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Monday, November 30, 2009

Albania 22: Ode to Italy

[NOTE: This blog/diary of Mykel's Italian-Albanian trip starts several entries before this one. Due to the oddities of Blogging, the entries appear in reverse order. Because much of the reportage is based on the previous days, I recommend reading from the start, at the entry ALBANIA 1. Also, because this computer lacks search capabilities, and my brain needs a RAM boost, I fear I may repeat some tales better told previously... repeat some tales better told previously. Let me know if that happens.]

"We must remember that we are vulnerable to the repetition of our insights so that they tend to come to us not as confirmation of something we already know but as genuine discoveries each and every time.” – E.L. Doctorow

So, I got little sleep in Naples. On the floor in the bedroom of an office with a roommate near death's door with some kind of contagious glandular disease... He sleeps constantly-- when he's not rasping for some drug or other. I can never do anything in that room for fear of disturbing him. I can't even turn on the lights.

I try to stay away all day. Museums, castles, the myriad bookstores and bookstalls of Naples. But I feel like I'm walking in circles. I even call my dentist to schedule an appointment to reattach my gold inlay. Remember? It pulled loose the third night in Albania. I put it in an empty Zyrtec case, and stuffed it between the condoms in my wallet. It sure as hell won't be disturbed there.

I want to go out at night. I've got a couch-surfing host, Fabio, who took me out my first night in town. We went to bars, clubs, met people. Since then, I've hardly seen him. He's not even my official host. He's the friend of my host, Maurizio, who I saw on that first night and haven't seen since. That guy never answers his phone, and when I text him, he calls Fabio instead of me.

Tomorrow I'm going to have to move to a hostel. A girl is coming to stay and she has priority. I wonder if Fabio will put my roommate's moribund body on the street. It's been raining on and off (mostly on) since I got here, fitting weather for my mood in this country.

Is that tingle in my throat psychosomatic or the start of an even more fitting end to fucking Italy?

[NOTE: I do not want to disparage Fabio. He is as good as the circumstances permitted. He tries hard. It's just not in the cards.]

Ah well, I have my backpack protector chain link with cable, so a move to a hostel won't be so bad. As it turns out, (the ONLY (good) luck I have in Italy) the expected girl-guest calls to tell Fabio that she'll be a day late. I can stay another night in the deadly disease ward.

Maybe I can go out with my new friends. Meet that sexy Luxembourg girl again. Go drinking in the bars for my last night in Naples. Yeah right.

Fabio is visiting Mom and I'm on my own. But before I leave, he's gonna call this American girl, Jeanne, who is also traveling to Rome tomorrow. That way, I'll have company.

He gives her a call and turns the phone over to me. I usually keep away from Americans when I travel, but since I've made NO friends here in Italy... even an American is better than nothing. We agree to meet at the train station, in front of the ticket booth, 45 minutes before the train leaves. She tells me she'll be wearing a black leather jacket (always a good sign!). I tell her I look like Dick Tracy.

[NOTE 2: Lately I usually use “Inspector Gadget” rather than Dick Tracy. Seem like more people know who he is these days. But Jeane seems to me like a Dick Tracy kinda girl.]

That night, before I lay down the mattress on the floor of the leper's room, I look one last time at the gold bit of dentistry in my wallet.

It is gone.


That's at least a thousand dollars. Poof.

Impossible. Never touched. Even if it fell out of my wallet, it couldn't be missed. It's just disappeared in the morass that is Italy. I know it's unfair to blame the country for the disappearance, but I do.

The next morning, Fabio comes early to make me coffee and say good-bye. Then I'm off to the subway and the train station. It takes me a full quarter hour to navigate the labyrinthine station asking several times for biglietti, and getting a different answer each time. I reach the ticket window about 10 minutes late. It doesn't matter, because Jeanne is half an hour later.

So we meet, buy tickets, run for the train. We make it. Are we on time? No. But the train is even later than we are.

