oh, italy

alright, here is an excellent story that i never got around to telling most people because i was so exhausted by the time it was over:

a few days before new year's, i went to the very south of italy (a town called montalbaro, in basilicata. the godfather was filmed not far from there.) with my friend, CB, to visit her best friend and family. i was stoked to go, because i haven't really explored the south, and i wanted to see what the food and people and land were like. i knew it wouldn't be the kind of traveling i usually do, because we'd be staying with a family, but i was excited about the change. so CB sent me out to buy the bus tickets--we were going to take an overnight bus because it was faster and more direct than the train--since the station is not far from my apartment. she told me not to buy return tickets, which i thought was odd. i ALWAYS get, if not a return ticket, at least a ticket out to my next destination (unless i am traveling on the train; even then sometimes i buy a return). i'm not saying i am the king of traveling or anything, but i know this much. she swore that it's not really the most popular route and that of course there would be return tickets. ok....

so we left on the night of the 29th and got there on the 30th. the people we were staying with were extremely generous and warm, but they had many visitors. the thing i learned about rural italy that i had forgotten last year is that people are awfully provincial and closed-minded. yeesh! from the second i got there, i became known as "The Iranian" and it took these people nearly a week to learn my name. now, it would have been one thing if they had stuck to their little prejudices about me being iranian, but i have the sad disadvantage of also coming from america. so i was also "The American." most of these people have never left the countryside, let alone italy, so.....let the gross generalizations begin!!! it was really too much.

not only that, but then they found out i can cook, so they tried to get me to make them dinner one night, which i would have been happy to do. except that, the only thing that most italians are more opinionated about than food is soccer, so no one could agree on what they wanted me to make, and we all know how i feel about picky eaters. so i said, no way, i am not cooking for you people. besides the fact that they couldn't decide what they wanted, those people had a major aversion to salt. the food there was ridiculously bland (i thought it was the entire region that ate like that, but it turns out that i just got unlucky and found the only family in southern italy who doesn't use salt), and i was always adding salt to everything. they told me, if i cooked, i couldn't add salt. they said salt is bad for you. i'm no doctor, but i'd venture to say that the teaspoon or so of salt that i eat everyday is a lot less unhealthy than the pack of cigarettes each of them was smoking daily. i rebelled and refused to cook. then they thought i was offended.

i wasn't offended, i was just sick of 20 people ganging up on me and judging my every habit: you take a shower every day? you're going to go bald! you put milk in your tea? disgusting! you eat ricotta with honey? nasty! (except that's one of the most traditional dishes in rome. hello, WHERE did these people come from?) you don't blow dry your hair? you are going to DIE! you want to eat a snack? you have the weirdest eating habits IN THE UNIVERSE! it was too much, and after 5 days, i wanted to leave. plus, i was behind in my work (big surprise) and i wanted to get back and catch up.

so i told CB i wanted to leave, but that she could stay if she wanted to. she is the least independent person i know, so i knew that she couldn't imagine taking the trip home alone. but CB had been busy while we were there. busy eating. and she had eaten too much, and become sick. first constipated, and then with diarrhea. our bus was leaving at midnight, but she still had diarrhea at around 4 pm and begged to stay another day. it would have been cruel to make her leave (even though there is a bathroom on the bus), so i agreed to stay another day.

finally, i woke up on the day we were to leave, saturday. CB had been so sure that there would be tickets, and no one had mentioned buying them, so i figured it would be ok. then, around 12.30pm, CB asks the mom to ask their friend who lives by the bus station to go down and get our tickets. well, not only are they sold out for that night, but they are sold out for 10 days. i almost fainted at the idea of staying there for another 10 days, and told CB that i had to leave. i nearly threw a fit. i told her i didn't care, and that i would take this extremely slow and uncomfortable train that they were all talking about. so she called the train station, but it was closed. everything in rural italy is closed, not only on sunday, but on saturday, too. all of the ticket agencies were closed, too. and of course this train station was totally from a wile e. coyote cartoon and the only train there was the kind from the 1800s where you had to pump it to get it going, and of course there was no automated ticket machine inside where we could buy tickets. there was a ticket machine, but it still accepted lire.

