Saturday, December 31, 2005


What I did in Italy, part 1

If I were to take a random sampling of opinions in my hometown, asking about 20 or so people, “What do you think when you hear the word ‘Italy?’” I suspect I’d get the following results:
“They make tasty food my doctor says I can’t eat no more ‘cause that there oh-bee-city problem in America.”-30 percent
“I ain’t never thought of it. I’ve lived my whole life in the South, where there ain’t none of that gay marriage.”-25 percent
“It’s-a-what?”-15 percent
“Rob, I thought you left. Why are you asking me this?”-How ever many points are left
I must say that my own personal view of Italy was always food-based. In an average trip to an Italian restaurant, I tend to consume a grain-field’s worth of pasta, viewing it as one of nature’s built-in excuses to eat lots and lots of cheese. I like to think that in a single dinner I was able to help the American agriculture system sustain itself for one more day, all the while taunting the rest of the world with my rapid metabolism (by the way, I’m 6’3, weight 180 pounds and have a blood pressure of 110/70, and hope each of you are doing equally well).

But Italy is about so much more than fattening (at least for most people, ha ha ha!) food. There’s a rich history on that peninsula, and an entirely different culture where an American visitor can leave all of crime, jingoism and out-of-control commercialism behind. In Italy, during my Christmas vacation, I went to Italy, where I found that it has its own crime, jingoism and out-of-control commercialism.

Let me tell you about it.

I went with a Korean choir group that my girlfriend Maria began taking part in earlier this fall. They sang at a Seventh-day Adventist church near Venice on our third day in the country, after which we did a lot of sightseeing for several days. Maria is not Korean, and in case you’ve forgotten, neither am I, so it gave us North Americans a chance to see how these two different cultures can interact. Not being an actual member of the choir, my duties consisted of manning the camcorder during their church performance.

Perhaps my former position as a newspaper photographer led them to entrust me with the job. I imagine they had several hopes and/or beliefs about my abilities with a camera, namely:
He’ll know when to focus and do close-ups when individual choir members are singing.
He can take picture of good quality that won’t wobble or blur too badly, and
He’s a consummate professional that will give this job the attention it deserves.

My goals, once the camcorder was in hand, were somewhat different:
I’ll figure out how to turn it on,
I’ll figure out how to push record,
I won’t fall asleep due to jet lag and the eight-hour time difference between here and Korea, and
I won’t look like a total germ in this bow tie they gave me to wear.

I accomplished all of my goals (except maybe the last) but I can’t speak for there’s. All I know is that choir performed admirably and the church looked acted as though they had received a treat. After the performance we were given the opportunity to shake hands with church members. Noticing that I had the same outfit as the others, but apparently not observing my dissimilar height and complexion, one of the church members shook my hand afterward.

The man, a local wearing a cardigan, white mustache and glasses whose name I did not catch but sure looked like a “Luigi” commended us for the singing. “Oh wait,” he said. “You’re not Korean.”

“No, I’m American,” I said. “Sorry.”

When the singing ended, the sightseeing began. We viewed several Catholic churches in the area, and as kind of the capper, Maria, myself and some of our Korean friends took a gondola ride through Venice. This afforded us a chance to see the romantic inlets of the city and learn about its history.

Our “driver” offered us the trip for the price of 80 euros, and explained much of the city’s architecture and water levels to us. I sat in the boat contemplating life in this beautiful city would be like, interacting with its kind people. At least, that’s what I was thinking before Maria, who understands some Italian, told me that she’d overheard the driver tell one of his colleagues that “stupid Asians will pay anything.”

More later on Rome and its thriving pickpocket industry.

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