Thursday, October 23, 2014

Carpe Diem

“I am always saddened by the death of a good person. 
It is from this sadness that a feeling of gratitude emerges.
 I feel honored to have known them and blessed that their 
passing serves as a reminder to me that my time on 
this beautiful earth is limited and that I should seize the 
opportunity I have to forgive, share, explore, and love. 
I can think of no greater way to honor the deceased 
than to live this way.” 
~ Steve Maraboli

 Our good friend, Tom, passed away yesterday. i'm not going to go into the particulars, but suffice to say that his passing was sudden and too soon.

Mike and I met Tom and his wife, Judi, a few months after we moved back to Las Vegas in 2009. Tom and I connected immediately because his family was from a small town not far from my grandparents' town in Abruzzo. 

 "You FBI, too?" he asked.

"Excuse me?" I was confused.

"Full Blooded Italian," he laughed.  "Haven't you ever heard that?"  Oops. I felt pretty dumb, but he just laughed, introduced me to Judi, and our friendship commenced.

From that night on, Tom always greeted me with the Italian cheek-kiss. To most people, that might be a little thing, but to me it meant that Tom really understood how much reconnecting with the culture means to me.  When Mike and I told them that we were heading to Italy in the fall of 2010, Tom and Judi gave us a lot of advice because they had actually lived in Italy for seven months some years ago. 

When I found out that I was a finalist for the Fulbright last December, Tom and Judi were two of the few friends to whom I mentioned it.  They were both supportive, and over the six months it took to receive final notification, Tom was always very encouraging.

"Call us know as soon as you know you're going," he urged me.  As I promised, I called them the afternoon I received the "Sorry, you're out" letter.  "I'm sorry," he told me. "They don't know what they're doing."

"Tutto bene (Everything's okay)," I replied, "I'll just go to Italy instead."

"Good idea."  When we had dinner with Tom and Judi before I left for Italy, they were, as usual, interested in my plans, and they shared maps and books they thought I might use.

I arrived home about three weeks ago, and I was looking forward to seeing Tom and Judi at a party this weekend so that I could tell them about Italy.

I won't get that chance.

Tom's passing is a reminder that life can change in an instant, that our time on earth is finite, that we do not know when or where.  It is also a reminder that we must "seize the day," and as Maraboli says, forgive, explore, share, love.  And, to his list, I must add enjoy.  Enjoy life. Enjoy love. Enjoy each other.

Enjoy, because we never know.

We are blessed to have had you in our lives, Tom.  We're going to miss you.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Love One Another

"Therefore welcome one another as Christ
has welcomed you for the glory of God."
Romans 15:7

(I know this isn't technically about Italy, but I have to get it off of my mind.)

This past weekend has been a little disheartening for me because of decisions made yet again by bishops of the Catholic Church.  Born and raised Catholic, I believed because the nuns and priests in charge of my education told me I had to believe. I believed because my mother was a good woman who believed. I believed because I was afraid I would go to hell if I didn't believe.

One of the nuns I had in elementary schools told us that only Catholics could go to heaven.  She was not alone in saying so. Friends of mine who went to different schools in different cities and states heard the same thing from their teachers.

"Sister is an idiot," my father bellowed. He overheard me telling a Presbyterian neighbor/playmate that she was condemned to purgatory (or worse) since she was Protestant. He yanked me into the house by my ponytail and whacked me. "God loves everyone, even sinners, even Protestants, even idiots who tell their friends they're going to Hell."  My father could be blunt.

Around the same time of that whacking, Sister also told us that babies and children who died without being baptized could not go to heaven directly. Instead, they went to Purgatory, the place where Catholics who don’t die in the state of grace go for temporary punishment and cleansing of the soul before they can enter Heaven . . . a waiting room, if you will.  Purgatory was filled with these children, and we prayed daily to build up “indulgences” (a get-out-of-Purgatory-free card) to send a child to his/her heavenly home. 

