Monday, August 27, 2012


So I went on a trip to Italy and met with Bianca there. Some missionaries she knew in Rome hosted us. It was a pretty nice trip, and I could write for days on it. Instead I’ll give you a link to a blog on Italy that sums up our trip. I left for the trip on my birthday. So it was a nice present of sorts. I never imagined or thought of going to Italy, honestly. Most of my trips or travels are service-style trips to developing countries. The funny thing about Italy is that it’s considered a developed country but it has a kind of developing country feel or even a very small-country feel.

Traffic lanes are a suggestion and you can drive however you want.
Three cars can meet an cobblestone intersection with no lights or stop signs and the people will stick their heads out of the window and argue about who show move or back down. The entire walking population in the area stops and watches. This actually happened while I was in Rome.
People in Italy will yell, scream, argue, beg, and plead with customer service representatives when the service is poor or when they have been wronged in someway (complete opposite of the UK). People speak with their hands a lot. A lot. It’s interesting.
There graffiti everywhere. Everywhere. It was hard to find a subway car or an aboveground train car that did not have graffiti on it.
There are lots of people hustling to give you a guided tour or hustling to give you a taxi ride.
And pickpockets are everywhere.

(If you watch Burn Notice, I’m about to do one of those Burn Notice-teaching moments) When you are being trained in certain industries, one thing you learn or know is that pickpockets use the art of distraction. For that reason, whenever I am bumped or there is pressure against me, I know I should be checking my pockets. The other technique I use a lot is to consciously “listen” for the feeling of my wallet against my leg. The brain receives millions of stimuli every second. The brain also uses a certain filtering mechanism, so you aren’t overwhelmed by an overload of information.

Even in the area of memory, sensory memory is the first level of memory, and nothing will be encoded into short-term memory unless something or someone calls your attention to something that you are sensing. If you stop and concentrate right now, you probably realise you can hear tons of things you didn’t realise you were hearing—the hum of the air conditioning unit, the rustle of leaves, the chirping of bids, the typing of the keyboard, some weird knocking sound in your pipes. So one technique I use is to tell my brain that the feeling of the wallet against my leg is important and I want to keep feeling it, focusing on it. This allows me to notice more quickly when it is gone or being moved.

Well, I’ve never been pick-pocketed so I’ve never had to worry about it if works, but in Rome, pick-pockets are everywhere, and on this particular day I was wearing cargo-shorts (khaki, short trousers/pants with the extra side pockets).a guy with a tight-fitting t-shirt, almost-bald head, large sunglasses, and dark blue new looking-jeans above white sneakers/trainers/tennis shoes was staring at me intently as I stood near the exit door of the bus. I believe this gave him a nice opportunity since he would have a reason to stand near the exit bus. So he came over and stood as if waiting to exit and he pushed against me. Now his push wasn’t unnatural. It felt like it was just a crowded spot; though you could always ask “Why didn’t he stand further away and wait until the bus came to a stop and then go towards the door?” That’s true, too. Anyway, when he was pushing against me, something told me “that’s pressure” so I just lightly put my hands over the opening of the right side pocket with my wallet and passport. I did not turn around and acknowledge anything as I was facing the left side of the bus talking to Bianca who was seated. He did also did not turn around and acknowledge anything as he was facing the right side of the bus with the exit door and carrying a jacket which he was using for covering. As soon as I put my hand to my side pocket, I felt his fingers trying to slowly and smoothly reach into my pocket. I remained calm and closed the pocket saying nothing. The bus stopped and he got off. It shook me, though; it really shook me. I was supposed to move closer to the front to the driver could tell me when my stop was but I missed the opportunity because I was still processing what happened. Bianca thought I was crazy just standing there. Then the next stop came and the driver was calling out and I was still in a daze, and then we realized this was our stop and we got off to go visit one of the ancient Roman catacombs that harboured Christians running from Roman persecution.

Usually, when in another country, the first thing I subconsciously try to do when talking to someone for information is find out which language to use. Which of us speaks the other person’s language better. However this was hard to do in Italy because no one admitted to speaking English well or even a fare amount of English. The answer to “Do you speak English” was always “no” or “a little bit.” So then you speak Italian to the person and she answers back in English. If you speak English, he answers back with better English than you. I’ve realized that they must have a high standard for speaking a language since no one speaks English. And then there were tourist places where people actually didn’t speak any English. So you had to speak Italian. I couldn’t believe it when one day, two women asked me to be an interpreter or intermediary between them and the bus driver because he didn’t speak English. It’s funny because I don’t really speak Italian but I know more Italian than the driver who didn’t speak any English. And it actually worked, I could get the point across. At one point the woman wanted me to ask what time we would arrive at her stop. I asked him but his answer didn’t make sense to me. The only thing I could think was to tell my brain to think. So that’s what I did. Slowly but surely, my brain began to register that he said something like 10:30 PM in a long drawn-out way. Thank goodness for similarities between Latin-based languages. The sad part about that day was that we were trying to catch a train into Tuscany to a town called Sienna (where the colour Burnt Sienna comes from). The train station announced that the train was canceled (all in Italian). Later we found out that a bus would come and take us to our stops. Then it turns out that a train did come, but because we were outside waiting for the bus, we had to run back in and try to catch it, but it left before we got to it in time. No apology from the train staff. We wait longer for the bus, and two of our group (two Italian women) get a ride from someone driving to Florence (Sienna is on the way to Florence). So the rest of the group is left. The train station staff do not seem to know when a bus is coming, or at times, if a bus is coming. We’re all a bit distressed because there are no more trains to our destination. Finally a bus arrives, and it takes probably 45 minutes to an hour to leave because the bus driver refuses to take 3 women and one child to Florence where the train was ultimately going. Whoever had called the bus didn’t give the bus orders to take all the people who were waiting for the train to all the stops the train was going to go. So the women were visibly and aurally upset, crying, yelling, screaming. The train station staff had all left by this time and there was no service even though there were still trains coming in and out of the station. Finally the bus driver called a bus company colleague to come down and explain to the women that the bus would not go to Florence; this was completely unfair. They finally got off the bus (they had refused before) crying and standing at the station as we left. I don’t know what happened to them, but I should have done something better to explain we would have paid for the bus to go to Florence if that was the issue especially since the train station promised we would all be taken to our destinations by bus.

My favourite part of the trip was spent in a group of five towns in the northwest Mediterranean coast of Italy. The towns are called Cinque Terre and each of the towns sits on a cliff overlooking the water. The towns range in size from 200 like the town we stayed in and 500 residents for the bigger more touristy towns and they are located in the Italian Riviera area, not as glitzy as the French Riviera but still quite beautiful. I loved these towns. It felt good to feel like a local and see the people and greet them each morning and night. The hiking was brilliant in these parts and the swimming, though quite cold, was a good way to cool down. Instead of sand beaches, though, they are mostly rock beaches. But I still enjoyed myself as I had not yet experienced summer in London. So this was a welcome vacation and warm respite from the cool, cool London. The weather made me wonder how the art would compare between the UK and Italy.
Locks hung by lovers, an Italian tradition

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