’m not going to tell you.

Also, shop vendors are nice. Well, of course they are, you say. Well, I say, they don’t have to be. Americans usually don’t try to meet them halfway on the language barrier, so they can be pretty testy if they want. But this one man, a gelato operator (ice cream with fruit in it – mmhmm), smiled at me as I came up to his restaurant stand.

“Buonosera! Ice cream?”
“Yes… Si… Uh… yes.” He picks up the 4 Euro cup (which is nearly $6 USD).
“What kind of ice cream, eh?”
“Hmm… Melon?”
“Melon! So good! What size?” I point to the 2 Euro size (which holds an ounce or two of ice cream). He groans, playfully I think. “Oh nooo! No good…. Not good enough!” I laugh, pay him with two Euro coins, and thank him.
“Prego! Ciao!” he calls, waving after me.

I’m going to make a point to go back, especially since he was so nice… and I dashed his hopes of getting a big cup. But all in all, those are the two best instances of nice strangers. The Italians are good people, I do believe (even though lists that between 1990 and 2000, 100+ women have been arrested on mafia charges).

4 Response to "Day 1"

Eric Says:

Great, thanks. Now I have Mr. Roboto running through my head. I think about it everytime someone brings up the Duomo. Makes the survey students chuckle when you sing the some and replace domo with duomo though.

Donna B. Says:

The Painted Veil.

Enjoy yourself -- I'll be reading!

Ash Says:

Comment 4(?):

You have no idea how relieved I was to know that you made it alright. Did you get up and walk on the international flight like I told you to? I'm sorry it was awful, but they're never fun. :(

As for things being narrow... I hate to tell you, Honey, but everything in Europe is actually *normal* size. We just have to have things bigger to accomodate our huge selves back home. ^^'''

Sarah Says:

God! I miss Italia. Florence was by far my favorite place in Europe... besides maybe the German countryside. I love the narrow streets, the back alleys, and how, no matter how lost you might think you are, you're not. Oh, now I'm blue and jealous of you! Gelatto... just remembering is making my mouth water. I'm going to spend the rest of the night catching up with your blog and immersing myself in Italy! Love you!

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