Tuscany 2017: For the “I don’t speak Italian” Traveler

I am in the bad habit of saying “merci!”, “gracias”, “gracias muchas”, when I want to be flippantly thankful. And si signor/signorita when I am feeling playful.

I learnt Swedish as an young adult. A process that stretched my patience, my self esteem & my intelligence to their thinnest. In my learning exhaustion, I have been very resistant to learn any new language in adulthood.

San Mignano wineryImagine my pleasure then, when I decided during this Tuscany trip that I will learn Italian! Even if I just manage to learn the basics, I will learn Italian.

It is not that Italians don’t speak English. Most Italians speak lots of good English. But; every day, we found someone who spoke very little English; like the little restaurant where we had the most wonderful quiet breakfast on our last day in Florence. The husband was totally dependent on his wife to listen to us & translate for him. It was a young-ish couple too!

Computer says No - Old Man
Foooor F#¤k’s sake!

We had booked a retreat to Diecimo Pescaglia in the Borgo a Mozano province. It is a nice hidden oasis hidden in the hills just 20-30minutes from Lucca. We arrived at the Diecimo-Pescaglia train station to find an abandoned station with an empty office. An old man was was approaching us at snail speed. Slower than snail speed. We were glad to wait because we needed to ask him if we could order a taxi or something to take us to Borgo Giusto Hotel. He eventually arrived. We said a jolly gracious Buongiorno! Buona sera! He answered back. In Italian.

We were so impressed with ourselves we looked at each other proudly. We then remembered why we had been waiting for him.

“Scusi signor, can we ask you how to get to Borgo Giusto?”

He stopped kindly to look at our printed booking, and read the address.

He said “I don’t know. I don’t recognize that. I cannot help you. Bye bye.” In Italian.

We, in unison asked “taxi?” we got kindly head shakes and finger wiggling.  “oh no. no taxis here. if you walk up the street there, you may find someone who speaks your language & can help you”. In Italian.

We turned in the direction he pointed & saw a man unloading his bags from the trunk of a red car. A Volvo. I am convinced that one of us said “oh! another tourist! we can ask him!” We dragged our 3 bags – we were 2 adults – towards the car. By the time we got to the car, the man had gone into the building. We thought it was a B&B so we were relaxed. There were 2 men standing outside, one quite old, another middle aged.

Scusi, can you help us call a taxi, call the hotel, or something to get here? – we were pointing at the print-out of our booking. Both men of different ages poked their noses into the paper, got into a long dialog with pointing wiggling fingers, head shakes and nods. “We don’t really know, but, it must be behind the hills. Far. And there are no taxis to take.” In Italian.

We: “English?” in english

Middle aged gentle man: “Non. a little French or German.” In Italian

What the holy f£$€!

Me a little edgy: “telefono” pointing at the telephone number to the hotel.

The gentlemen spoke among themselves a little more. heads shaking. laughter.

We were stamped. The oldest gentleman pointed at the younger man and says a lot. “he will drive you. That’s his car.” more pointing. “if anyone can find it, he can. He is great, fantastico, the guy pf the month!” In Italian.

Middle aged gentleman took our 3 bags to the car. We are young, we help out.

snaky circling roadWe had no idea what kind of contract we had signed or how much it would cost us. Trust in the lord. Or not. We needed to go places and someone was willing to take us there in any language. We got into the car.

Middle aged gentleman made a call on his mobile, spoke to a friend. In Italian.

“hola Montalbano! do you know where Borgo Giusto is!? two idiots I have to drive there! they seem nice, but totally lost. Can’t speak Italian either! Who doesn’t speak Italian??! Morons, that’s who. haha! siiiiii, round the bend? turn by the big oak? I know which one! oh ja, the yellow ones? they smell nice!” In Italian

For 15 minutes he spoke on the phone. We drove through a small village or market. I felt relieved. There were people here, behind the big hill. He hang up. And kept driving. Turned right into the bushes, by the big oak tree, on a winding road.

I am brought up in Africa. I am trained to depend on & trust other people’s kindness. Ubuntu. We are one, you live, I live, you die, I die. The wars for crude oil, land & other resources continue to rage in total disregard for ubuntu. My Swedish travel partner is brought up different. I have no idea how. He was fidgety, wondering if we really should trust this which we couldn’t understand. I kept my hand on his hand. To transmit calmness and trust.

