For the second evening in a row, we have shared a meal with friends from camp.  Last night, we saw lifelong Champion Laura Hill (and 3 time Senior Camper division leader).  Tonight, it was an equally delightful gathering of new friends.  The Troisi-Bonfils family (Amelie and Luca) hosted us with half of the De Angelis crew (campers Elettra and Edoardo, but Edoardo was under the weather) joined us as did Maddalina Ferrari and her 2 children.  Maddalina is a woman that helps European children find summer camp programs in the US.

The food was superb and the company even better!  Here are the CC kids:

I always marvel at the ease with which kids bond and interact with each other. Within minutes, they were all playing games and laughing (ages 10-19).

The meal was perfectly Italian - from the food to the company to the timing.  We ate later than Americans typically eat (9:00-11;30).  The meal had a staggeringly good buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, tuna-stuffed pepperoncinis and 3 pastas (including Susie’s favorite - clams).  Best of all was the conversation and companionship.   We were with 4 accomplished Romans from very different backgrounds.  Each had a love of the city, of their children and of each other.  Simply lovely.

At this time, I feel a need to share some thoughts about different cultures.  Before I begin, let me stress that I am not a fan of massive simplifications nor stereotypes.  I do not believe you can understand an individual by knowing his or her nationality, religion or race.  Individuals are, well, individuals (as a guy who loves working with children, this is always clear).  Groups, however, can show intriguing and prevalent tendencies.

Rarely is this more clear than the contrast between the Germanic cultures (Germany and Austria) and Italy.  Let me give you several examples:

  • Prescription meds.  In Germany, any medication requires a trip to the doctor (like in the US).  In Italy, pharmacists can dispense meds directly. This is important because . . .
  • Italian bureaucracy is mind-numbing.  As you might have read, Susie had an infection and has one antibiotic that has proven particularly effective.  Once she started her last course of antibiotics, she emailed the states to arrange for a refill.  She got it and the wonderful Petie Ma’am fedexed it to us.  “For when it absolutely, positively has to be there”, right?  Not so fast my friend.  Italian customs find simple delivery boring.  All Susie needs to do to release the meds is the following: $60 paid at a post office, her passport faxed (not emailed), a form filled out and faxed (not emailed), her original prescription and one other thing that Susie cannot immediately recall as her mind had become almost disfunctional.  I assume that they also need her DNA and genome fully mapped.  It took her less time to refill the prescription than it took to get the list from the Italian Post Office/Customs Office.  As a result, the fedexed meds will languish forever.
  • Lanes mean different things to the different cultures.  In Germany and Austria, drivers use the yellow lines in the road as a guide for their driving.  They forms driving  lines (or “lanes”) and travel in parallel.  The Italians find this rigid and unnecessary.  Think of the way that you walk down the sidewalk.  You go not walk in straight lines.  You sometimes go 2 abreast, other times 4 or 5.  You occasionally drift at mild angles.  You form bunches at times and open spaces others.  Now make yourself into a car.  You walking companion is a truck.  Change the large person behind you into a crazed bus.  Now add 15 Vespas, 10 motorcycles, 20 more cars, and 12 trucks. You are on one city block.  Welcome to Rome. The fact that they even have lines on the road seems to me proof of a sense of humor at a national level.
  • BTW, pedestrians have the right of way on crosswalks.  This right is considered immutable.  As a result, people will walk into traffic without even looking.  Cars, trucks and motorcycles are flying about like running cats.  People drive with much machismo and little awareness.  Yep, sounds like a good place to stroll into traffic without looking both ways.
  • Food and drink.  I have developed a theory that the quality of a country’s cuisine is directly related to the quality of its wine and inversely related to the quality of the beer.  Do not get me wrong, we loved the sauerkraut, sausages and weinerschnitzel of Berlin and Austria.  But the Italian food is on a different plane.  They also view meals as the centering experiences of the day.  They talk and share and bond.  We Americans often treat our meals like we are visiting a gas station - quick refueling stops.  Here, they savor rather than rush.  The quality of the food, as a result, is often transcendent (like last night).
  • In restaurants, Germans eat quietly in pairs and threesomes.  Italians bring the whole family and are effusive with both volume and their hands.  I think the Baskins must have more Italian than our family tree indicates.

Susie is immensely proud of a particular accomplishment.  She drove through the center of Rome. During rush hour.  She executed a u-turn between 2 busses (Italian busses).  We all saw our lives flash before us.  She navigated streets that are just 12 inches wider than Kenny the car.  While she is not generally a woman subject to pride, she is deservedly giddy about her driving in this craziest of all driving cities. She cut her teeth on the streets of Boston, but Massachusetts is almost more like Marble Falls than Rome.

One final note - our arrival in town was facilitated by an unexpected savior.  We have been navigating Europe without GPS using only maps downloaded to my iPad.  I am somewhat proud myself that we have managed to get into and out of some oddly designed cities with street signs written in foreign languages.  Even after several weeks of this exercise, Rome was a new challenge.  Nevertheless, I managed to find the apartment, but not a parking spot.  At our moment of maximum confusion/frustration, a figure appeared in the middle of the road.  Looking oddly like an early Pope John Paul II, this mystery figure waived us down, led us to a space and introduced himself as Giovanni (Saint Giovanni to us).  He is the man we are renting our place form.  I was initially shocked that he knew us on sight in a city of cars.  I think realized that we are not exactly traveling incognito: large red car full of luggage, determined driver, 5 heads desperately looking at all street signs and landmarks.  Yea, I guess we did not look too native.  Saint Giovanni then checked us in and gave us his parking spot.  A FREE spot within 75 meters of the Roman Forum.  I would have guessed that it is easier to see the Loch Ness monster than a free parking place in the center of Rome.  We continue to be surprised and delighted at the kindness of strangers on our adventures.

Steve Sir

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