"Delfino" by Gianluca Marino
Late March 2000
THE AMAZING BUT TRUE STORY OF LYNN'S 50TH BIRTHDAY TRIP TO ROME
Dear friends, family, and Web surfers,
I'm sure you're all just dying to know what happened on my trip to Rome this time, so I thought I'd write out a full description so you can all enjoy it at your leisure. Those of you who read my letter about my last trip to Rome, in November, will know that that trip was not a particularly good one. This one was totally different--I had a fantastic time!
For those of you with whom I've been out of touch for a while, as well as those who heard something about the trip in advance but can't remember the details of why I went, here's a little background:
Actually, I hadn't been planning to make any trips this spring, but here's how it happened. One day in early February I was walking home in the late afternoon after picking up a job from the post office, worrying about my accounts. They have to be done by April 15, but I just never seem to get around to doing them. Besides which, since I'm starting a new business I really need to revise the accounting categories I'm using. For instance, some things that are related to my new business as opposed to the old one are my new computer and printer plus the printer supplies and all the special papers I've been buying to make tests and see if I can make up my own brochure, business cards, and stationery with photos on them, as well as the cost of having a lawyer check my client contracts, the fees I pay Citicorp for processing credit card payments to me, and so on. This is necessary both in case of an IRS audit and so that I myself can accurately calculate the costs (and eventually, I hope, profit) of the business. But there are always so many distractions here, and I was thinking it would be great to get away for a few days and concentrate on the accounts, at least that way I'd get them done. Then I thought, But where? I couldn't really think of anyplace close to go where I would feel happy about being (and that I wouldn't need a car to get to), but I thought, No, I can't justify going all the way to Rome just to do my accounts. Then I began to wonder what I would be doing for my birthday, which was on a Saturday. I had already decided that even though I'm going to an Italian class on Saturday mornings, I was not about to get up at 4:15 to go into New York! But apart from that, I hadn't really thought of anything special to do. I could, of course, have gone to New York and had dinner with my friend Jessie or Lyne or something like that, but then I'd have ended up having to come back late on the train, which I hate, and besides, I don't really like being in New York anyway. And I thought it would be nice to go out in mixed company for a change, instead of just "with the girls" (which gets monotonous after a while, much as I love all my friends). Then I thought, Maybe I should call British Airways and see if it has any good airfares around the time of my birthday. Then I remembered that if I were to take a flight in March, I would get my flight in November (when I plan to go over and look at property) for free, whereas if I were to take just a flight in November I would not be able to get a free flight next year as 8000+ of my Executive Club miles expire on January 1. Also, I thought it would be nice to meet Gianluca Marino, my new associate in Italy, and go over my marketing materials, as he could give me advice on how to slant them toward the Italian market. Working via e-mail is just not the same. And I could also keep up my contacts at the European School of Economics and possibly meet some more people businesswise. Which makes it a business trip and therefore tax-deductible. (As far as the IRS is concerned, it's OK to stay over a weekend if you are doing business both the week before and the week after; you just don't deduct your hotel and a percentage of your flight corresponding to those two days.) And luckily my birthday was on a Saturday, which was nice, as it meant I could celebrate it with my friends in Rome on the actual day rather than saying something like "My birthday's on Wednesday, let's have dinner the Sunday before.") So I thought, Well, if I can get a flight for $350 or less not including tax, I'll go. Then I thought, Nah, never happen.
So when I got home I called the British Airways automated fare information service (1-800-AIRWAYS), and, well, it wasn't quite less than $350 without tax, but it was $353, which with the tax came to $402.87. So I hung up the phone, thought about it for five minutes, then called back and made the reservation.
The really peculiar thing was that I hadn't written down exactly what portion of the total was the fare and what was the tax, so out of curiosity I called back the next day to check, and guess what, the fare didn't exist anymore! It had gone up to $532.87 with tax! After gasping, I checked to see what the fare would be on the day after I'm leaving, and I got a quote of $651.87! Whoa! So if I hadn't called the exact day I did, I wouldn't have gone. Not only that, but normally when I plan a trip I start checking airfares literally months in advance, usually once a week or so, and then when I find a fare that is what I want to pay, I jump on it. This time I called once. Strange! So now I think of the airfare in the fall as being the one I'm paying for and this one as the freebie, i.e., my birthday present.