Borgo Giusto ViewAfter 25-30 minutes drive, around the bend, after the old fig tree, we saw the hotel parking lot. A wonderful view, worth paying for. We were here. Since we didn’t know how much we agreed to pay, we gave our gentleman a note. It was not too big & not too small.

“no. it was my pleasure. I am glad we found it & that you are safe. Shall I help you with the bags?” In Italian.

We are Swedes, I say, My name is merry-traveler-1 and this is my person, calm-traveler-2, do you want to join us for a drink? In English. All is lost in translation. He drives off with a smile.

Weddings.
A couple taking photos in Florence. After their wedding I suppose. It is a universal language, isn’t it? the language of declaring eternal love to another person in all sorts of ways.

I am amazed at how much we can communicate with others without words. I am so happy to find that my childhood trust in basic kindness is intact. We are so humbled & thankful that with all the changes and online-lives, someone in Italy is still concerned about the safety of young people traveling in the unknown.

This happened to us so many times, I could write a story for every day. Not always someone driving us somewhere, but someone helping us out in Italian. Gladly, kindly & memorable.

Byron Lord.
I wonder if Lord Byron learnt Italian? […] But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:   My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,   And my frame perish even in conquering pain;   But there is that within me which shall tire   Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire;   Something unearthly, which they deem not of,   Like the remember’d tone of a mute lyre,   Shall on their soften’d spirits sink, and move In hearts all rocky now the late remorse of love.
Tips:

  1. Dont need help
    Ask for help! you will need it. We all need help sometimes.
  2. Relax! I believe if you only ever speak with people who understand you on the first try, you never really learn patience or appreciation of the simple truths.
  3. Plan some margins in travel. That way, even if you are a little delayed by language hitches, you still have time to listen in another language. It is part of the experience.
  4. If you are even a dot of the control freak that I am, you need to relinquish control & trust in basic human kindness. All is well if you find one person who is willing to listen & reply; even in Italian.

Safe travels!

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Tuscany 2017: Street Art, real Art & Train Travel

I am back to the daily life, work and 460 mails to trudge through after 2 weeks away. Business as usual. It takes longer to get down to writing but I plan to be done with the Tuscany series before end of June.

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Preparations

Know yourself & what kind of traveler you are! It will help you pack & prepare to reduce stress.

For me, a neurotic home leaver, the best & worst part of traveling is packing before the trip. I love having all of my crap & shit around me. In case I need it. Mostly though, it is the shoes packing that gets me going off the hook. I want to pack, among other nice useless things; two pairs of pumps – red & black. In case I have to attend that very nice dinner that always happens when I am away and I always end up feeling under-dressed. Because of the shoes.

I also want to pack: all my other nice shoes except the training shoes. Nail polish. 3 colors of lipstick including a nude. All my jeans. All my nice tops. All my pretty dresses. All my nice pretty shorts. 3 kinds of sunscreen – 15 for cooler days, 30 for sunny nice days and 50 for hot scorching days. Just in case. All my hair brushes & combs; plus, my partner in travel laughs that I always want to pack my 2 hair dryers & 4 different sizes of flat irons. Who knows what to expect when away from home? right?

This time, I got away with loafers. I think I will keep to the loafers from now on. Easier to pack and easy to wear even on light walk days.

The thing with touring for us is we walk a lot. A lot! You know; because, & don’t go judging now, we can’t always find the places we are looking for at first try, OR, we can’t be bothered to have a plan so we just kinda:

 

Roam without roaming services.

Rest.

Eat.

Rest.

Take a cold bear or something in the middle of the day.

That kinda gets you tired so we:

Rest.

Roam a bit more and oh! hallelujah!

we always, many times, find something we always wanted to see.

Just like that.

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Art, Architecture & Obsessions

We are both street art interested. Graffiti.

We are always photographing that shit and cooing over how talented graffiti artists are. Even when traveling, we still can miss the Dome and see all this street art everywhere we walk & we walk A. LOT.

The featured image is a painting by Barbara Marchiori that we found in a gallery in Pistoia. That was a perfect, easy day trip while we were in Florence. 30 minutes on the train on a hot day, to the most wonderful lunch we had in Tuscany.

