If you think you are unhappy eating in Italy you should hear what Italians think about eating in the United States.
Well I would agree with this as most eating in the United States is based on idiotic customs. All you have to do is to be in California at a donut shop and they serve you fresh, right out of the oven donuts. And then you realize they have given you Creamora with your coffee. And when you ask for real milk, they tell you they don't have any.
All countries specialize in doing something stupid. In Italy, it just happens to be their inefficient way of handling simple daily things. Since I'm the kind of guy who has no patience for a telephone system that can't get you the phone numbers you are looking for, it rubs me the wrong way.
Here is something that happened when we were there. We arrived at Malpensa at 3:15 for our 4:30 Alitalia flight to Lyon. When we got to the desk, the women sitting behind it told us that the flight was cancelled due to fog in Lyon. She told us that Alitalia was offering to fly us to Geneva and then bus us to Lyon. She told us we would be in Geneva at 5:10, but could not guarantee what time the bus left for Lyon, only that she had heard it was about a 2 hour ride. I asked her if there was a later flight and she said that Alitalia had an 8:00pm flight but that she wasn't hopeful. That Milan was supposed to get the same fog and she was pretty sure that the later flight would be cancelled. So what to do? We were supposed to be at an 8:00 wine tasting dinner with 12 other people in Lyon. It was then that I noticed that right across the way was the Air France check-in counter and I asked her if AF had any flights to Lyon. She said that they had a 6:00pm flight. I asked her why they couldn't put us on that flight? It was only then that the truth came out and she told us that if we asked her to
she would endorse our ticket over to Air France. There she was holding that info in her pocket all the time and she was trying to get us to fly to Geneva and take a bus to Lyon instead. It was at that exact moment in time that my friend and I looked at each other and said "tre stogari."
So we walked across the aisle to Air France and they told us we couldn't check in until 4:00pm. We asked them about fog in Lyon and they seemed to know nothing about it. But we were still concerned that we wouldn't make our dinner if the flight was delayed or cancelled. So we went down to the Avis desk to ask them how long it would take us to drive to Lyon if we rented a car. Here is what they told me. "Let's see, it takes about an hour and a half to drive to Genoa, then about another hour and a half to get to Nice. Then from Nice to Lyon, possibly another 5 or 6 hours. So it will take you 8 or 9 hours." I shook my head and broke the news to them that Milano and Lyon were on about the same latitude and that the way to get there was through one of the passes through the Alps. When I said that, they looked at me like deer in the headlight. Finally one of them looked it up in the computer and they concluded that it would take around 5 hours. Not enough time to make dinner and that's with everything going right.
What to do now? All of a sudden I had a brainstorm. On the way downstairs to the car rental location, I noticed there was a business center in the airport with Internet access. So we went in there and I logged on to the St. Exupery Airport site (the airport in Lyon) and called the hotline number on my cell phone. I got an English speaking operator on the line and asked her about the fog. "What fog?" she replied. Isn't the airport closed for fog I asked? "Not at all" she said. "It hasn't been closed once today and we are expecting these conditions through the evening." I told her thanks, hung up the phone, told my friend the story and we looked at each other and said.......
As an aside to all of this. And what I thought was the funniest thing in all of Italy, was the escalator from the lower level of the terminal to the Departures floor. Malpensa airport unlike other airports which exist on two levels, arrivals on the first floor and departures on the second floor (the French seemed to have flip-flopped this configuration in Terminal 1 at DeGaule for no other reason then to create those surreal escalators that crisscross between floors, aesthetically pleasing but the height of silliness,) has a basement level where the rental car offices and the trains are. But for some reason, in this country where the buildings seem like they haven't been cleaned since Mussolini and where many of them look like they are about to fall down, they decided to build an escalator that spans from the basement to the second floor without stopping. The thing must be well in excess of 100 feet long! When you get on it, it feels like you are taking an escalator straight up into the clouds. We got on it and we started laughing almost immediately and after the first 20 feet or so I started to hum Stairway to Heaven.
Or maybe we can describe the new rules for going to see The Last Supper which we did on Friday morning. I had seen it twice before but my friend had never seen it. But I had not been since it was reconditioned and the institute in Venice was in charge of admission. They have installed the craziest system for getting into see it. First of all you have to make an appointment. And if you are more then a few minutes late, basta, you're done for. Make a new one. Then when you get in, to hire a audio tour you have to leave your credit card. That's a new one for me. Are there loads of thieves out there who are dying to steal the Last Supper audio guide? Then they have installed a very fancy series of electronic doors that limit your access to entering the church. You go though a door and find yourself in a little anteroom. Then the door closes behind you and you are locked into the space. It is only after a minute or two that the front door opens and you enter a new space where the door locks behind you. It's like entering Fort Knox for godsakes. What are they worried about, somebody is going to steal the painting? It's painted on the f***king wall for god's sake. Do they think someone is going to chisel the wall?
So excuse me for my little rant about Italy. But it's a truly maddening place in many ways. Maybe they are all happy living their lives in a way that when they miss their train, they shrug their shoulders and say we'll just get the next one. That just won't work for me.
Tony - Okay maybe I was a bit harsh. I will begrudgingly admit that that there are a few good cooks there. They surely know how to make a good pizza and they can do a hell of a good job grilling up some scampone.