Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Finding St. Francis

Roberto and I are presently holidaying in Tuscany with Julia. We've also rented a car, which as we've only been driving for a year or so, is some feat considering Italy requires driving on the right-hand side of the road. Oh yes, and did I mention that Italian drivers are homicidal? Signaling is clearly not considered a requirement, nor is adhering to the speed limit. In fact keeping a legal speed seems to be a huge faux pas around here and results in a lot of light flashing and tail gating.

Tuscany is really quite beautiful, as is Umbria. Today we ventured into the latter to visit Asissi. I have to say I was disappointed. I was expecting a very rural sort of place with Franciscan monks sitting around drinking out of wooden chalices, with lambs and lions resting peacefully at their feet, and birds alight on their shoulders. I might be so lucky as to have a bird land on my shoulders while I breathed in the delicious country air and smiled beatifically. But no, it was a sham - none of that stuff is true. Assisi is a town. Admittedly a really gorgeous old picturesque one with lots of great churches and stunning views. But a giant petting zoo it was not.

I took a lot of photos, a lot. Which, ok, is nothing unusual for me, but this place was just so beautiful I couldn't help myself. There were also a ton of shops selling little religious figurines, and I took it upon myself to find the perfect St Francis for my mother. Not an easy task. Buying figurines is all about finding the right expression. Some of the St Francis's didn't quite cut the beatific mustard as far as I was concerned. In fact some looked almost aggressive, while others looked like the village eejit, and others just kind of vacant. But my hard work paid off and I found one that I think looks appropriately saint-like, without being cheesy. When I came out of the shop Robert, looking very concerned, asked me, "Just one right? Just one for your mother right?" It's tough being a Catholic in these times.

The Italians have a very different approach to babies than people back home. When I go for my walks around central London, people steal a glance at Julia and then quickly look away as though any excessive eye contact will result in me reaching for my panic button and can of Mace. Here the Italians, complete strangers, march straight past us and up to Julia and grab her hands and feet and start praising her in loud admiring tones. Today an elderly woman walked up to her, clasped her hands and kissed them, without so much as a sideways glance at us, the parents. I had to stifle my germ-phobe desire to immediately reach for a wet wipe, considering those little hands are always in her mouth, and that woman may have had a cold or some other nasty germs. Paranoia - my every present trusty companion. Julia, on the other hand, seems to enjoy all the attention and has taken to flirting with people at other tables during meal times in the hopes of garnering even more attention. I have absolutely no idea where she gets this from - must be Robert's side of the family.

I got to see an Italian doctor today to get a prescription for a nasty chest/sinus infection I have. Fortunately the phrase book/dictionary we purchased came in handy, and after a day and evening of concentrated memorisation, I was able to effortlessly communicate my symptoms in pidgin Italian: "
I have cough. Yes, lots cough. Pain chest. Me think bronchitis. Yes yes, green." The last accompanied by me play acting what I imagined one looks like coughing up phlegm, because the darn phrase book didn't have a word for phlegm, if you can believe that!

After waiting patiently for me to finish my strange, and no doubt idiotic-looking charade-like spiel, the doctor replied, in nearly perfect English, "I see, well, let's take a look and see what's going on."

And last, but certainly not least, a big congratulations to our friends Stacie and David on their marriage, which was the raison d'etre for us coming to this lovely part of the world. Their wedding, near Perugia, was simply breathtaking, and we wish them a long, healthy, and happy life together.

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