* * * * *
14-15 March: I flew out of Newark on the evening of 14 March, arrived in London the morning of the 15th, and then transferred to a flight to Rome. The flight was rather nice, as British Airways is now using the new Boeing 777s, and they have individual seatback videos even in coach class, with a choice of about 12 channels, including news/sports, cartoons, regular movies, foreign films (I watched two French films on the way over), black-and-white classics, and so on. Rather luxurious! All went uneventfully, except that when I arrived at the hotel, guess what--my name wasn't in the book! Luckily I had made copies of the hotel's confirmation e-mail to me and my return fax giving my credit card number (as security), and when the man at the desk looked at them, he murmured, "Oh, yes, now I remember the name . . . but you're not in the book." Fortunately, there were some rooms available, and in fact instead of a single room I was given a double at the same price! (Exactly the opposite of what happened on the last trip.) I say luckily because by the time I left, the hotel was turning people away: completo.
16 March: Anyway, I settled in and as usual spent my first day feeling disoriented and vaguely ill. The next evening, the 16th, Gianluca came by my hotel around 9 and we went out to dinner near the Trevi Fountain, then drove over to Piazza Venezia and took a stroll along the Forum and past the Colosseum. I made a point of taking a look at Antonietta's apartment, as since my last trip I had received the sad news that Antonietta had died (from a recurrence of the cancer for which she had been operated on a few years ago). She was 63 or so, not especially old these days.
17 March: The 17th I spent not doing much of anything. I did go out and buy a dress for the party, a really lovely black Indian (as from India) style dress in rayon, about midcalf length, with long sleeves, both the sleeves and the skirt being full and semitransparent and the bodice being opaque with embroidery and several types of appliquéd braiding. I told the shop owner and her assistant that my birthday was the next day and I was buying it as my present to myself, and as a gift they gave me three pairs of silk undies!
18 March: So the next day, Saturday, the 18th, was the Big Day. My friends Simona and Guido, whom some of you may remember from an earlier letter in which I described going to dinner at their place with Antonietta and my other friends Walter and Luigia, arrived at 8 p.m. with an enormous bouquet of flowers--15 yellow tulips, 13 daffodils, and three big red azaleas, plus greens. Which pleased me a lot as my favorite color for flowers is yellow. (We were actually to have been six for dinner, but Walter's brother-in-law was very ill, in fact near death, so he and Luigia had gone to Ancona to be with him.) Gianluca, who was driving in from Campoverde, near the coast southeast of Rome, was delayed at work and then by the fact that there were no parking spaces near the hotel, so while we waited for him we chatted and tried to decide where to go for dinner. As I don't know the restaurants in Rome, Guido had written down a list of three possibilities. One was "typical Italian," pasta and pizza and the like, with a noisy atmosphere. The second was a Sardinian restaurant specializing in fish and seafood that was less noisy. Then there was a Russian restaurant decorated in prerevolutionary style, with live Russian music. I thought that would be festive for a birthday party, so we decided to go there. Guido went off to call to make the reservation and came back to say that the first sitting was full but we would go at 10:30 for the second sitting and also that unfortunately there was no live music that night. We all thought that was strange because it was Saturday night. So we discussed it a bit and decided to go anyway even though it would be a bit late, and Guido went off again to make the call. He came back with a funny look on his face and said, "There's another problem." Simona and I both said, "The second seating is full, too?" "No," he replied, "but it's no longer a Russian restaurant. It changed owners, and now it's a pizza restaurant." Which would explain why there was no live Russian music that night!
Eventually Gianluca arrived, and we decided to go to the Sardinian restaurant. We all got into Gianluca's car (he has a station wagon, as he needs it for his work, and as he was double-parked while Simona and Guido's car was parked safely, we decided that would be best). Once we got to the restaurant, we had to wait outside a bit as all the tables were full, but it was a pleasant evening so it didn't matter. When we finally got inside, we were placed at a table for six, three small tables in a row, and as I had brought the flowers along we them on the extra chair at the end, next to Gianluca (our coats went onto the one opposite).
During dinner Simona and Guido gave me, from themselves and Walter and Luigia, a funny birthday card and a bottle of Giorgio Armani's newest cologne, Mania (pronounced "ma-NEE-ah" in Italian). Gianluca gave me a red Polartec anorak on the back of which was stamped his painting "Delfino" ("Dolphin") (see top of this letter), repeated in miniature on the front, just under the zipper. (Normally I don't wear polyester clothes, but this is a good quality, not cheap-feeling or tacky to the touch.) We had a terrific time. Gianluca told us a story about one of his vacations that made us laugh like crazy; in fact, I laughed so much I dislocated my jaw and could still feel it a week later!
Simona and Guido are adopting a little three-year-old girl, Giulia Sofia, from Bulgaria, and we had all hoped that the call from Bulgaria for them to go pick her up would have come, in which case there would have been one more guest at dinner, but it hadn't happened yet. So I hope to meet her the next time I go to Rome, in November.
