Perhaps I should begin with losing my passport, since that in many ways characterizes my experience of Italy.
On that day, we had taken a bus tour into the coutnryside, admiring the beauty of the architecture and the agriculture, and had visited the lovely Gardens of Nimfa. There we had seen medieval ruins, as the rain steadily poured down. When lightning nearly struck us as we explored the ruins of a church, terrifying our guide so much that the flashes from cameras began to cause her to scream, we left without seeing all the cool things.
We drove to a little ristorante for a five course meal of things like risotto and roasted peppers with lots of wine and laughing and crusty bread, finishing up with tiramisu. We had one boy who refused to eat anything prepared, and the innkeeper consulted intently with our guide and came up with a sumptuous meal for him, and we had a couple of people who felt ill or upset and stayed on the bus, and we had people who needed to smoke and others who wanted the bus at 17 degrees celcius and those who wanted it at 22 degrees and those who were upset because they had gotten wet and the one guy from the Netherlands who went down to the front of the bus to adjust controls and also wouldn’t stay with the tour.
Our hotel room was lovely, with pink walls and striped chairs and all sorts of elaborate plumbing, and very clean and tidy at all times. There were little drawers and cupboards for ev erything, and nice stands for the luggage, so packing was easy. Then I went to make sure that I had my passport and plane tickets — and I did not.
We searched everywhere and unpacked and repacked everything, and tried to remember all the places we had gone to where I might have lost the passport. I had carried it with me when we had gone out for the first five course dinner the night we arrived. There are a lot of different kinds of policemen and soldiers and things all over Rome, and I had thought we might be required to show it. In fact, we had simple been plied with enormous mushrooms and tender beef and several types of pasta and numerous kinds of sausages and melons and squashes and multiple wines and grappa and limoncello and tiramisu, but it seemed possible that we might have to show our documents.
There had also been lunch that day. We had arrived at lunchtime, after many many hours of travel, deepky confused about the time, and the hotel would not allow us to check in. They did allow us to leave our luggage, pointing out the room in which we could put our bags. When I took my bags over to the room, the doorman, with an expression of revulsion appropriate for someone who was torturing small animals in his hotel lobby, made me go back out of the room until he went into it. At that point, he allowed me to come back in with my luggage. He haughtily pointed out to me the right place for me to put it.
Having cowed all of us sufficiently, he allowed us to leave, and we went to a pizzeria. We were ignored for quite a long time there, and then had to deal with several waiters who were entirely flummoxed by the idea that we weren’t going to have a pizza each, and who were quite determined that since we were Americans, we would drink beer on ice.
At this point, we had not yet been completely forced into submission, and thought it was all about communication. We were insistent on wanting water, and planning to share food, and stuff like that, and had lunch.
At that place, they offered an “American breakfast.” This was croissant, marmelade, eggs, hotdogs, and hamburgers. They also had an “American bar,” where #2 daughter went for her Roman flirtation later in the week, but at that time we didn’t know this.
Anyway, that seemed like another place where I might have lost my passport, but then we rememebered that we had checked in at the hotel after that, and of course we had to have our passports for check in .
So once we had done all the thinking and searching and so forth that we could, I bravely went down to the front desk and told the gentleman in charge that my passport had gone missing.
He handed it to me disdainfully. Apparently, I had left it on the nightstand in the room. Determining that I — a woman who had shown her unfitness to hold a passport by wantonly using the wrong serving spoon at the breakfast buffet — should not be allowed to keep my passport, they had taken it down to the desk. It was sitting in a little cubby marked with my room number.
Now, in an American hotel, had someone decided to remove the passport from the room, they would have mentioned it. A note, a message on the clever electronic messaging device, a remark as I passed by the desk one day — it would have been very easy for them to let me know.
Italy was all about doing things the right way. They smoke on the street, they drive any old way, they set down their buildings with less order than children set up their blocks, but some things have a correct way in which they must be done, and people are obviously revolted when you don’t do things as you should. Waiters will firmly tell you to drink the wine, and will take one away and give you another if they think you chose the wrong one. They will take your plate if they think you shuld move on to the next course, and tell you to eat things if they want you to do so. They will also go to enormous amounts of trouble for you– so long as you are following the rules properly.
My daughters are waiting for me to go to breakfast with them, so I will continue later.