I am a bit disappointed. I just got an automated call on my cell phone, asking (in Italian) if I wanted to participate in an interview about my recent visit to the Vodafone store. I pressed 1 for yes, but then it disconnected. I'm bummed, because I was all set to complain about the salesgirl who said that the prepaid rate would be 15 Euro cents/minute. After the phone was activated, though, up pops a text message saying that the rate of 15 Euro cents/minute, good for 30 days, had begun.
When we went back the next day, the girl said, Oh yeah, that rate is only good for 30 days after you put credit on the phones; then the rate goes up to 20 cents. And when we said that we wouldn't have put 50 Euro on each phone if we'd known that, since we wouldn't be using it up, she shrugged and said that it didn't matter what the rate was if we weren't going to be using the minutes. Things went downhill from there, and although it didn't get too ugly, I definitely wanted to give a little feedback. Plus, phone interview in Italian? Yes, please! I could have seen if I still have chops.
So, Sunday. Sunday rocked.
Ben and Kiko offered to give us a ride downtown to the church we were planning on attending, which was much easier than figuring out public transit with a deadline (i.e., the beginning of the service). We left an hour and a half before we needed to be there and arrived with 40 minutes to spare.
Being right in the city for the first time was fantastic. First, Ben is the best introduction to local driving I can imagine. He's completely calm, absolutely laid back. As a result, I'm calm, too. I see all the chaos around us, but since he seems to be utterly unaffected by it, I don't get stressed out either. His chill approach and my own observations, plus all the information I've received and videos I've seen about the infamous local drivers, have combined with my own brain waves and appetites. The result? I cannot wait to start driving here!
Yes, I realize I am insane. I figure that it's not unprecedented, though. My first car was a '69 Saab with four on the tree. I was confident no one would ever steal it, as long as I parked nose-in, because no one would be able to figure out how to put it in reverse. Several years later, I learned to drive Southern California rush hour in a '63 Chevy three-quarter ton pickup with manual brakes. That was also when I learned to drive by mirrors alone, because the rear windshield was small enough that turning check my blind spot gave me only a view of the interior wall of the cab. This environment is just another jump up the driving ladder, right?
But I believe I was trying to talk about Sunday.
We brought our GPS, but the battery was dying, and the directions seemed to lag a few seconds behind our actual location, which bought us some scenic byways and loops. We made it eventually, though, and I loved getting to see all the streets and shops and buildings.
After thanking Ben and Kiko profusely (there are many, many baked goods in their future; I'm working on some right now, but without an oven thermometer -- fingers crossed!), we walked around a farmers market and went down to the water.
The service was nice, although not the norm because the bishop visiting and there being a confirmation. Also, we were told that a good part of the congregation was doing a run on Vesuvius. Everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly. We met several people I'm sure we'll run into again around and about (one of whom I did see yesterday).
After staying for a potluck lunch of spare ribs, shepherds pie, and a Nigerian rice dish, among other things, we got in touch with Eric and headed out to his neighborhood, west of downtown. By "headed out," I mean got information from a parishioner about where and how to catch the metro, then headed up the street . . . until we got to a big flight of stairs. This prompted discussion: They said "up the hill." Did they mean all the way up the steps? This little map (from the church ad) makes it look like the place is parallel to this street, not perpendicular. Surely they would have told us if we were going to go up the stairs? Maybe?
We turned instead, saw fewer and fewer signs that we were going the right way, until I spotted a big "M" and an arrow. Yes!
Following the metro signs took us through a shopping alley, all shuttered for Sunday, of course, and into the right piazza, which probably was at the top of the stairs. (We'll get to figure that out this week.)
Okay, piazza. Metro. Metro ticket machine.
A woman turned and asked for change. I didn't understand quite what the problem was, but she was happy to give us 50 cents in exchange for 20. Uh, okay. As she and the man with her struggled to get tickets, I asked if the other machine was broken, and she shrugged, then moved over and had . . . success!
It turns out that one of the two machines wouldn't take bills. The other was very persnickety about what coins it would take and if you were holding your mouth right when you tried to insert the coins. Plus, it would only accept exact change. Even though we were willing to lose the 30 cents, it wouldn't give tickets to anyone who overpaid -- hence the odd change exchange.
Getting our metro tickets involved watching a group of three men working to get their tickets for about five minutes, including banging, peering into the machine, trying various combinations of coins, and getting five cents from a girl who'd walked up.
. . . and that is something that was amazing to me: people were willing to ask others around them for help with coins or making change, and everyone there was perfectly happy to go through their pockets to see if they could lend a hand. Very different, very cool. There was such a friendly feeling about it -- or rather, just a relaxed vibe among all the people, even in the midst of the frustration with the machines.
We ended up going and getting a piece of candy from a bar (Italian bar = American coffee shop) so that we had coins, but then we didn't have exact change, so I went and begged change from the little old man behind the register. Another difference from the U.S.: no hassle about getting change. I love it, because we were finally able to put 2.20€ in the machine and get our blessed tickets!
The ride out to Pozzuoli made me even happier than I had been in the city. I saw lots and lots of citrus trees, full of fruit, and morning glories. I felt even more at home since I associate those plants with San Diego.