I chain my bags to the seat and sit opposite Jeanne. There are two seats on each side of the aisle. Jeanne and I face each other with a table in the middle. Next to each of us is an Italian female. Both pretty. One completely is lost in her cellphone texting, the other in her iPod.

Jeanne and I talk. I ask her how she knows Fabio. She tells me she's a couch-surfer who originally stayed there, but left because the man had roaming hands.

“I thought I was beyond that stage,” she says. “I figured men would just see me like a mother. Which I am... did I tell you my daughter lives in New York?... But he was just... Italian. I don't know. But I couldn't stay there.”

I tsk-tsk properly. Then change the subject slightly.

“I don't know where I'll be staying in Rome,” I tell her. “I contacted several couch surfers there, but I got form rejections... or no answers at all.”

[Note 3: Rome is where I first ran into the STROKE ME couch-surfers. This is a group of people who want poor couch-surfing travelers to read through their profiles carefully, and refer to something in it, before sending a request to stay on the couch. They want to be stroked.

Gee, you're a 60 year old punk rocker who's written two books? What a coincidence. So am I!

I can only imagine these egotists have never had to contact dozens of hosts themselves. Sometimes, you have to send out scores of requests for one positive answer. Can you imagine having to read each profile before writing and then being rejected? It could take hours! It's easier to find a hostel!

And in Rome, it seems like all the hosts are males. All the guests leaving RAVE reviews for those hosts, are females.]

“I'm staying at a hostel,” Jeanne tells me. “It's called THE BEEHIVE. It's fifteen euros a night in the dorm room. Maybe they'll have space for you.”

“Sure,” I tell her. “I can stay in a dorm one night. My bag locks with a steel cable.”

She laughs.

When we get out of the train, she follows some computer directions to the dorm. We find it quite easily. They have space for me, they say. But not in a dorm room. I have to take a private room with two beds. I have to pay for both beds. 70€ a night.

That's more than I paid the kidnapper in Albania! And this room doesn't even have a toilet or shower. Just a sink to piss in.

Fuck it! It's one night. My last in this fuckin' country. I'll take it.

I set my phone to wake me up at 6 AM to catch the train to the plane. I go to bed at 9, wake up mysteriously at 12:30, then switch beds to get my money's worth. Then, I get up at 6, piss in the sink, and head for the airport.

Ok, it's time to go through security, my least favorite activity in one of my least favorite locations (an airport) in one of my least favorite countries (except Torino).

I take off my coat, my shoes, empty my pockets, take the computer out of its bag, take off my belt, heft my steel cable-protected bag onto the x-ray conveyor. I walk through the metal detector. It beeps.

“Spread your arms and legs,” says the uniformed man on the other end. He runs the electronic paddle over my body finding the gold inlay in my back pocket. Yeah right.

Actually, it's a one lek coin, left over from the Albanian part of this trip.

From the x-ray machine, I go through immigration. They stamp my passport; then on to a final customs inspection. Uh oh, I get the female.

MYKEL'S TRAVEL LAW NUMBER 431: Female customs officers are always trouble.

She's looking at my bag. She holds the metal that protects it. With obvious pride, she calls over an older male colleague. She points to the cable and then motions to her neck, like she was hanging herself. (I only wish she had.) The man nods and she turns to me

“You cannot take this,” she says. “You have to send this bag.”

Send? I think. How the fuck can I send it? This is just too much. I hate Italy. I hate Italy. I hate Italy.

I find myself saying it out loud. Feeling the rage bubble up inside. I fish for the key. Unlock the cable. Pull it off the protector and its cable.

“Take it!” I say. “I'll leave it here. Just take it! I only want to get out of here.”

I throw it onto her desk. She talks with the inspector and tells him I'm leaving the cable here. He seems surprised. Then the woman gets out her gunpowder testing kit, rubs some on a pad, rubs my bag with the pad, and feeds it to the testing machine. Much to her annoyance, it comes back negative.