It was probably at that time that I started to question the Church. I started to wonder why God, who is all-knowing and all-loving, would send a helpless child to Purgatory for years if the child had done no wrong, had been born innocent, had been made in His image.  As I got older, I grew uncomfortable with Church teachings on, among other things, priestly celibacy, birth control, divorce.  Over the years, I continued to become increasingly distressed over some of the words and actions of “leaders” of the Church and its many organizations.  I wanted to know how the Church could retain its credibility when it condemned homosexuality yet ignored the sexual abuse of young boys by its priests.  I didn’t like the fact that the Church teaches that we have free wills and are responsible for how we live our lives, yet it is quick to censure and ostracize anyone who disagrees with Church doctrine.  I was annoyed that, with the number of priests is continually declining, the Church leadership would not consider allowing married or women priests.

Election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, to the Throne of St. Peter encouraged me. I thought that the Church might be turning a corner.  Pope Francis, a truly spiritual and catholic man, said, " If a person is and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers."  Good God. Previous administrations, Benedict and JPII among them, had no room in the Church (or churches) for "intrinsically disordered—persons—aka gays.

Traditional Catholics, religious and lay alike, did not like Pope Francis's tolerant and progressive attitude. I've read many letters and essays written by said traditionalists in which they whine that Francis is ruining the Catholic Church. How, you may ask?  Allow me to list a few of their complaints:

     • On the night of his election, Pope Francis refused to wear the ermine and red-velvet cape and to accept the gold Papal pectoral cross.
     • Instead of living in the Papal apartments, he chose a more simple apartment.
     • He does not wear the heavily brocaded vestments during Papal Masses.
     • On Good Friday, he dared to wash the feet of two women, one of them a Serbian Muslim.
     • He stopped the backward moves to pre-Vatican II days that his predecessor allowed.
     • He was compassionate towards gays.

Simply, Pope Francis wants to restore the Church, to get back many of those who have left. Yes, he got the attention of the fundamentalists, but he also got our attention. We were hopeful.

During last week's Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Francis urged the acceptance and inclusion of gays and divorced Catholics saying that they have a lot to offer the Christian community. Basically, his blessing follows what he said during one of his first appearances last year: "A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

The traditionalists believe otherwise and voted to change the language of the text.  Gays are still disordered, but the Church will now treat them with respect and delicacy (WHAT?). Remarried Catholics are still adulterers, but the Church will do more research before coming up with a final solution.  In interviews, American Cardinal James Burke, usually critical of Pope Francis, denounced the original wording saying that it did not follow Church doctrine, that it gave a the impression that it was changing—which it was not, and that a change in doctrine was "impossible."

Apparently God's directive to "Love one another as I have loved you" applies only if you toe the line, aren't gay, divorced and/or remarried, or are progressive in thought.

The good news is that the final synod is a year away, so the Pope has time to develop the teachings and to change the synod's membership. Here's hoping that he can also open more than a few minds by that time.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Settling In, I

Portico off of Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

We live in a world where finding fault with 
others seems to be the favorite blood sport.
– Henry Eyring

I've been home hellish wonderful 10 days, and both the body and mind are still adjusting.  I keep waking up in the middle of the night, although the last few nights have been a little better.  For the lat three nights, instead of waking at 3 am, I've been waking at 4 am. Even better, I've been able to fall back asleep after 30-45 minutes.

Mercato in Modena

Having had to work this week added to the physical drain, I think.  I had a two-day seminar to do at the airport for the university, and I taught my first night class. In addition, I had meetings I had to attend.  It was, I suppose, better to get back into the swing of things early as it kept my mind overloaded occupied and off of Italy. 

Yes, I miss Italy.

Random street musicians, Bologna

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad to be home in a lot of ways.  I missed Mike, Jason, Riley, and my friends. I missed the familiarity of my own house, the comfort of my own bed, and the roominess of my own shower.  Reliable internet. Air conditioning. Being able to put on more than one appliance without blowing the fuse.

Yes, I still miss Italy.

Via Santo Stefano, Bologna

For the nine weeks I was in Europe, I didn't watch television. I turned one of the TVs in the flat once to make sure it worked. It did, so I turned it off and never turned it on again. While that might not sound like a big deal, remember that both my husband and kid worked/work in television.  That darn lovely thing is on almost constantly at our house.

