After the bouncy flight to Croatia, I planned to take the train back to Berlin from Split, Croatia. I decided to take a night ferry from Split to Ancona, Italy and travel on the ICE fast trains from Milan through northern Italy and Switzerland to Berlin during the day and enjoy the scenery. Peter was intrigued and wanted to join me for a few days before leaving me and returning to Berlin. We decided to spend those days in Florence.
The night ferry was a forty-year-old, slow ferry, taking ten hours to cross the Adriatic. The boarding was also a slow process. But it did not seem to worry anyone that we left two hours after the scheduled departure time.
As I walked up the stairs of the ferry to find our cabin, I was greeted by a staff member who said:
“Welcome to the Titanic.” Wow! Unbelievable I thought, if he only knew I chose this form of transportation because I had a fear of flying and now, he greets me with a joke about the Titanic.
I found our cabin, opened the door and stopped as I entered, Peter, who was behind me was unaware of the sudden stop and walked into me. At that moment we realized that we could not both move at the same time in the cabin. He sat on the bed as I organized myself and I left the room as he organized himself.
I did not sleep the entire night. Instead, I lay in my bunk bed feeling the roll of the ocean and listening to the old engine room cluttering away. At 6 am I went on deck and saw the sunrise. I felt completely free as the small waves broke next to the ferry and the sky turned a rich orange. This lifestyle was beginning to suit me.
The train journey via Bologna took three hours to Florence. It was a three-day weekend in Italy and we were not alone. Once we arrived in Florence, we shuffled along the sidewalk with a mass of other tourists dragging wheel suitcases in search of hotels.
Florence is spectacular with an abundance of art and mesmerizing views at every corner. I was in awe of the carved marble human statues. The bodies of the men were sculptured strong and muscular. The details of the veins and muscles were not forgotten. The Penises appeared slightly erect or maybe just big penises. The women were soft and round with full breasts. I would have never been a model of beauty for the sculptures with my tiny breasts.
I was never hungry in Florence, but I never missed a meal. It was not about hunger it was about the opportunity to savor so many dishes that were outstanding. I could not stop thinking about the next meal even when I was unbuttoning the top of my trousers at the end of the current meal. My rigid healthy eating rules of a plant-based diet with no salt or oil disappeared. I could not say no to their pasta dishes, cheeses, and abundance of olive oil. Mealtime was an event with long conversations, laughs and time spent over dinner. It pains me to think about how we are slammed with the bill in America the minute we put the last mouthful of food in our mouth and told. ‘No hurry.’
After spending three days eating, eating and seeing the sights and never pausing from 10 am to 10 pm, Peter flew back to Berlin and I decided to visit an Italian friend in the small town of Pietrasanta near the coast in Tuscany.
The train from Florence to Pietrasanta is a regional train. Which means slow. I don’t mind slow, I just wish they would wash the windows on the regional train so that I could enjoy the scenery. I stepped out of the train in Pietrasantra and there Giuliana was, waving enthusiastically with both arms in the air. I love the way the Italians speak not only with their voice but with passionate arm and hand movements. Although I do not speak a word of Italian, I feel that I understand because of the physical movements. We gave each other a warm hug and together dragged my too-large suitcase through the cobble-stoned town to a local hotel. Peitrasanta is in the Tuscany region and sits between the ocean, a short twenty-minute bike ride away, and the Tuscany hills. As we walked down the street, I breathed in the fresh Tuscan air mixed with the sweet scent of jasmine.
The clerk behind the desk jumped up enthusiastically as we entered and greeted me with a kiss on each cheek. He spoke broken lyrical English, which I thought I understood, but realized the sentences lacked nouns and I had no idea what he was talking about. In true Italian form, his arms flew around, and he nodded with enthusiasm and stated:
“Yes, lovely, so nice, good, good” I agreed enthusiastically, nodded, smiled, and took my key. My friend would not accept that and explained in Italian to the clerk that we must examine a few rooms before we accept the key. He agreed and the three of us took the elevator to the second floor. First the blue room. Floral blue and white wallpaper with blue snakes mingling amongst the florals covered the walls, huge heavy blue velvet curtains were pulled to one side of the window. A blue and white floral bedspread covered the bed with several blue pillows. It reminded me of my grandmother’s bedspreads. The clerk and Giuliana discussed the room in Italian for several minutes. Yes or No would have suited me. And then we proceeded to the red room. It was the same room and the same floral pattern, the same snakes, but in red. I chose red, much to the delight of my friend and our new friend, Mario.
The next morning, I came down to breakfast early, eager to explore the town alone before meeting Giuliana. There were ten tables in the breakfast room and only one place was set at a table, the others remained empty. I was obviously the only hotel guest. On the table were a typed note and a rose wishing me Happy Birthday – Mario who was now the cook and waiter came up to me apologetically and said without the usage of nouns:
“I know not what to do. So, I do this” and spread his arms wide, tilted his head and widened his huge dark eyes as he stared at the rose.
“Oh, its lovely, thank you, thank you. How did you know?
“Your passport.” Which I had showed him when I checked in.
I was not only thanking him for the rose but also for the massive breakfast buffet he had laid out for me. He was the only staff member, and I, the only guest. Like an actor running off and on stage to change costumes he changed his role with enthusiasm and commitment. My healthy eating habits were finally defeated as I bit into the fresh croissant oozing with butter and chocolate. I thought if I double my cholesterol medicine at the end of the day, I might break even.
There were three eight-hour shifts at the hotel, one person covered a shift. Each one had the role of hotel manager, desk clerk, waiter, barman, cook and cleaner. The one who covered the desk throughout the night also had played the role of my taxi driver the day I left. Before bidding me farewell each of them took the opportunity to present me with their business card, introducing themselves as the best private tour guide for Italy.
The day before my last day I informed the staff that I had to leave at 6 am the next morning to catch a train to Milan and then Frankfurt and Berlin. I had robbed them of the breakfast preparation for their one guest and they insisted that I have coffee and one of those croissants. I agreed to be in the breakfast room at 5:45 am. I had not yet met the gentleman who covered the night shift. As I entered the breakfast room he asked:
“American?” I paused. Sometimes I’m American and sometimes I’m British. It matters what the situation is. But he was excited and eager for me to say American. I did not want to disappoint.
“I will drive you to the train station. I am so happy you are American.” After I had my caffeine fix, we jumped into his car.
“I am Moroccan,” he announced.
“I love Trump.” He proceeded:
“I am a lawyer in my own country and Trump made us into strong powerful men again by recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the western Sahara. We are the good people. America is great.” Five minutes to the train station I thought. I can do this. I just nodded and used the no-noun Italian reply“Umm, ohh, yes.” Wished him good luck and got out of the car and took another deep breath of the jasmine Tuscany morning air as he waved goodbye and yelled from the car:
“I love Trump.”