Sunday, June 15, 2008

Travel Stereotypes...

...sometimes just happen to be true.
Greetings from Cannes, mon cheres, where yours truly is attending the 2008 Cannes Lions and basking in the Mediterranean retirement community charms (lots of overly tanned old people) of this intermittently quaint little town in the Cote d' Azur.
In any case, getting here was a slightly drawn out affair, as we traveled with frequent flyer miles through Milan and then we took a bus to Milano Centrale, a Mussolinian monument to modernity, from there a lovely and rather lengthy train ride to Nice, and another inter-city rail voyage to Cannes and then an interminable wait for le taxi to the hotel. And here we are.
But back to the stereotypes. A first class Italian ticket reminds you of the days of neorealist cinema. Which means this is perhaps the only European country that doesn't give a shit about being au courant with the trains. The first class train was a rickety let down, but as our chatty fellow passenger said: "Prima Classe a L' Italiana". Which is, seats covered in grime, an old, old train, but plenty of diverting company. To wit: La Mamma who is traveling to Ventimiglia (last town on the Italy-France border) and behaves as if she has not ever taken a train ride in her life or she's going to outer Mongolia. She is dead worried about who will help her with her luggage, but more importantly, how will she know where to get off the train. Plenty of assurances from all that the station name is prominently displayed and that one of the conductors will let her know five minutes before, does not cause any less consternation (as the PA system doesn't work or it does but they do not bother announcing the stations or they do so through a random logic that nobody can fathom). She spends the entire 5 hours fretting. Her son, suo carisimo figlio, who looks exactly like that old cartoon of the baby who smokes a cigar, has seen her to the train and she has sweetly needled him for as long as possible as to where to put her tiny but apparently extremely heavy suitcase. She has stood next to the window looking at her son looking at her departing for half an hour. Neither of them thinks to just say goodbye and call it a day.
Later, not to be outdone, our chatty travel companion also proudly announces that his mother (and he is a young sapling of about 30 plus if not more) is coming to pick him up at the station in Ligure. And she does.
So we have seen with our own eyes the Italian mamma-figlio devotion. It's all true.
I fall into a heavy slumber and when I wake up, the three Italian strangers who sit in my compartment, Mamma, Chatty Guy and another Signora, are having the most amazing conversation. Through my faulty knowledge of Italian I understand they are talking about Signora's son in law who has changed dramatically since he married her daughter: he now drinks and does drugs and is a major cattivo (bad guy). The daughter has appealed to the judge and they have a 3.5 year old daughter who says things that the chatty fellow passenger thinks are too sophisticated for a bambina her age and I wonder in amazement how come that three people who do not know themselves from Adam end up having a most personal conversation about a most thorny issue. The mamma and the chatty guy wish the woman who has spilled the beans buona fortuna. And then, after talking about mothers, I kid you not, for a little while, they segueway quite abruptly yet effortlessly into the second Italian national obsession: food.
Chatty guy starts explaining (it seems from the blue, but I guess it has a logical followthrough), that he loves seafood, and he makes this fish with delicately minced tomatoes and pepperoncini (gives entire recipe) but he doesn't care much for pizza and doesn't eat pasta because (mimics bloating stomach) and has never been too fond of crustaceans; and la Mamma tells him she makes fresh pasta with pommodori and this is the best thing ever and she makes risotto a la milanese, and they talk about regional delicacies and fresh pork meat and it goes on for hours. They are oblivious to the fact that they are torturing me.
If you saw this in a movie about Italians in Italy, you would think the filmmakers are stereotyping the characters.

Lest I forget: on the flight to Milan, a sweet toddler sings Volare with his mother.
Volare, oo, cantare, oooo, e blu e pinto di blu...

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