Think of all the great things I missed by not being subjected to watching television:

Nasty political ads
The finale of Big Brother
News about nasty political in-fighting
Season premieres of Selfie
News—Any kind

Piazza Santo Stefano, Bologna
Never fear, though.  As soon as we got home, Mike turned on the television, and the first thing I saw was a political ad bashing a candidate. Ebola scares have replaced political in-fighting as the top stories in newscasts, and stupid lawyers' commercials fill in whatever ad time the nasty political ads don't cover.

I can't say I haven't enjoyed watching a few shows since I've been back, though. Survivor. Big Bang Theory. College football.

It is good to be home.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Too Many Choices

Buy your bread already toasted in Italy

 ". . . if you haven't been in a grocery
store in a really long time, it's really
easy to get very out of touch."
~ Zooey Deschanel

I went grocery shopping this afternoon for the first time since I've been home.  Oh, I ran into the grocery to buy produce the other day, but today I had to shop-shop. After two months of shopping in Italian groceries, I meandered through Smith's.

The "regular" soup aisle at Smith's
Don't get me wrong.  There are good groceries in Europe, and some of them can be quite large.  The groceries within walking distance of my flat—Pam, Ccop, and Conad—were not large, but they had what I needed. What I found interesting about European groceries was the fact that they didn't offer quite as many choices as American groceries. For example, if I want to buy hotdogs here, I have probably five or six different brands from which to choose. In Italy, if I found hotdogs in a store, there would be only one brand or kind.

One afternoon, I really wanted soup, so I headed to Coop to see what kind they had. There were two different types of soup—minestrone, and mixed bean soup. I went to Pam to see what they had, and they had exactly the same two Knorr canned soups: minestrone and mixed bean soup. It was the same in each of the stores I frequented.  It was a good thing I liked minestrone.

 Today, I had a coupon for Progresso soup, and while I usually make my own soup, I figured I buy the two required cans to have on hand in case we needed something quick.  Let's just say that Smith's stocks more than just minestrone and mixed bean soup (Photos above and below). I ended up not getting any soup because there were so many that I couldn't focus.

Soup aisle in the "organic" section at Smith's
It was the same with most of the aisles. How about potato chips?  Taking the brands out of the equation, we have regular, rippled, baked, kettle-cooked, no-salt, and low-fat. Consider the different flavors, too. Have you had the salt and pepper, vinegar, dill pickle, barbecue, cheese, ranch, chili limon, tomato basil, sour cream and onion, jalapeño?  How about the new flavors Lay's is testing: bacon mac & cheese, ginger wasabi, mango salsa, and cappuccino (Below). No offense, but cappuccino chips?

That's not to say that the European groceries didn't have a number of choices for certain products.  If I wanted prosciutto, I had to choose between six or seven kinds.  If I wanted hamburger, they had one kind.  If I wanted Nutella, I had about six or seven different brands per store.  Peanut butter? If the store stocked it, there was one kind only. Toast? (In Italy, you can buy packages of "toasted bread." See photo at top of the post.) There are a bunch of different kinds of that. And there is no shortage of chocolate.  Even the smallest stores had numerous brands and kinds of chocolate.

"It's no wonder Michael Frank was so taken with Albertson's," I said to Mike. Michael was our German exchange student in the 90s. From a town of fewer than 5000 residents, he was always amazed at the size of things in the States. I didn't understand at that time.  I do now.

Michael, by the way, was the one who told me about Nutella.  He was upset because a store as big as Albertson's didn't sell Nutella.  It had not, at that time, made its way to too many US stores.  I had my first taste of it a few years later, and I've been hooked since. As Nutella has grown in popularity in the states, most groceries now stock Nutella and Nutella knock-offs. Smith's has a full shelf devoted to the stuff.

I did not have a hard time focusing on what I wanted in that aisle.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

First Glance

My new store

" How you look at it is pretty 
much how you'll see it."
~ Rasheed Ogunlaru

I'm sure we all do this, but there are times when I glance at something and see something else.  If nothing else, we do it with clouds, don't we?

When we were in Lucca two weeks ago, we were walking home from the market, and I looked up at a building and saw arches that seemed to be an homage to Bozo the Clown (Below). Whoever built the place obviously didn't intend for the arches to mimic the famed clown's head since the building is 300 years old, and while Bozo is ageless, I doubt highly that he was around that long ago.