Anyway, we had a great time. I can't remember the last time I laughed so much. I also can't remember the last time I shut down a restuarant at 1 a.m.!
19 March: The next day, Sunday the 19th, Gianluca and I had already made plans to have lunch together (to discuss business) and so in the morning I took the train out to Latina and he picked me up. The interesting thing about Italy is that it's much narrower than one realizes. On the train going to Latina, I could see the Appennines out the left-hand window, and then when Gianluca picked me up, we drove about 25 minutes, and there we were by the sea!
First we went to Gianluca's studio so I could see where he works. (He is a geometra, which doesn't have an exact equivalent in English. My Italian-English dictionaries say "surveyor," but he is much more than that, almost what we would consider a junior architect. Most of what he does, I gather, is restructuring and remodeling work. He does the drawings, contracts for the materials, hires people to do the work, and supervises the work.) Not only are there the usual certificates and architectural drawings hanging on the walls, but also a number of his paintings, which I liked better in their original large sizes than when I had seen them reduced in his brochure. Then we went to his apartment, where he played keyboard and sang some of his songs for me. (He has won prizes for his songs in national competitions.) As he is currently at work restructuring a house into four apartments, and as apparently his lease had run out before the new place was ready, he got a winter rental in Latina, right on the beach. It's on the fifth floor, with a balcony and a view for miles up and down the seaside. The beach was rather empty in March, but I gather that in the summer it's wall-to-wall people.
We also went to look at the house Gianluca is restructuring. It's basically just a box, four stone walls with openings for doors and windows, never finished because the man who built it was a Swiss who built it for his children, who decided they didn't want to live there. Gianluca showed me the drawings of how it's going to be redone and finished, and we went inside and looked around and he showed me where everything was going to be. There's a nice piece of land attached to it, too.
Toward the end of the afternoon we drove to Anzio, where the American landing took place during World War II. Obviously it has changed considerably since then. We walked along the beach to a ruin that used to be a villa owned by the emperor Nero. I took some photos, and I've put them onto my Web site, for those of you who have computers and can look at them. (In fact, those of you who haven't seen my new photo pages might want to take a look at them on my Photo Gallery page, where you can see lots of pictures from the various trips I've taken during the last few years.) It was a beautiful day. Then I took the train back to Rome.
20 March: Monday it rained, and I spent most of my time indoors. I worked on my taxes, and I translated the captions on my Web site photo pages into Italian and drafted proposal letters to prospective clients in Italy (also in Italian). (I also need to rewrite my existing Italian Web pages in the "tu" form rather than the "Lei" that I've used, which is more formal, as the Internet, with its American influence--you, you, you, it's all the same whether you're being formal or casual, singular or plural--has caused the Italians to start using the "tu" form more often, especially in Web pages, but I didn't get to it that day. Have to do it now that I'm back home.) One thing Gianluca and I are working on together is helping each other with translations: he'll help me with my Italian and I'll help him translate his Web site into English.
21 March: On Tuesday I went to Avezzano in the Appennines, where I'm thinking of buying property. (That's where I spent a week last November, for those of you who read my last trip letter.) It was a sunny day and pleasant to walk around and breathe the fresh mountain air. It takes about an hour and a half to get there by train; in fact, you can go across the whole of Italy in a little more than three hours, it's so skinny. And that even with the fact that the train twists and turns as it goes through the mountains; if it were a straight shot, it would be even faster!
