Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Mad New Yorker - Oct 08

When in Rome, I didn't really do what the Romans do, unless they visit the Coliseum, get caught in a thunderstorm and buy those plastic sheet-sized blue raincoats off the hawkers and walk down the fashionable streets wearing said raincoats looking like a blue teletubby. Only Uncle Paul had sensibly brought a parker along with him and a broad brimmed hat, but me, Mum, Dad and Robyn wore the sheets with hoods. Dad is quite short and stocky anyway, so he looked virtually ball-shaped in the sheet, sporting the hood up with his cap jammed over the top. He loved looking so ...erm... unique! I was traumatised - I could see people chuckling at us - but preferred that to being cold and wet.

That afternoon, Dad and I set out to find a bar that sold pints of Guinness. Around the corner from our lodgings and a stone's throw from Vatican City we found, of all things, the Scottish Bar. And the Scottish Bar sold Guinness. Winner!

We were sitting at the bar and enjoying our quiet drink after a hard day's sightseeing, when into the bar blew John from Long Island, New York. I don't think I've ever met a born-and-bred New York native before, the accent was fantastic and so was the attitude - un-PC and didn't care who knew it! Similar to Dad - who likes straight-talkers (although in my opinion there is a fine line between 'saying-it-how-it-is' and being a rude redneck).

I'll admit, when John first approached us, I groaned inwardly - oh no, a loud American. But that was the cynical me. I admit I pre-judged the guy and for that I am ashamed. I used to be happy to chat with anyone. I wonder when I stop being like that - giving people a go before deciding yeah, they’re okay or no, I'm going over here now please don't follow me. Its probably my innate lack of ability to read people and their motives - I've found it better not to trust at first and let someone prove themselves than just letting them in, then finding out they are a psycho/user/letch etc.

John ordered his Bud from the bemused Italian bar maid and after a few minutes turned to us with his opening line "Ah, some people who speak my language!" I said, "Mate, we don't speak your language. You're American." Ignoring my cool tones, he said "Yes you do, you speak English! Everyone around here's speaking Italian!" Dad and I looked at one another - was this guy for real? Did he really just say that?

He introduced himself and I introduced myself and Dad and he says, I presume this is your husband? Dad laughed, but I was appalled and set him straight immediately. But I had to forgive him that because, the thing with John was, he was virtually blind. Perhaps he had 10-15% vision - his eyes were all floaty and squinty and crossed. He never said anything about it and nor did we, but when he wanted to shows me his train ticket to Civitavecchia Port for the following day, he ended up showing me: his entrance ticket to the Coliseum, his flight boarding pass, his metro ticket, before he pulled out the train ticket. He held each ticket right up to his nose to see it but still couldn't read it properly and asked me what each one was. But he could definitely see something, or else how do you get around Rome on your own (especially when everyone is speaking Italian) and accost virtual strangers in bars?

We chatted to John initially because we had no choice, he cornered us. But then a strange thing happened - we warmed to him. He was a fun, enthusiastic and slightly mad guy. At one stage he said to me I was lucky to still have my Dad around, as he'd lost his less than a year before. I told him I was sorry and that yes, I was lucky. That was the only time his voice lowered to a normal pitch and the animation in his face stilled.

He did hilarious impressions of the annoying woman at his work place (Camilla, I think) and told us about an Irish bar with great music in Manhattan that he loves, as I'd asked him about the Blues/Jazz scene in New York. We chatted and laughed until Dad and I had to go back to the apartment for dinner with Mum, Robyn and Paul, with instructions to pick up some milk on the way (we picked up some Italian wine too, being the opportunists that we are).

We bade farewell to John with handshakes and he grabbed us in a hug. We wished him a fabulous time on the cruise on which he was embarking the following day on his own. But someone like him will never be on his own - his friendliness, warmth and honest humanity will draw people to him. I bet he had a marvellous time and made an impression on everyone on board.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Mooching around Malta

My parents (Chrisso & Scotty) and my Aunt & Uncle (Robyn & Paul) are hardcore aussie sightseers, given that 3 out of the 4 of them are 60 or over (my mother being the exception at mid-50s) they saw and did HEAPS In their 4 week holiday in the UK/Europe that the time I spent with them - the first week and the last week of their epic journey - I was bloody knackered.

Dad would sometimes sit a day out - with back and knee complaints (he's the oldest and unfittest), or else Dad and I would slope off to the pub for a sit down and a pint if it all got too much - almost every afternoon of their final week of touring which we spent in Malta with Dad's little brother Jim. Us three would leave the other three to it.

Malta was a most interesting island. There is a lot of history to take in given it's small size; it contains ruins from 5000 years ago right up to the present day. It is overcrowded, chaotic and the roads are appalling. We loved it. The people are friendly and chilled out, you don't have to worry about your wallet getting nicked or other irritations that occur on mainland Europe. It seems to be in a bubble - almost a time warp. They even - get this - LIKE the English!! Again, very different to mainland Europe.

I arrived in Malta a day before the quartet of intrepid travellers. It was cloudy, but still warm, so Uncle Jim and I went for a wander around the local area. We stopped for coffee at a restaurant near Espinola Bay when it started to pour with rain. An old Maltese man who was fishing nearby came to shelter under our table's umbrella. He lit up a smoke and started up a conversation, explaining he had to keep fishing as he'd only caught one little fish for his dinner. He said he really had to go back and catch another one for his wife.

He told us about the big storm that came through the island a few years previous where all the boats moored in the bay came loose and battered against each other and/or sank in the rough waters. The old fisherman said that his boat ended up in one of the restaurants around the bay - a wave sent it smashing through the glass and it sat proudly in the middle of the dining area! He explained that the waves are worse nowadays because the natural rocks that used to surround the bay broke up the waves, but they are gone now, and the smooth cement man-made sea walls create no buffer at all so the waves smash into the walls at full force, creating havoc in the little bay and spraying mightily up onto the street.

But that day the rain stopped and the colourful wooden fishing boats bobbed happily in the deep blue water, and the old man went back to catch a fish for his wife's supper. Because he sure wasn't sharing his.