A Darker Verona November 11, 2003


November 11, 2003 I have been in a funk the last several weeks. Nothing serious but not much fun either. Perhaps it was brought on by the weather. With just a month to go before the winter solstice, Verona is not getting much sun these days. And what sunshine that does come over the horizon is being filtered through rain, fog and general yuck. I might as well be living in Seattle (which might happen, but that is another story.)

Maybe my dark mood of the moment is due to the realization I will never learn this infernal language, that maybe it is time to head back to car-driven, consumer ridden America. After all, it is home.

Or maybe it is finally seeing the darker side of the Italians. There are several characteristics that are starting to wear on me. The first is relatively minor. Italians don’t listen. The next time you are in Italy, look around. You will see a group of Italians standing around talking. Nothing unusual here except nobody is listening! If it is a group of four, three will be talking away while the fourth is catching his/her breath. Again, nothing wrong with this except when I need to communicate. They all tend to hear one or two words and then rush in to finish the sentence, often going in the opposite direction to what I am trying to say. When the conversation is in Italian, I can understand their impatience since I am sure they would love to stick a hand down my throat and pull out the words I am trying to remember. But when we are talking in English, it gets damn annoying to constantly have to say, “No, that is not what I mean. Could I finish the sentence, please?”

The second trait is a little more serious: I am getting tired of running into women. Literally. Let me backtrack a little bit. I have lived most of my adult life in the states, but have traveled extensively during the last fourteen years. I like to think that I understand the basic nuances of crowd behavior. When walking along a street, sidewalk, mall, whatever, you try to avoid running into people. You pick this up unconsciously as a child, probably after slamming into an adult or two with painful results. Later, you learn the civilizing niceties of giving way to an older person and so on. You learn to shift a half step to the right (left in the UK) while the oncoming person also shifts a half step and you pass each other without a problem. Or one person steps into the street, doorway, whatever, to allow a group to pass unimpeded. These conventions are followed by most everyone everywhere I have been—France, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Turkey and so on.

Italian women after a certain age don’t seem to operate on these civilizing principles. Recently, I was walking down Corso Porta Borsari with Claudio, a fellow ex-pat, and after I had come to a dead stop to let one woman careen diagonally across in front of us to a shoe display, and getting slammed into by another even after I had stopped, I asked Claudio, “Am I invisible?” He replied that he had had similar experiences. And it is not just Verona. Bud and I were discussing this phenomenon in Rome over coffee. Though he and Aase had only been in Rome for two weeks by then, he had noticed the same thing. And not four minutes after our discussion a woman who was headed in my direction, suddenly drug her young son in front of me and came to a dead stop in front of a store display. I had no choice but to stop, back up and then walk around them to continue on. She could have adjusted her angle only slightly, or delayed one step and then would have reached her objective without cutting me off.

Last night might have been the worst example, the one that may have triggered this tirade. I was taking my evening stroll up Corso Cavour, eventually turning on Via Roma to Piazza Bra, up Via Mazzini to Piazza Erbe and back to the apartment. The sidewalks were all but deserted when I saw a twentysomething headed in my direction. I shifted slightly to the right almost stepping into the street. She also changed directions—towards me! I started to step into the street but then saw that she had at least six feet of sidewalk on her side. I continued straight on and we collided. I neither offered nor received an apology. Brutish on my part, to be sure, but why should I have stepped into the street when there was plenty of room on the sidewalk for both of us?

What is curious about this is the fact that Italians, for the most part, are courteous drivers. They stop for you if you are in the crosswalk, and lane control is infinitely better on the autostrade than it is on the freeways in California or Texas. I don’t know what accounts for this behavior, whether it is obliviousness, latent hostility, or a blatant power grab. And it is particularly difficult to deal with in touristy Verona since you don’t know whether you are meeting a foreign woman who follows the rules, or an Italian who doesn’t. (A clue: Look at the shoes.)

Relief is on the way. On Sunday, I am headed to London for the night and then on to Seattle, San Antonio and the SF Bay Area. Three weeks and three days in the states should help me get over this funk. By the time I return to Verona, the unsettled weather of November will be gone and the streets will be ablaze with Christmas lights. And the streets and sidewalks will be so crowded that movement will be impossible anyway. So I get run over by a shopper or two? Buon natale. Just a part of the season. (back)