Bozo Building in Lucca

 The same evening that I saw the Bozo building, we were walking down another street in Lucca, and I thought I saw my name on a store (Top photo). For those of you who didn't know me pre-marriage to Mike, my maiden name was Lodyn. Lodyn is not a common name.  (Actually, it wasn't even my grandparents' last name. I always heard the story that the "real" last name was too long, had too many consonants, and was unpronounceable by Americans, so it—like so many other ethnic names—got changed.  I have no idea where they got Lodyn, although in doing a little research, I found that Lodyna is the name of a town in the Galicia, Austria, region where my father's parents were born.)

All that is beside the point.  I was the only Lodyn with the first initial "C," so seeing CLODYN on a store window sent an electric shock through me. The gal who was working in the store was of little help as she had no idea where they got the name. Darn.

Call me with questions
Right after I got to Bologna, I was walking with a friend, and we saw an interesting store on a side street.  It wasn't open, and at first we thought that it closed for the August holidays.  Then I saw a handwritten sign on the door (Above):  Sono al bar  345 4322 348  (I'm at the bar. 345 4322 348). Of course, bars in Italy mean coffee bars, but my still-American mind was thinking a different kind of bar.  I loved, though, that he gave his phone number so readily on the paper in the window.

By the way, , , Just by looking at that paper, I can tell the owner of the store is not Italian. Anyone have any idea how I know that?

Madrid front window

Our flat in Madrid was on the ground floor of a building in the Lavapies area. The windows were in the front wall (above), and the owner had put frosted, double-paned windows in so passers-by couldn't look into the flat.  I loved the shadow of the plants in the windows, but then it dawned on me that the buildings were right on the sidewalk and that there were no trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers, anything in front of any building on Calle Doctor Piga (Photo below). (Our building is halfway up the street on the right.)  The closest tree was in the little plaza at the end of the street.

Calle Doctor Piga
"Those aren't real plants," I said to Mike when it dawned on me that no trees in front meant no tree shadows on the windows.

"Of course they aren't," he replied. "She stuck silk flowers between the panes."  He opened the inside window so I could see the silk branches stuck between the inside and outside.

"I'm crushed."

"You'll live." Mike can be practical at times.  He doesn't care about things like that, but I do.  I still enjoyed the "view," but my spirit was a little dampened to know the leaves weren't real.

"Ah," I said. "It's like the dudes selling knock-off purses down the street. It's all fake, but I guess she's trying to fix the view." I'm sure Mike rolled his eyes because he wouldn't see the similarities.

"We don't have a view."


Friday, October 3, 2014

Questa É Vita

If this is life . . .

 “Living in another culture, 
not just visiting it, has reshaped 
our view of the world.”
~ Nancy Petralia

I'm home. Except for the fact that my face shows my lack of sleep and the bruises from my fall have not completely faded, I think I probably look all right on the outside. For each of the three days I've been home, I've followed a somewhat regular routine and dressed in my usual clothes, but I add a necklace or bracelet I bought in Italy. They keep me close to the place for the moment.


On the inside, I'm not normal.  I feel strange being back.

"Are you glad to be home?" a friend asked me last evening.  Before I could say anything, Mike answered.

"She'd go back in a second."

"You would?" She, like many of my other friends, can't understand why I feel that way.

Le due torre

Part of my discomfort, I'm sure, is due to exhaustion. Some is undoubtedly due to having been gone from the daily routine for nine weeks. Of course, the rest is due to missing la mia bella cittá.

Piazza Maggiore

 It's going to take some time to get used to being home.

Caffe del Drapparie

 But, this is life. We learn. We (hopefully) move forward,

The canal in Bologna

and we start planning the next adventure.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hello, America!

On the River Arno
"Never underestimate the power of
stupid people in large groups."
~ George Carlin
(Note: As with yesterday, since I couldn't take photos in customs, I'm just filling with a few others.)

Let me just put it out there: Some people are just idiots. 