22 March: Then on Wednesday I had some time on my hands. Gianluca and I had agreed to meet for lunch on Thursday, and I didn't really have anything to do in Rome, so as it was another beautiful sunny day I decided to take the train to Nettuno and walk to Anzio, then take the train back from there (it's only 3.2 kilometers, or about 2 miles). Now, one of the great things about Italian cell phones is that you don't actually have to make calls on them, you can also send short messages that you tap out on the keypad. On the way down in the train (a double-decker; I sat in the top), I tapped out a message to Gianluca and saved it in the phone's memory. Then, as I was walking along the beach, soaking up the sun, I got out the phone, reread the message to make sure I hadn't made any really horrendous errors in the Italian, then sent the message, which was to the effect that I was walking from Nettuno to Anzio and it was a beautiful day on the beach. A few minutes later, I looked down into my coat pocket, where I had put the phone, saw that the green light indicating the arrival of a message was blinking, pulled out the phone, and saw the little envelope icon indicating a new message--which was Gianluca asking if I would like to meet for coffee in half an hour. We exchanged a couple more messages as to time and place, then I arrived in Anzio and sent a message saying that I would wait for him in the little park with the war memorial near the port, and a few minutes later he arrived. (This is when I love the new technology.) I told him I hadn't eaten lunch yet and was starving, and we went to an ice cream café with big windows overlooking the port, full of sailboats and fishing boats, and we went across the street to order from the regular café that owned the ice cream café, and a waitress brought our food and coffee over. So we sat and chatted, mostly about business, and I ate my sandwich and drank my mineral water and he drank his espresso and we looked out at the boats and the buildings up over the harbor, lit up by the sun. Gianluca told me that he's very busy right now as this is the time, when the weather first turns nice, when people start thinking about remodeling and suddenly everybody calls at once. So I thought it was very nice of him to take off the time to spend with me, as I knew it would mean that he would have to work even later than he usually does. Then we took a little walk along the front and looked at the stuccoed houses in pale shades of peach and cream and yellow with their windows with shutters. It was all very peaceful. Then I walked him back to his car and he drove back to work, and I strolled around the town for a couple more hours, admiring, among other things, the palm trees. It's pleasant to go to a resort town like that in the off-season because it's not so crowded and trafficked.
23 March: Then the following day, Thursday, the day before I was due to leave, I took the train to Nettuno again and Gianluca and I had lunch. Unfortunately, the train left Rome an hour and ten minutes late, so I got to Nettuno much later than we had expected and we had a little trouble finding a restaurant that was open. Then Gianluca had to get back to work as it was after four and he has employees to look after, and I hung around the train station for about half an hour until the train came. When I got back to Rome, I sent a message to Guido because we had agreed that he would drop by the hotel with a tape by Jan Garbarek that he had made for me. I got a reply asking if I wanted to go out for dinner with him and Simona that night, and of course I did. I had to get up around five the next morning, but what the heck, it was my last night in Rome and I figured I could sleep on the plane. So we went out for a farewell dinner, pizza and beer and crème caramel. Had a good time.
I should add for all those of you who are wondering that during our dinners especially, we spoke only Italian. My Italian improved tremendously while I was there! Sometimes when Gianluca and I were together I spoke English (slowly) and he spoke Italian (always fast; whenever I asked him to slow down a little he would slow down for about three words and then go right on at locomotive speed), so I can see that all the courses I've been taking have helped.
24 March: Then on Friday I caught the 8:20 flight to London and was off. The plane to Newark arrived about 20 minutes early and there were no other flight arrivals at the same time (meaning that getting through Immigration was quick and the baggage came out onto the belt fairly fast), so I managed to get a train to Long Branch an hour earlier than I'd expected, which was nice. Also, considering that it was the 5:40 p.m. train, it was not very crowded at all, which meant I didn't have any problem getting my two suitcases on board, which was another blessing.
* * * * *
So I enjoyed my trip but was, as you can imagine, sad to come back. I think the thing I miss the most is having breakfast ready for me when I get up in the morning!
It was also good to meet Gianluca, as we are going to be working together and meeting face to face always sets up a different kind of relationship than just e-mailing. I'm very impressed by what a dynamo he is. In fact, Simona and I both felt tired just listening to him tell about all the things he does! Among other things, I should tell you that he has also made the dolphin at the head of this letter into a calendar and printed it not only on anoraks like the one he gave me, but also on sweatshirts and silk ties. Also, he is coming out with a CD of his own music later this month, which he is producing and distributing himself. Both Simona and I asked him how much he sleeps, anyway, and he said about four hours a night. Some people are just born with that ability, I guess. I've always needed my eight hours or I get grouchy and disoriented.
One more thing: For those of you who have been asking me when the new euro currency is to come into being, I asked at the hotel and the man told me that the notes and coins are supposed to go into circulation on 1 January 2002. Many official financial transactions (stock market trades, etc.) are already being conducted in euros, and most of the receipts I got in stores and restaurants had the amount printed in both lire and euros, but the actual money is not being used yet.
Speaking of currency, as a result of the weakness of the euro against the dollar and the fact that each of the currencies in the European Monetary System (including the Italian lira) is pegged to the euro at a fixed rate, the lira/dollar exchange rate during my trip was hovering around 2,000 lire to one dollar, meaning I got about 9 percent more lire per dollar than I did last November, when the exchange rate was about 1,818 lire to the dollar, and about 18 percent more lire per dollar than I got last March, which made it quite an economical trip.
Well, that's all for now. I hope you enjoyed this little narrative. Those of you whom I don't hear from so often, write or e-mail me and let me know how you're doing!
Text copyright © 2000 Lynn Anderson. All rights reserved.