This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
In the end, the day I had dreaded worked out fine because I was willing to eat a ham sandwich.
I got off the boat from Capri, walked to the station and immediately caught the Circumvesuviana, then caught the train to Rome with only a few minutes’ wait. It all went so smoothly, but I hadn’t had any time to eat. I arrived in Rome, entered the first café I saw, and ordered a veggie Panini.
“He will heat it for you,” said the guy in charge, motioning to his coworker, “while you wait outside.” Clearly he wanted me to step outside, so I did, but I didn’t sit at a table because I wanted to make clear I was in a hurry. The guy in charge stepped outside too.
“You from America?” he queried. Almost before I could get the word yes out of my mouth, he was going on about politics. He was not wearing a name tag.
“I am from Latvia, a little country, maybe you have never heard of it.”
“I have, actually. I had a boss who was Latvian—she and her husband immigrated and they both held high posts at our local university.”
He raised his eye brows, impressed. “Usually Americans don’t know Latvia.” He launched into a lecture that he’d clearly spent hours formulating over paninis. It encompassed themes of the EU falling apart, staring with Brexit, rising fascism—symbolized by Donald Trump, and backlash against immigrants.
Where was that panini? I would have enjoyed talking with him if I hadn’t been tired and starving.
Finally my sandwich arrived and I walked toward my hotel. Except that I didn’t; I took a wrong turn and got lost. I stopped three sets of strangers to ask directions, none of whom had clue. I tried the time-honored tactic of picking a direction and striding toward it confidently. I don’t know if this got me closer or farther from my hotel, but I still didn’t recognize anything.
I started to whimper. I’m such a loser! Why can’t I ever find anything? I spied a couple with a baby in a carriage. That’s about as safe as it gets for asking directions from strangers. They were German, and they spent about 10 minutes rotating the map this way and that and conferring with one another. I tried to tell them it was ok if they didn’t know, I could just take a cab. But they were determined. They were very kind, and more importantly, they could read a map.
Now that I knew I was on the right trail, I thought I should eat my panini before it was stone cold. I took a big bite and—it was ham. No veggies, no cheese, just a huge pile of thin-sliced ham.
Damn! I’m not a very observant Jew, but there’s one thing I do to remind myself who I am—I have not eaten pork in over 30 years.
“Fuck it!” I may have said out loud, as I gobbled down the sandwich.
I was back at the Hotel Italia for one night, then off to Malta in the morning.
The Indian-Italian desk clerk seemed eager to see me. “You are from the middle west of America? You have tornados?”
“Yes,” I replied. “We have tornados; I’ve been in a couple, one where two people were killed.”
“We had one just outside Rome!” he declared, rattled. “Two days ago—and two people were killed!”
“Wow, is that common?”
“I don’t think so. What should I do when one comes?”
“Was there a warning siren?”
“No,” he replied, chagrined.
“Well they often happen so fast there’s no time to sound the siren. The sky will turn green and everything will get very, very quiet. Even the birds stop singing. Then you’ll hear what sounds like a freight train.
“Get to an inside room or a staircase, preferably in the basement. Avoid windows; you can be sucked out or injured by the flying glass.
“Of course you’ll have to figure out how to warn your guests.”
He nodded, looking more worried than usual.