If I'm tired and I encounter an idiot, I become very cranky very quickly. Travel days, especially international travel days, are the worst. My crankiness by the end of a travel day will be in direct proportion to the number of idiots with whom I come in contact.  Tuesday, on the cranky scale of 1-to-10, I hit about 9.7.  A certain airport that we flew Tuesday has more than its fair share of idiots working there. Had one more idiot crossed my path, my head might have exploded.

I'm not going to bore you talking about the almost-eight-hour flight we took from Madrid to Philadelphia the other day.  If you've ever been squished sat in an airplane seat for more than 20 seconds, you already know the hell joy eight hours hurtling through the sky at 38,000 feet would bring.  On the other hand, I'm guessing that most of you have not had the misery pleasure of going through Philadelphia International Airport, so i thought I'd introduce you that abyss pride of the East and the idiots who work there.

Piazza Nettuno
Our flight landed in Philadelphia around 2:30 pm as did another from London, so the herd heading toward Customs was large.  As we hurried along, we saw signs announcing new self-service, automated passport control machines. They were, the signs assured us, easy! Fast! Free!  All US citizens had to use them, so the line snaked around the check-in area.

As we got close to the machines, I noticed that more than half of the machines were empty.

"Oh, good," I whined to Mike, "they have 24 machines, and they're not using more than half of them."  We were, by that time, about 30 people back.  (Explanation note: If you consider that line at this point to be a "U" with the head of the line to be on the right at the top, we were on the left at the top of the "U.") Two women were talking to the customs agent who was directing people to the machines...or not directing them, as it were.

"If we put too many people on the machines, they'll all go down," the agent said.  The two women nodded and said something back to her.

"Why do you have so many machines if you can't use them?" Mike asked.  One of the two women repeated what the agent had said.  "I heard her," he continued, "but that doesn't answer my question."

"Don't start this again," I hissed.  "I don't want to be arrested."  (If you haven't ever heard the story about our coming through customs at JFK, remind me to tell you sometime about the incident then. Mike disappeared for some time, and I thought TSA arrested him.)

"I'm not starting anything. This is ridiculous."

"You don't have to tell everyone that," I pleaded. "Let it go."  Telling  him that was like urging him to continue because he kept making comments.  Loud comments.

"These aren't the people you want to antagonize," an old dude behind us said. "They'll haul you off somewhere."

"I don't know," Mike laughed, "it could be fun."

"Stop," I said.  At this point, we were about five people from the front.

I need this Vespa
 As we got to the head of the line, Mike asked the agent why they had so many machines if they weren't going to let everyone use them. She gave a BS answer about overloading the system.

"Then why do you have so many machines?" he asked her.  Luckily, before she could snap cuffs on him or answer, a machine opened up, and we yanked our luggage over to it.

The machines are straight-forward. You answer a few questions, scan your passport, have your photo taken, assure the machine that you are telling the truth, and press "Submit" to get your little slip so you can take it to a human Customs agent. If you get a giant "X" through your little slip, you have to go to a separate line where a different human Customs agent will look at your "X'd" slip, your passport, and your face, type something into the computer, and stamp your passport before sending you on your way.

Mike answered the questions, scanned his passport, didn't smile for the camera, and checked "Yes" that there was another family member with him. I got to do the same, and we hit, "Submit."  Round and round the little dots went, but no permission slips came out.  "TECHNICAL ERROR" flashed on the screen.


"We've received a "technical error," Mike informed an agent standing near us. "What do we do now?"

"Try again," the guy snapped.  Two men at machines across from us got the same message.

"I'm on my third try," one guy said, "and he's already tried four times." He pointed to the other guy.  We repeated the procedure and got the same result as did the couple at the machine next to us.  Suddenly, everyone was getting the same "TECHNICAL ERROR" message.

"What do we do now?" Mike asked again.

"Try again," the guy said.  Mike started the process again, and I saw an older woman approach a group of agents huddled in a corner.  She whispered something to them about the system being down and hurried away. That irritated me.

"We have a connecting flight," I said to an agent near me.

"Everyone has a connecting flight," she snapped and walked away.

Via Farini
 By this time, the two guys across from us were one their 8th or 9th tries, and Mike and I were on our 4th or 5th.  Nine agents huddled in that corner, and one guy was walking around. In addition to the five officers working the non-US citizens, there were three Customs officers sitting in their little cubicles doing absolutely nothing because the machines were down. That made me furious.