We wanted very much to see the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral & the  Il Duomo built by a “a buffoon and a babbler” as described by the guys who later hired him, Filippo Brunelleschi. We had watched a documentary about Brunelleschi before we left Stockholm and were looking forward to the Dome. We did not see it from the inside. At all. We saw it several times, from all angles, from the outside. And then we saw the drawings & designs of the dome at the Il Duomo Museum.

Brunelleschis Il DuomoBefore the trip, we were just interested, like “oh, how interesting is that!?”

Now, we are freaking enthusiasts. Dome lovers. We must go back to Florence to see this F#¤%&¤#G dome. It is beautiful & fascinating.

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Traveling in History to History

I think my grandfather’s stories have influenced my brain during travel. “Where you find water, you find people with plenty” he said. “Where there is water, there is enough for all so there is less animosity from the locals. And, they are used to travelers just ricketing in on rickety boats”. He reasoned. All ancient settlements that have formed our present lives were built near water. Wars fought, empires built, love found & made. The beginnings & ends of fantastic adventures on rickety boats.

My grandfather was an epic wanderer. Disappearing for months on end in a time without mobile phones and Facebook. Wandering through Africa. Taking the rickety boats to India or whatever place the boat would ricket to. Some times, we thought he could have died on one of his adventures. But then, he would wander right back to our home with all sorts of friends and stories.

Boy, did he tell stories about these escapades?!

So the first walk for me always is “let’s find the river/lake/sea!”

In Rome, we stayed to the east of the Tiber. To the west of the river, you find the Vatican. Just a walk by the Fiume Tevere is a walk very close to most of the places you want to see first. Looking at the Tiber is looking at the history of Rome.

We arrived to Florence on a hot afternoon,  so we found the Arno and walked by it in search of a good gelato. Plus, we really wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio where trade, all sorts of trade, has been ongoing since the middle ages. Some things should never change.

Find the bridges on the  map is my tip. Fiume=River. Ponte=Bridge.

Then you know when to cross & re-cross to wherever. If you have goals. If not, think a zigzag movement with the river as the middle point. Otherwise just go with the flow.

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Tips & Survival Tactics

We took the train to Firenze SMN Stazione (Santa Maria Novella) from ROMA Termini. That is so easy, you need no tips or heads up. Just go to the train stations with your credit card or some Euros and buy the ticket. Trains left on time & the trips were easy & pleasant with beautiful views of the Tuscany country side.

Tip: It is hard to see a country if you fly everywhere. Driving takes your focus from the fun outside. Take the train or the bus. Sit back & enjoy that someone else is taking you there. Close your book & look out the window.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness.

Unlike Rome where we stayed at the Massimo D’Azeglio hotel, in Firenze we stayed at the Le Stanze del Duomo B&B. Both highly recommended. Since both are quite central, we could walk all day and come home in the evening exhausted, fed, fed up, drunk, happy, pissy; basically anything without any problems. Both are also very close to regular supermarkets with late closing hrs (22:00) so we could buy bites, water, wine etc to take away to the room when we couldn’t be bothered with the “Go out & eat” farce.

Tip: Find your go to places for essentials such as water, aspirin, sun screen, wine, beer or whatever rocks your rickety boat.

We had a map with us, which I can read to 70% proximity, and a red pen to mark places, of course. My partner’s eye rolled almost every time I said “we turn right!” My map reading can spice the walking a great deal. He is good with the “well done! you are a life saver! what would I do without you?!” part when I get it right though.

Tip: A supportive travel partner is essential; otherwise, go it alone if you want to enjoy the trip.

I lied, I had my training shoes with me. For all the walking. Asics in black, red & white bought in 2015.

Tip: Take your trainers or comfort shoes with you! They will save your life.

Next entry: Tuscany 2017:  For the “I don’t speak Italian smile smile” Traveler

Tuscany 2017: The Pain of Finding The Beautiful Pincio Gardens

While in Rome, The city view from the Pincio gardens is worth lots of pain. Bear with me.

It is interesting how instinct works. Like love. Or hate. Or fear. You get these feels that you really don’t know where they are coming from and can absolutely not control. You consider ignoring the feels but the “inner compass” just won’t let you. If you try to ignore the feels, you start to get nervous, anxious, fidgety, itchy, neurotic, edgy and irritable. Best way to deal with this is to act on the feels and move on with it.

So, on the day we are to find the Pincio gardens, I wake up with lots of feels. Instinct tells me that a pimple is coming on. So I start the morning with touching my face. I touch the exact place where a huge zit is going to show up because instinct tells me there will be a zit on precisely this spot.