We walked around the neighborhood with Eric for a couple of hours, starting off in a spectacular way with this ruined amphitheater that's just a minute or two from the metro station.
On the metro trip back into the city and the central train station, I saw a group of seven scouts, probably about 14 years old. At first I thought I saw something like a school tie around one boy's neck, and then around a girl's. But as they started getting off the metro a few at a time, I realized I was seeing rolled up kerchiefs, and they each had backpacks and other gear. It was so cool!
By the time we reached Piazza Garibaldi, got off the metro, got into the train station, and found the departures board, we had almost an hour to wait for the next train to our stop. We went ahead and bought a couple more tickets, because the ones we had were good for 140 minutes, but we realized that by the time we got off the train and boarded the bus (the final leg home), we would have exceeded that time limit.
We boarded the train early, and about five minutes after it was supposed to leave, I noticed a group of the teenage soccer fans who'd been on the platform were walking by outside making the "cut off" gesture -- moving their hands horizontally across their throats.
I'd been a little nervous when I saw these groups of kids -- probably a couple or three dozen in our car and the next, in groups of four to ten friends apiece. They were all wearing the light blue scarves for the local team, 99% of them boys between 14 and 20 years old, a lot of them with impressive diamond studs in their ears. I've never seen so many beautiful teenage boys at one time outside of a Calvin Klein ad. They were having a good time, but having read so many police-blotter stories from Italian papers over the last year, plus hearing lots about the soccer hooligan culture in some places, I was a bit anxious. They were really impressive, too:
So within a minute of that one group of kids walking by, making the "no go" gesture, everybody on the packed train car was up out of their seats and rushing for the door -- but no one knew what was going on. Cosa succede? Cosa succede? the other ladies were asking me, grabbing their purses and shopping bags. Non lo so, non lo so, I was answering. I didn't know, but if everyone on the train was suddenly rushing to get off? I was sure as heck getting off, too.
Outside, everyone was hurrying, rushing down the concrete platform, breaking into a run, jumping down onto the gravel and crossing the tracks between the trains. Just as I was debating whether we should follow them (my grandfather worked for the railroad, and train safety has been drilled into me since I was tiny), I heard the end of an announcement: . . . il diciotto sei . . . Caserta . . . invece di binario cinque. Okay, different train -- not on track 5 anymore --
We realized it at the same time, jumped down between the trains, and started running after everybody else, trying to move as fast as possible while being quiet and focused enough to get the new track number . . . undici! Yes! Okay, 5 to 11 isn't too far . . . and soon enough we were part of the crowd, pushing to get on the new train, all the tifosi, the soccer fans, laughing and shoving in this one last excitement on game day.
The new train pulled out about half an hour late. On the ride, there was some excitement from a man who might have been crazy, might have been drunk. At first I thought the group of six or so boys in his part of the car were taunting him (I was stereotyping -- they were white teen boys, he was a middle-aged black man, I'd seen several fascist graffiti slogans throughout the day), but then I realized that they were cautiously bemused, willing to confront and interact with him to some extent, but simply reacting to his loud declarations and pronouncements. The couple in the seats facing us, and the others I could see in our part of the car, were reacting just as we were, just as anyone does when there is a possibly crazy/drunk person on the public transit: keeping an ear out to monitor the situation and exchanging glances and raised eyebrows or weary smiles with the other non-crazy, non-drunk people.
We arrived in our station without incident, though, and went outside to wait for the bus.
This turned out to be the hitch.
We had directions from Eric and from the travel office, but of course it was after dark (sunset is before five o'clock), and we knew we'd be catching the very last bus of the night . . . which never came. Or else we were in the wrong place after all.
We were undaunted, though, because we are fortunate enough to be blessed with Ben, who arrived 20 minutes after we placed the rescue call, even though he'd never been to that station before. So we were scooped up, got to save our additional transit tickets, didn't have to walk miles in the dark on the unlit highway with no shoulder or pay upward of 20€ for a cab, had a nice chat with Ben, and were deposited on our doorstep . . . right at the same time that our neighbors, who were on our flight over, were coming in from their day of sightseeing. They invited us over for prosciutto and cheese and bread and wine, but we were so tired that we declined, only to have them bring over a plate of goodies about ten minutes later.
We gobbled them up while watching the Pentagon channel, and I schemed about all the gratitude baking I planned to do. I just took my go-to banana sweet out of the oven as I was writing this evening. (I figured out the oven!) I'll be returning our neighbors' plate all filled up with the yumminess tomorrow since it's too late tonight. I also got supplies for pumpkin cupcakes (mailorder #4 recipe card), sour cream apple pie, and pecan pie -- all for Thanksgiving. (I confess that I'm using premade crusts. Even with Janelle's hands-on tutorial in October, I'm just not up for pie crust right now, with a wine bottle as makeshift rolling pin and so on. Maybe for Christmas.)
I'm going to check with Ben re: allergies and preferences, but I'm thinking pumpkin cupcakes and that banana chocolate cinnamon sugar goodness for him and Kiko. Don't you agree?