"What is the back-up plan?" Mike asked him. I didn't even try to keep him quiet at this point.

"Keep trying," the guy said.

"The machines are not working. What is your back-up plan?" Mike was hot, and I was trying to keep both him and me from exploding.  People‚—and there were more than 200—who were still waiting in line to get to a machine started to complain.

"We have flights."

"Do something.  This is ridiculous." 

The agent just shrugged.  "Keep trying."

"You said that," Mike said, "but the machines are down.  What is the back-up plan?"

"We're trying to figure that out now, sir," the guy said.

"Who's trying?" MIke asked.  I pointed to the people standing around. "Who's trying?" The agent walked away without answering.

"Ten of them are just standing there," I exclaimed. "This is ridiculous."

One of the guys behind us finally got his golden ticket, and he ran to one of the idle Customs officer's lines.  "How many tries was it?" I yelled after him.

Portico in Bologna

"I lost count around 12," he told me and waved.  "Good luck."  We switched to that guy's machine since he had gotten through.  The other guy's machine finally spit out his ticket.  Our new machine screamed, "TECHNICAL ERROR" on our first and second tries with it.  Every few minutes, one of the machines would actually work, but people were getting really angry and yelling.  The huddled mass of agents stayed away from us all.

Finally, on our 8th or 9th try, we got our magic tickets and headed to the cubicles.

"Are you together?" one of agents asked us.  We nodded. "Then you have to go to that line." She pointed to a line of about 50 people.

"Now what?" MIke asked.

"We have a connection," I snapped.

"You have an "X," Ma'am," she snapped back at me.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"That means you go in that line," she replied and walked away from me.  Another flyer who, after trying numerous times to get his ticket, started to complain to that agent.  "Write an op-ed about it," she said and walked away from him, too.

Crowd in Madrid's Plaza del Sol

"Why was I flagged?" I asked the Customs officer when we finally got to his cubicle.  Stout with close-cropped hair, he chomped his gum in much the same way Riley chews on rawhide.

"No idea."  He held my passport up to the light and then examined the stamps I had in it. He typed my name into his computer, studied the screen, and looked at the "X'd" slip.  He held up my passport again,  looked at the photo on it, compared it to me, and continued to clack his gum.  He lowered the passport, stamped it, and waved us on.

"I bet his mother would be proud to see him chewing gum like that," Mike said loudly as we walked away.

"Can you wait until we get to where he can't hear you?" I still had visions of missing our flight because Customs wasn't happy with someone's remarks.

"I want him to hear me," Mike replied.  I rolled my eyes and hurried on.

A regional train

We finally got to our connecting gate about two hours after we landed.

"This is great," Mike said as he stared at the filthy seats in front of us.  A few of them were torn, and most of them were repositories for food particles and  trash.  "You would think that an airport of this size would have the decency to clean the gate areas."

Rather than get into a discussion about the filth, I went to get us dinner at Wendy's in the food court.  I ordered two singles because, "Them is the smallest burgers we got," the gal at the counter told me.

"I also want two small drinks," I added.  "One Coke, and one Coke Light."  (In Europe, they refer to Diet Coke as Coke Light, and I wasn't thinking American soda yet.)  The kid stared at me.


"Diet Coke...Diet Coke"

"You want two mediums?" she asked me.

"I want the smallest you have," I repeated.

"That's a medium," she said.

"Then that's what I want."

"You want mediums, right?"  I looked to my left and right to make sure she was speaking to me and not someone else.  I was sure I had spoken English. Had I not been holding money in my hand, I might have yanked my hair out.

"Sí.  Yes.  Whatever."  I was getting really cranky.

She poured the two drinks and brought them over to me. "You want a carrier?"  No,  I thought, I want to balance one of the two cups on my head while carrying the other and the bag of sandwiches in my hands. 

Berliners from Chök

I hauled dinner all the way back to the gate, and as soon as we started to eat, we noticed that they were changing our gate to another that was half-way back to the food court.

"We have time," Mike said.  "We'll eat this while it's hot and then go."  I just nodded since my mouth was full.  I was already through half of my burger.  As crappy as airport food can be, it was an American hamburger.