I'm at the gate, waiting, an hour early. Every 5 minutes the public address system announces another gate change. It seems as if no planes ever leave from their scheduled locations. Mine is no exception. Before changing gates, I go to the restaurant counter for my last Italian meal. It is one of those pressed sandwiches. This one is slightly warm on the outside. Inside, it's as cold as the refrigerator it was kept in.

It doesn't matter if the plane leaves late. I have a five hour layover in Amsterdam. It does matter that, at the gate, there's another security check. Temper (barely) in check, I go through the gate and board the plane.

  While flying to Holland, I compose bad poetry:

Ah Italy, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

I hate thee for thy

Train waiting room passport checks

Phone calls not returned

Lying ticket agents

Luggage security stolen by airport security

Seventy Euro hostel rooms with no toilets

Cars that don't stop at crosswalks

Drive-by shaving-cream attacks

Penises of Pompeii without signs to them

Grilled cheese and a Fanta for 10 Euros

Being the place I discovered my gold inlay went missing

Rooming with a leper

Having more tourists than natives

Having beggars who, when you give them something, ask for more

Closed ticket windows with use machine  signs, next to machines that give error messages see clerk at ticket window

Roman couch surfers who want to be individually stroked

Male couch-surfing hosts whose guests are only females

Airport change-of-gate announcements every 5 minutes

Airport and plane waiting rooms without electrical sockets

Africans afraid of being photographed

Citizens who ignore calls of Help! Police!

Pressed sandwiches, ice cold on the inside

Promises of nights out on the town, beer and bars... only promises

Vesuvius, what are you waiting for?


NOTES:  Below are some notes from this trip that I forgot to include in the original posts

  -->I'm guessing the cellphone quality is really bad in Albania, though Jim Ballushi does a commercial for, EAGLE, one of their cellphone companies.

People yell into the phones as if their voices have to carry directly to the listener, without the intermediary of microwaves. Or maybe, as if the receiver lived in on the top floor of the building on the other side of the street from the phone, and the caller had to speak directly to him, from the street.

  --> In the bus from Berati to Tirana, my window is fogged... it looks permanent. I can only make out impressionistic views of the countryside. For the passengers in front of me, the glass is perfect. The glass is always cleaner on the other side of the seat.

-->Unused first line for something I haven't written yet: I think the trouble started when Plato refused to have sex with Socrates.

  -->“A computer is not an instrument.” --Andi in Tirana

-> De të të vras o të qifsha nonën! (Albanian for: I want to kill you you mother fucker.)

  -->When you travel, you always see foreign versions of people you know, or famous people. I've already seen the Albanian version of my sister. Today, I saw the Albanian Jack Nicholson. Too bad it's dangerous to just pull out a camera and shoot. I learned that lesson in Italy.

  -->Fancy restaurants in Albania do not have Albanian beer, though they might have Budweiser. The usual choice is Heiniken, Becks, or Stella.

  --> I don't see people pissing in the streets in Albania. Despite all the coffee... despite all the bars... despite the high numbers of … er... older gentlemen...despite the crazies. I haven't seen one street pisser... or even smelled the remains of one (other than me).

  -->I really like the way Albanian adolescent guys show friendship. The casually walk with their arms around each other's shoulders. They'll touch each other in conversation. They'll even walk arm-in-arm. In individuality America, they'd be asking for a homo-baiting. But here, it's as natural as kicking a rock.

--> Tired of the child beggars, in Italy, I finally see an old woman to give change to. I give her 30 cents. That's more than I give the bums in New York. She asks for still more. It triggers THE RAGE.

I want my money back! You ungrateful bitch!

The reason you give money is to feel good. To get thank yous!! Asking for more spoils the whole thing. What's the matter with you!

--> Albanian and Italian souvlakis have french fries and mayonnaise in them. It's part of the dish. The locals expect it. Weird, huh?


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