Saying farewell to Italy, we board a flight that will take us through six more timezones to a land far away: Thailand. But first, a brief reflection on our time in Italy, the country of opposites. Rolling landscapes and urban cityscapes. People packed too tight for breathing, or not a soul for miles. Laid back lazy days contrasting with highly structured, relentless sightseeing schedules. Sunny skies in the morning with rain that just won’t quit at night. Smiles and laughter one day. Scowls and grunts the next.
We have met some of the nicest people here: Alfonso, our host at the B&B Belvedere in Sorrento met us with a huge smile and a friendly urging to try some of the Italian coffee he so proudly brewed just for us. “American coffee is simply water”, he said. Not being a coffee drinker to start with, I couldn’t say either way, but Alfonso’s special espresso was surprisingly delicious (albeit *cough* strong). This jolly Italian had recently undergone surgery on his Achilles tendon and so met us at the door seated on a wheelie office chair, switching from wheels to crutches as he hopped us up to our second floor room. I cringed at the line of angry stitches running up the back of his leg and told him “It’s okay, we can look around on our own”. He insisted though, and continued to hop up the stairs chatting about Canadian and American current events.
In Rome, we stayed outside the center in another guest house called Roma Dreaming. Once she learned that this was our first time to Rome, the proprietor Alessia gave us a thorough introduction, handing us maps marked with points of interest, doling out instructions, writing down street names, recommending a restaurant for our first meal. Later, when Alessia’s shift ended and the next girl came on (didn’t catch her name), we chatted for nearly an hour about Rome, what brought her here, what brought us here, and on and on. It was so refreshing to have a genuine human interaction that wasn’t entirely based on getting something in return.
As mentioned: a country of opposites. In my post about Venice, I wrote about the rude people there. Unfortunately, rudeness is not a personality trait unique to Venetians. Rather, it’s a mentality that has seeped, like the foul odour of rotting fruit, into the country’s service industry. The service might seem sweet at first, but take a big whiff after you’ve locked yourself in a room with it, and after a few deep breaths you won’t be able to stand it. It’s like they don’t want us to be here. It’s as if our presence is offensive. It feels as though they want to give you as little as possible for as much as possible. From having our change thrown at us at the Pompeii admission entrance, to being swindled out of 40 euros for a “tour” where we were treated worse than livestock, it’s been an exercise in tolerance, patience, and keeping my emotions under control. I think I made a mistake that is probably quite common amongst first-time visitors: I took the rudeness personally.
As of this writing, I am confused about Italy. It’s a country of contrast and opposites – which doesn’t make it decidedly good, or bad. Just over a week since we were shoved into a tour bus and forgotten, just days since I swore “I will I NEVER come back to this country!”, I am already remembering Italy with a certain fondness: the authentic smiles and laughter we shared with Alfonso and Alessia, or those quirky grumps at the ticket counter. Even the romance of the rain.
It’s funny how time can soften the edges of our experiences.