September Song September 29, 2008


9-29-08 Instead of falling leaves drifting past my window, today the sun is out and only a few clouds are scudding across the Sibillini Mountains. This is a direct contrast to the rain, cold, and general yuck of the last five days. This seems to be the norm for Italy and most of Europe at this time of year–at some point after the autumnal equinox, a storm blows in, drains most of the summer heat out of the ground and then leaves nice weather and pleasant days in its wake until late October. I can only hope that this respite from rain holds since I take off for Ireland for a week on Wednesday and it would be nice to get a few sunny pictures for the web page to advertise the Ireland Tour (June 29 – July 12, $3600 in double room). I am not going to “rain-sodden, priest-ridden Limerick” that Frank McCourt describes in his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, but rain in Ireland is hardly exclusive to Limerick.

It has been nice having this brief time at home between trips. Giuseppe, one of the locals who is one month older than I am, keeps trying to talk me into coming on trips he organizes for the “Sarnano Class of 1938,” our shared birth year. My language skills are not sufficient to convince him that I travel for a living, and that I enjoy being at home now and then. Maybe I will join them at some point, if he ever organizes a trip to somewhere I haven’t already taken a group.

One sad observation–I am starting to see chubby Italian kids. It is easy for me to understand why, since I probably watch way too much TV and the ads for prepared foods are incessant. Luckily, McDonald’s is the only fast food restaurant that advertises, so there is not the steady drumbeat for Appleby’s, Burger King, KFC, Whataburger and the like. I remember taking my son David down to the local McDonald’s when he was a preschooler. He would sit there munching away on his Happy Meal and you could see him playing the tape in his head of the happy kids he had seen on TV. Mercifully, this phase was short-lived and he is now a slender 33-year old.

The all-too-familiar flat, nasal, amplified voice of the local priest just interrupted me as yet another local takes that final ride to the outskirts of town. I am afraid that my neighbor with Down’s syndrome will soon be accorded that same ritual. When I moved here four years ago, he had the appearance of a young man in his early twenties. When I saw him yesterday, he looked to be in his sixties. Nell, his mother, takes him everywhere and the locals include him in their conversations. I have seen him participating in the various processions, sometimes leading with a cross or carrying one of the smaller icons. He hasn’t quite figured out where I fit into the grand scheme of things, but that’s okay–there are times when I haven’t quite sorted that out either. Given the diminished life expectancy of people with Down’s syndrome, I’m afraid that Nell will soon lose her companion.

On a happier note, the last time I filled up my car, it “only” cost me the equivalent of $7.48 a gallon, rather than the $9.11 it set me back when I filled up in June. The dollar has strengthened considerably since July, which contributed to the lower price of crude oil which translates to lower prices at the pump. Now, if the whole financial system doesn’t collapse.

I am frequently asked what Europeans think of Americans. My sampling is rather small since my language skills barely permit a cursory discussion of the weather so I am limited to English speakers. Generally, they are positive about the American people, though they are even more dismissive of Bush than we are. They are hopeful that Obama wins the presidency, but sadly, to a person, they are convinced that Americans will not elect a black man as president. I hope they are wrong. And in case they are right, some of you might be interested in checking out the newly refurbished Hotel Terme here in Sarnano. They have quite reasonable rates and a choice of three apartments to stay in while you look for somewhere to live. (back)