When it came time to board, we pre-boarded because of the problems I've been having with my foot.  In front of us, there was a gentleman who had just had a knee replacement.  "Let him and his party board first since he's in a wheelchair," the gate agent requested.  Fine by me.

When they brought the guy to the ramp, a group of 20 people got up and started to follow him to the plane.  Only one of them, and that was the one in the wheelchair, needed help.

"Wait," the gate agent said. "Are you all with him? Do you all need to board?"  They all answered by filing on behind the guy.

When we other pre-boards got on the plane, most of the group had put their luggage in the overhead bins. They stood in the aisle talking to the knee-replacement guy who was sitting.  No one could get past them.

"Ah, maybe you can hurry so we can all get on" Mike said.

The lady in front of me dropped her suitcase to make a little noise.  I sighed loudly.  They didn't notice and kept joking around.

"For crying out loud," I almost yelled.  "Get out of the way."  No one moved.  At this point, they had started general boarding, so a line formed behind the pre-boards.  "COME ON." I did yell that.

The flight attendant who was standing in the seat next to where I was finally got a clue.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "can you please move out of the aisle as we have a long line forming here."   Finally.  Finally. Finally, they moved.

Mailboxes in Bologna

 The flight was full, and we were late pushing back from the gate.  Slowly, slowly the plane went from one place to another.  Almost an hour after we were supposed to take off, the pilot made an announcement.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he started. "Now that we've completed our tour of Philadelphia International Airport, we're in line for take-off.  Apparently there is only one working runway, and there are nine planes in front of us.  It will be another five-to-ten aviation minutes before we're in the sky.  After that, we'll have a smooth five hours to Las Vegas."

Mike promptly fell asleep.  I don't sleep well on planes, even when I'm exhausted. I spent most of the time reading or watching people cruise the aisle. I have never seen so many people walking barefoot in a plane in my life.

And I hope I never do again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Adios, España

The old Hispanic-Olivetti in our flat in Madrid
It is always sad to leave a place to 
which one knows one will never return.
 Such are the melancolies du voyage
perhaps they are one of the most 
rewarding things about traveling.” 
~ Gustave Flaubert,

(Note: Since I couldn't take photos related to today's post, I'm including others.)

Mike and I had a very long day yesterday (30 September).  We had not slept well the entire time we were in Barcelona and Madrid, and Monday night was no different. I woke up almost every hour from 3:15 am on, and Mike was usually awake, too. We finally got up around 6:30 and got ready to leave.

The antique elevator shaft in Hotel Continental (Genova)

At 8:30, we walked to the Atocha Train Station to catch the AeroBus to the airport.  Easy (especially since the walk was downhill).  The bus was there on time. Double easy.  The fare was €5/each, a lot less than what a taxi would have charged for the 35-minute drive to the airport. Good deal.

Once we were under way, I noticed that the bus had stops at Terminals 1, 2, and 4.

"Oh, crap," I said to Mike. "I don't know which terminal is the right one."

"Do you want to ask the lady behind us?" he wanted to know.  No, I didn't want to ask the lady behind us. I really wanted to figure it out myself. Given that the bus noted only the terminal numbers and not the airlines each housed, I knew I was going to have to ask the lady behind me.

Mike in front of the elevator...I have no idea what I was doing.
 "Excuse me," I said to her, "but are you flying internationally?"

"Yes," she told me. "I'm going to New York. Where are you going?"

"Filadelfia. Which terminal will you go to?"

"What country is Filadelfia in?" she asked me. If I had not been looking at her, I would have rolled my eyes. She's never heard of Philadelphia?  At any rate, I told her it was in the United States. She perked up.  "I'm going to the United States, too! New York is in the United States!"  No lie. I had no idea.

"Which terminal?" I asked her again.

"One," she said.  "I'm flying Delta, are you?"  I told her we were flying US Airways. "I just don't know then."

"We'll just get off at Terminal 1, and if it's the wrong terminal, we can take the shuttle to the next terminal," Mike decided. He had gone up to the bus driver and asked him if he knew which terminal we should go to, and the guy knew nothing.

