Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Though the trip was lovely, as documented in Erik's pictures, it was also traumatic. Most of the trauma can be ascribed to operator error. Italy is a foreign foreign country and it was more difficult than I thought it would be to get the nuance of things. It was hard just barely knowing the language but harder was not knowing the customs. The south of Italy partakes in the longest siesta I've ever heard of. From 1 or 2 until 7 or 8 at night, everything was shut. Grocery stores and museums, restaurants and shops. That's a long time not to be able to do much--thank god we had the villa and the ocean for swimming. But with the Z, we couldn't stay up too late and because we were at the villa, we mostly cooked dinner at home. But if we had plans for a short trip to a little town in the morning, we couldn't shop and go. We had to plan and shop for dinner, drop the food off at the villa, and then travel out. With 7 people (at the height of my mom's visit) that didn't happen much. So we ate a lot of salami and cheese, tomatoes and fruit for dinner, which was good but wasn't exactly the cooking adventure I'd hoped to embrace.
But the true trauma started early. First was the laptop. People. I'm addicted. It was so hard to reorganize how I'd planned to acquaint myself with Puglia. I figured I would do as I do at home--learn a little about something, go home and Google it, then go out and discover some more. But as it was, I was only able to see the surface of things--to imagine how baroque was baroque, how poisonous was oleander, if Gallipoli was more interesting than Santa Maria de Leuca (answer: yes). It was like flying blind. Plus I couldn't blog. Plus I couldn't write.
Also. Z had a pretty bad cough upon flying over. No problem. We brought the nebulizer and an outlet adapter. And yet. I did not bring a voltage adapter. And, apparently, the nebulizer needed one because as I was administering the albuterol to Z, the machine started to hiss. And then smoke. And then kaboom. The first night there. 3.5 more weeks to go without her breathing treatments. Should we go home or risk pneumonia? Every day, the cough would get better. And then worse. She still has a cough. (Now that we're home, we have a new nebulizer).
Then, there were the bugs. The first day, we left the doors open. Erik woke up with a mosquito bite on his eye that made him look like the pirate he always wanted to be. Z looked like she had measles. When we came back from Siena (she stayed with Erik's parents at the villa while we took the train), I had hoped she would be mosquito bite and cough free. Instead, she had even more bites all over her face and was coughing like crazy. Erik's parents had asked the villa's owners, who speak no English, where a doctor was. The hosts, having been more recently acquainted with measles, had Z stick out her tongue where no spots or whiteness or something could be found. Safely diagnosed it was hard to take the girl who looked like she had measles/leprosy out to lunches. I practiced saying morso di zanzarra over and over but as usual when I tried to tell jokes in Italian, the Italians looked at me like I was just covering for having the swine flu.
We also learned there were these contraptions in our stone houses (read: stone huts) that you could plug into the wall and insert a "Vape" which would "vaporize" the mosquitoes. When I die 4 years from now, you'll know it was from the fog of pesticide I inhaled while in the southern part of Italy.
Some of our meals were a consequence of our general stupidity. If there's no one eating there, should have been our motto, don't go. But we were often desperate for lunch or dinner and the Italians seemed to eat at times not in any way in alignment with ours. One day, we went for what turned out to be a feast. Antipasti, I ordered for us all--figuring cheese and salumi would be safe. He asked "Antipasti di terre or di mare?" I swear I said di terre but really, this guy with one squiwampous eye, he didn't want us to order di terre. No we were by the sea and he wanted to impress us with his 15 ways with squid. Squid with oil. Squid, di salento, squared and roasted, squid with tomatoes. Also, eggplant that looked squid innards. And calamari, fried on a stick. And roasted peppers roasted until they were slimy like squid. And Z's obligatory spaghetti with butter which was all overcooked tentacles. The only edible bit was the zucchini frittata. When he asked if we'd like more, I finally got to use the word Basta!
Also, on our trip back from Siena, I was in a grumpy mood and, when he asked which train we needed to change to at Empoli, I meanly said, the one to Pisa duh. Then I marched off to the bathroom. He went to the platform. When the train came to Livorna, I saw him over there but assumed he wouldn't get on. It didn't say Pisa. But then, when the train pulled away, I couldn't find him. He did get on! I couldn't decide what to do. I was sure he was destined for some weird town far off our path. Our flight back to Bari wasn't for 4 more hours. I decided to wait in Empoli. It took me two hours to figure out the train to Livorna also went to Pisa. I jumped on the train, assuming he would be waiting at the airport for me. I actually imagined the running into each other's arms reunion scenario that should mark all good Italian vacations. But this one? He was not at the airport. We were down to 1.5 hours until our flight. The trains came every half hour. He wasn't on the next or the next. We wouldn't make the flight. He had my passport, I had the tickets. We would be trapped, and mad, in Pisa. Finally, on the 4:30 train, he appeared. Our flight was at 5. The check-in desk was closed. We ran to security but they wouldn't let us on without having our visas stamped. We went to the ticket counter. She claimed to have no stamp. No one else from RyanAir was around. Finally, the security woman called someone, she came and escorted us to the ticket counter, where the woman did indeed have a stamp and stamped our passes without the slight look of chagrin. We made it to our flight, which ended up being 30 minutes late any way.
The 30 minutes ended up being its own problem because the train from Bari to Lecce left at 7. It was an hour flight to Bari. The cab ride? About 40 minutes. We showed up at the train station at 6:58. The train was there. We went to buy our tickets. There was a line. And then the train was gone. The next one came two hours later leaving us to have to take a 50 euro cab ride from Lecce to our villa to find our measle-ridden looking child. Who itched and coughed for 2 weeks straight (fortunately, my mom let Z sleep in her clean, bug free apartment for the week she was there with her cortaid cream and albuterol inhaler. My mom probably saved Z's life. Or at least made it possible for us to still have fun with the poor, tortured baby.
There is more but I don't want to sound too complain-y. Most of the trouble really was just me, not knowing. Next post: The best parts.


Dr. Write said...

I love your complaining! And I missed your blog!!

Nik said...

And I love to complain. The good news is, I can complain even without wine so when I see you, I can keep it up.

Lisa B. said...

I missed your blog too. So I'm glad for this thorough report with pictures. I'm glad you're back safely--they could make a movie about your trip! They could! Now I'm going to think about who will play you and E and Z.

Steve Fellner said...

I'm going to be complimentary even though you have more affirmation of your wonderfulness coming while some of us have to scrape by and settle for a bag of Doritos that miraculously landed at our feet while visiitng the Rochester Farmer's market.

In complete seriousness, and I do mean this, you should write a travel memoir: a log and a meditation about family.

P.S. There. Put me in the acknowledgments page for the travel memoir.

the unaffirmed one