i told CB that i would buy the tickets through the internet. it was actually easy enough, and i reserved seats and everything. they even sent a confirmation message to my cell phone. ta-da! i'd never reserved online before (i am a little sketched out by the italian internet. italians are totally distrustful of technology. in fact, i read in the ny times not long ago that 2 out of 3 italians don't know how to use a computer. i believe it.), so it was a little weird not having a paper ticket, but i figured it would be fine. all of the people in that house were doubtful of my success, but i knew it would be fine.

at 12.30 am we went to the train station. our reserved seats were in car 5, seats number 75 and 76. the train came rolling up to the station: there were cars 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7. but no 5!!! there was no car 5! how were we assigned to car 5 when there wasn't one? this was ridiculous!!!...

to be continued....i have to go to work....

ok, i'm back.

we freaked out about there not being a car 5, and we asked the conductor what this meant. of course, the first thing he asked was to see our tickets, and i, with a broad smile and more than a little pride, flashed my telefonino in his face, with the message with out confirmation number blazing on the screen. he was like, what the heck is this? i smirked that it was our confirmation number, and shouldn't he type it into his little machine or something? well, he was not amused, and he told me to go into the station and print out a ticket. but of course, the machine in the station was from the 1920s or before, and had no printing capabilities. he gave up, and said we'd figure it out, so he put us in the conductor's car with ANOTHER couple who had been assigned car 5, and they had bought their tickets at the station where the train originated, when the train was out on the tracks! oh, italy. oh, italy.

so we started to commiserate with this older couple, and i said something like, "this would only happen in italy." of course the man got totally offended, thinking i am all america-is-the-best or something, and i spent the next 25 minutes trying to calm him down. finally, i succeeded, and we turned off the lights and tried to go to sleep, it being 1.30 in the morning. but of course, as soon as we started to nod off, the conductor came back and asked for my confirmation number. i gave it to him. it was something like ADW2RP, and he started punching it into his little keypad: A-D-W....wait a minute, there was no W and he couldn't figure out how to enter one. first, there was no car 5, and now there was no W. oh, italy. then, he started to curse at me and said that he'll be back.

we tried to go back to sleep, but he came back an hour later and had figured out W and said that i owed him 113 euros. excuse me, no ticket costs that much, plus i had already paid 85 euros on my credit card to get that reservation. i argued with him about it for a while until we were approaching the next stop, where he said he was getting off and would pass us to his colleague.

the colleague was a lot nicer and more understanding and explained that we were on a slow train (duh!) and that they didn't have the fancy computer system to process the online tickets. ok, that's fine. but my question is this: if you can't process the tickets, then why on earth do you make it possible to book the tickets through the internet?

furthermore, he told us that he wasn't even going to enter our code in anywhere, and theoretically when we got to florence, we could get a refund. this man, an employee of trenitalia, was telling us how to rip off trenitalia. oh, italy.

i asked him if i should print out tickets once we got to rome, for the second train, but he said no, it wouldn't matter at that point. so when we got to termini, which is quite possibly the most wonderful, beautiful, best train station in the universe, we had a little coffee and toast at my favorite little bar there, and then got on to the next train. immediately, we asked the conductor where we should sit, since we didn't have tickets, and he was like, "what do you mean you don't have tickets? get off the train and go print out the tickets!" but the train was already moving out of the station, so he told us to get out of his sight and go to the other end of the train.

so we schlepped all the way to the other end and waited.

finally, this younger conductor came and asked to see our tickets. i told him, "listen buddy, we have no tickets. sit down, we have a story." so he sat down and we told him the entire story, with lots of swearing and laughing involved. he was dying, and he let us slide, thankfully.

when we finally got to the station, we went to the ticket booth, printed out the tickets, and got them refunded. but i still can't figure out if it was worth it.

oh, italy.