We got off at Terminal 1 and stepped right into a sea of chaos. We flew US Airways out of Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, and airport that is as honking big as its name is. We found the arrival/departure screen several doors (and 4 million people) down from where the bus dropped us off.

"There is no US Airways flight on this screen." I checked my email to make sure I hadn't screwed up the airport somehow.

"Maybe we need to go to Terminal 2," Mike thought. "Maybe this just lists the departures for this terminal."

"It lists departures for Terminals 1 and 2," I told him.  "We need information."  Information, it turns out, was back near where we entered the building. We fought our way back through the 4 million people between us and it.

Mike's real eggs in Barcelona
 There were two agents at the information desk, and the one who was not talking to another customer was staring into space while picking at his teeth with the little finger on his right hand.

"Excuse me," I apologized.  I didn't want to interrupt his very important business, and he apparently wasn't too happy that I had, either. He glared at me. "We have a US AIrways flight, and I don't . . . "

"Terminal 4," he snapped and turned his head back in the direction he had been staring.

"Ok. Thank you, but how do I get to Terminal 4?" He turned toward me again.

"Bus. Five minutes. Outside." He pointed in one direction and turned his head back to the other and started picking at his teeth again.

We found the bus, and after it dropped off people at Terminal 2, it seemed to head away from the airport grounds. After six or seven minutes, we pulled into the middle of nowhere where Terminal 4 stood in all its humongous glory.

"Holy crap. This one's bigger than the first terminal," I exclaimed.

"This is what Las Vegas should do," Mike said. Since that statement had nothing to do with what I said, I just looked at him.  "They should put the airport 30 miles outside of town. There's plenty of land out there."  While I agreed, I was more interested in getting to the gate.

Gelato with fudge and raspberries

We walked into the terminal and into the middle of even more chaos than we found in Terminal 1.  Iberia, the national airline of Spain, had dozens of ticket counters and backage drops.  US Airways was, of course, at the far end of the terminal past Iberia and the 6 million people flying on it and other airlines.  We got in the relatively short US Airways line to get our boarding passes.  The first person to approach us was a security/customs person.

I'm not going to go through the entire process of getting out of Spain, but let me tell you that security procedures in the United States pale in comparison to those in other countries. When I left the States two months ago, I went through the regular TSA bit, and the gate agent checked my passport as I boarded the flight to London.  To get out of Spain, we went through four separate security checks, with the first and fourth being pretty minor questions: "Who packed your bag?" "Who has handled your bags?" "Are you carrying a weapon?"

When you put your carry-ons through the scanner, you have to take out *every* electronic device—laptop, tablet, iPod, phone, and camera. You can keep your shoes and belts on, but any bit of metal comes out of your pockets.

"Whose bag this is?" The behemoth behind the scanner pointed at my backpack.

"Mine." I couldn't figure out what I had left in it.

"Take out tablet," she demanded.

"It's already out," I said as I pointed to my iPad in the purple pan.

"You have other," she insisted.

"I don't.  Look."  I opened the backpack, and she stuck her big hands in.  There was nothing electronic in it except the cords for the laptop.

"This.  Out." She yanked out the cords. "These go through."  She put them in a separate pan and sent them and the backpack back through.  I passed.

Honking big espresso machine
 Mike, having seen my problem with the cords, pulled his out before his bag went through the scanner.

"Whose bag this is?" She pointed to Mike's backpack.  "Take out camera."

"My camera is here," he said as he pointed to his camera in the pan.

"You have other," she insisted again. Is this sounding familiar?  She shoved her hands in and pulled out his video camera. Oops.

Once we finished with her, we headed to the terminal's M, R, S, and U gates. Hanging near the tram was a sign  advising how long it would take to get to each group of gates.  M—10 minutes. R—22 minutes. S—10 minutes. U—20 minutes.

When we finally got to the "R" gates, we had to go through passport exit control. Before the agent stamped our passports, we had to tell him how long we had been in Europe, where we'd gone, and why we were there. STAMP!  We were on to yet another security stop and the gate.

Madrid cafe and bookstore
Four hours after we left the apartment, we were rolling down the runway. Two months down. Seven hours and 54 minutes to go.

Tomorrow: Philadelphia International Airport is not your friend.