My partner in zit & acne control says that I get all these zits because I touch & scratch my face. It is a chicken-egg situation. I feel the zit coming, instinctively, I touch scratch, squeeze, peel violently, point my nail directly at it & push, use the pincette, apply aloe vera, apply sun cream, ooh too much sun screen, wipe with toner, apply more sun cream, the zit, it comes.

It can’t be any other way.

Does my touching my face cause the zit, or, does the zit cause an itch that I have to deal with before the zit pops up?

Anyways, whatever I do, by breakfast (09:00 am), a spot on my face hurts.

Life goes on!

The hatI place my wonderful hat on my head and it lies right on the zit. It, the pimple itches and hurts all at once.

La vita va avanti!

I have to walk through Rome because my find the best city views partner has a garden he wants to show me. Pincio. We have with us the book Top 10 Rome, & in it is a map. I turn the map upside down, decide which way we have to go and start walking.

If you look at the Google maps navigator below, it should take 40 minutes, tops.

Walk to Pincio!We walked the whole afternoon. From 12:15 to 16:30.

The whole freaking hot afternoon (28 Celsius).

To be on the fair side, it is a wonderful walk in the sun through the best parts of the city. Brushing by the Colosseum, St. Peters Cathedral, Spanish Steps, the shopping district etc. When we find ourselves near the Trevi Fountain, we decide to come back to the Fountain later. I have been saving my 3 cents all week for the Trevi visit.

Because we will always be back to Rome.

We took a break on the way, took a coffee at a small café near the Flaminio tram stop. Just one stop from Flaminio Tram stop. After the coffee, my legs, feet, back & pimple hurt so bad I wanted to take the tram back.

My we are better than that partner said it couldn’t be that far to walk. I did not believe him so we had a short irritated conversation while we walked.

Me “I want to take the tram!

Him “No”

Me “I am tired”

Him “.”

Me: “You don’t hear me!?”

Him “. a look.”

Me “Are you listening???!”

Him “.”

Me: “Oh, there is the Flaminio stop.”  Just look at the map, a little north west of the destination.”

Him “. Smiles at me. touches my hand.

Embarrassed silence. We turn left or is it right?. Up the stairs, definitely up the stairs,  and there lies the famous garden in all its glory. A wonderful view of the city and statues of the historic famous in one place.

Flaminio to Pincio

 

 

Constipation Blues and it is icky

You walk into the little room feeling like a slave to your own body, you walk out from the little room feeling like the Queen of every freaking thing including your body.

The monthlies, as you all know come every single month. For those of us who are (1) females (2) not yet menopause:d and (3) for those of us who are regular.

Last month, I wrote about the hurting boobs. This month, I will do constipation.

A different freaking “PMS symptom” everything single month.

The whole week before the menses, you pee, like a zillion times every day, and in the middle of the night too. Nothing else happens in that little room. Well, sometimes, a bean drops with a splash, small like goat droppings, the happiness is overwhelming when that splash catches your ear.

You eat beans, no, not the splashing beans above, Heinz Chili for example, plums, greens in all shapes and forms, yogurt, berries. Everything that the “doctors” created by experience recommend. Nothing. Exactly nothing.

You sleep badly. You have a headache. You are close to annoyance all the time and it has nothing to do with too little sex.

You know the bloody-week is coming so you are not too worried about the causes & consequences of constipation, but you still wonder “why the hell does nothing come?”

You are eating like a pregnant elephant horse during this week. “where is all the food going?!” you ponder

And on D-day, you wake up pressed, and there is a little pain in the underbelly, some bloody goings on and you really have to go! You take People magazine, Time, The weekend edition, Popeye, that book your boyfriend bought you for your birthday, your phone to check Instagram jaa, I am projecting again etc.

This may take a while. You have been here before.

You walk in there in a hurry.

You lock the door so no-one can open that door by mistake. Not on this day. This hallelujah day. This glorious blessed day.

You set yourself up properly and begin the ritual you know so well. The screams and moans can be heard by neighbors & passersby.

Who cares though?!

“ooohhhhh crap!” you shout. “My lawd!”, “Yeeees”, “come on then!”

It is like watching a match that is both going as you want and yet not. It hurts a little bit but it is better than the opposite.

And there is a song about this crapping experience pun intended. Who Knew?! I should have that blasting in the little room next time this is the “symptom”.

Let it go! Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!
I don’t believe I can take much more
Let it go

Got a pain down inside
Won’t be denied
Yeah, every time I try
I can’t be satisfied
Let it go!
Let it, let it go!

This pain down inside
Just won’t let me be satisfied
Let it go!

Splash!
Feel, ah, I-I feel alright
Yes-ah, I’m beginning to feel alright now
Splash!
Yeah, yeah, I tell ya, everything’s gonna be alright
Splash!
Flush

Phew
Phew
Phew…
Feel alright

Transforming the world of Information with Information

I work with data. A table, a column, an attribute, metadata. How everything is connected to each other. Objects. Classes. Attributes. Primary Keys. Foreign Keys. Surrogate Keys. Dependencies.

One of my ultimate favorite people is Hans Rosling. Hans’ talk about The World’s population growth totally changed how I think about and look at the future. I now know to be hopeful and to look a little deeper before I go bonkers bananas in fear.

If a customer buys this product, would they really buy this other product? Quite similar but different?

I work with transforming one piece of data into information, combining pieces of information to create intelligence that becomes a basis for a decision. An action. This customer number, does it belong to a real person? Does this real person shop in the mornings or in the mornings? Do they like red or blue?

My mind runs wild with it sometimes. That old lady, customer number xxxxx, and the address yyyy, that calls Customer Service every Wednesday afternoon, does she live alone? Is she OK?

I would like to move on to combining and utilizing more data to solve more of the world’s challenges. To help. To solve. To open doors. To close doors. To reach out.

I believe that intelligence based on information, unaltered, non-manipulated, non-populist information is almost always the only way to understand the world. The only way to judge the world. The only way to be fair and demand fairness for others that otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.

When you meet that old woman in Libya many years after the war, ask her about her life before you write it for her. Let her tell it several times. Over time. Let her grandchildren tell about her. Several grandchildren. Several times. Several angles of the same event.

Go read about it. Newspaper clips. Books written by survivors. Photographs taken by daring Libyan journalist who dare.

Create a database. An excel sheet. A note book. Research. Compare the answers from each person you have spoken to. All that is said in the newspapers. What the photographs show and represent.

Then, only then can we tell other people’s stories honestly, respectfully & graciously. In a way that may alter the future.

 

Do Feminists Need LOVE from Men?

I had been thinking.

Pulling my hair.

Gnashing my teeth.

Scratching my back.

Picking at the pimples on my face.

Scratching my scalp bloody.

Biting my nails.

Re-counting my years.

Checking the wrinkles that may or may not be showing up.

Checking my awaited grey hairs.

Learning new things.

Getting promoted.

Investing the savings.

Thinking. Choosing. Re-choosing.

What a luxury! To have choice. All these wonderful choices.

Some mornings, I woke up sad. Some nights, I slept close to tears.

 

I can afford the rent.

I can feed myself.

I can pay my ticket and hotel room in Paris.

I can buy my own shoes.

The thought hit me.

To choose; when you have everything else and the only thing left to choose is love; you have to choose the love you cannot live without.

The silent question: “how to choose?”

Pooh answered: “You cannot go through your feminist life looking back at the things you rejected and miss & regret when you are 50, 60, 70 years old.

If you cannot say the below to the rejected, the left behind, the discarded, the not-chosen, or to yourself, and really mean it; then you cannot reject. Anything. Anyone. Ever.

  1. I do not love you. I wish you well.
  2. I love someone else. I hope someone else will love you.
  3. I am not available for you. I am prioritizing someone else.
  4. You have to celebrate one more birthday without me. And many more in the future.
  5. Someone else’s feelings and happiness mean more to me than your feelings and happiness. I hope you will be happy anyway.
  6. I will not miss you.
  7. I will not miss your voice.
  8. I will not miss your wonderful face.
  9. I will not miss your smile.
  10. I will not miss your jokes.
  11. I will not miss your body.
  12. I will not miss your body odor. In fact, I will forget it.
  13. I will not your input when I need input.
  14. I will not miss your feedback when I need feedback.
  15. I will not miss taking a walk with you in the city.
  16. I will not miss your/our friends.
  17. I will not miss your family.
  18. I will not miss watching TV with you.
  19. I will not miss spooning with you in the mornings.
  20. When I think of love, when I dream of love, when I speak of love; I will not think of you.”