"East Europe 2005-06" story # 33

Florence, Italy           April 5, 2006

"Necessito tener amarrados los pies en el aire. Se que soy nada mas que menos que yo podria ser." (I need to have my feet planted in the air. I know I'm nothing more than less than what I could be.) - Soda Stereo ("Planta")

The only time I meditated during the past few weeks, I recognized that the first step towards flying is to learn how to let all the weight leave your body. Unfortunately, my body has recently been anchored to the ground with a density like mercury's.
     Sometimes, when I'm trying to hitchhike and no cars are stopping, I remark at how upsetting it is that people won't share their rides with me - a guy who's virtually totally harmless. ... But, then, a few days ago in northern Italy, I tried to kick a car that was passing me. I chased after him and everything. My foot missed his bumper by a little bit.
     Ten days before that, I'd been selling my one-Euro stories on a shopping steet in Patra, Greece. A thirty-something guy in one store turned me away with a disinterest that irked me. I pointed at a pair of socks that had Homer Simpson's head on them and raged, "Poso kanoun afta!?" (How much do those cost!?) He told me four Euro's. I exhaled a tremendous scoff. I irately batted the stupid socks and walked out.
     ... Flashback: In 2004, a love of mine and I had been hitchhiking in the States, and a guy who picked us up said he'd once observed a hitchhiker who was laying down completely extended on the side of the road, with his thumb practically in a lane of traffic. I thought at the time, how could a hitchhiker do that? ... Two days ago, I did just that. I lowered my hat over my eyes, and leaned my head on my bags.
     The northern Italian road hosted many more of my outbursts; some involved throwing my bags, many involved swear words, and my middle finger got some exercise. Emotional control was slipping away from me. Why?
     It might've been due to my external surroundings. The people of Northern Italy were possibly the least human I've ever seen. After a time, I realized that by standing and holding out my thumb, I was doing more for them than they'd ever do for anyone who wasn't their family member or their new, ridiculously shiny automobile. They seem to think the world should be split up into six billion parts - theirs of course would be much larger than average - fences should be erected around each, and all would spend two-thirds of their waking lives working so they can collect gobs of money and sit in their parts and be bland.
     Also, the upscale shopping streets of Patra, Greece were nearly the only places where my story-selling didn't go well. The streets hosted showy materialism and art-less junk, but not much thought. When I looked at the unsmiling wealthy store-owners, I wondered why it took so much money to make them that depressed.

rich men and thieves
I see little difference

... but, a second reason for why I wasn't enjoying myself may have been my motives. While in Greece, I became a money-counter, and I was obsessed with selling enough stories to get the heck out of Greece and continue my travels. (I took the boat to Italy and had 420 Euro's in my pocket; success!) While in Italy, I was hitchhiking to visit friends - friends who I really wanted to see - but sometimes the effort seemed overwhelming.
     And the third hypothesis for explaining my emotional outbursts may point to my vows, or, as my ex-roommate Simona calls them, my "STUPID vows." Perhaps the abstinence from masturbation has turned me into a creature in need of an emotional release? I don't know. I also think it's possible that, contrarily, it was only thanks to my vows that I was able to save the energy needed to survive the past demanding month.
     Who knows? A few very positive experiences have also helped me to feel good during recent times.
     In Florence, Italy, I saw my cousin Kyle. As a preppy curly-blond-haired youth, he'd been an enormous part of my childhood: a childhood that included cook-outs on the soft pristine beaches of Michigan, board game nights, a trip to the British Isles where we chased sheep, an imaginary game where we were the President and Vice President of New Zealand, and Breen Family Baseball. (Our younger brothers were there, too!) He was one of the first people I ever admired for his humor; he did an impression of Fennis Dembo, the professional NBA player who flopped around always trying to save errant basketballs, that nearly killed me with laughter.
     Two weeks ago, he married Julia. I haven't seen her many times, it's a shame. But, she's a warm-hearted sweetie with a soft Southern accent. They're seeing Italy and Croatia on their honeymoon. It was great to see and hug them.
     They showed me Florence by night. The city has a free outdoor display of impressive Renaissance statues which are romantically lit-up at night. A nearby building has in its columns small statues depicting the great thinkers and artists of Italy's great age. Kyle especially liked the sinister-looking statue of Macchiavelli; "He looks like he could be one of Bush's top henchmen."
     The honeymooners and I bid, "arrivaderci." I wanted to take a bus out of town to go camp, but the bus never came. I thought about sleeping at the bus station, but I found a lot of down-on-their-luck people camped out there and it smelled like urine. So, I kept walking. I passed a secondary railyard of the city. Many long trains dozed there, and there were no people around. I wandered in, climbed a scaffolding walkway that hung above a passenger platform, and layed down my sleeping bag. The quiet eery-gray railyard was one of the coolest places ever to sleep.
     The next day, a pony-tailed twenty-eight-year-old Brazilian lumberjack named Maurico gave me a ride and said I could sleep at his house. He cooked us rice and beans and meat and eggs and lettuce: all mixed together, Brazilian-style.
     The following day, I was self-destructing by the northern Italian road, when sixty-seven-year-old Mario picked me up. In the first half of our ride, he said, "Questa Italia me da vergonia." (I'm ashamed of this Italy.) During the second half, he invited me to his house for lunch.
     I accepted. Duh?
     His village of Varzo lied below mountainside forest that hosted "lupi" (wolves) and other animals, which lied beneath the bitter snowy mountain-tops. A rooshing stream made 90-degree turns descending through Varzo.
     Mario's house dated from the 1600's and was beautiful. It was made completely out of stone and wood, even the tiny perimeter balcony. Its small rooms huddled around us.
     In the cold kitchen, Mario made what he'd later call, "le pezore pasta io a facho en tutta ma vita" (the worst pasta I've made in my life). At a table in the dark biggest room, we ate this pasta and afterwards chunks of parmesan or "rama" cheese with lettuce. There were hundreds of books on mountains or philosophy or symbolism on shelves surrounding the wood stove.
     Mario later showed me the spare buildings that housed tens of thousands of books on literature, art history, and graphic design. He was clearly an intelligent man.
     Though he'd only finished - if I understood correctly - fourth grade, he was now teaching part-time in a university. His job had been as an independent industrial-design consultant, at which he'd fulfilled contracts which warranted for him a lot of money. Unserendipitously, many of his clients claimed bankruptcy and didn't have to pay him. I suppose it doesn't say a lot for his industrial design abilities that the companies he worked for often went bankrupt.
     Strong, gray-bearded Mario didn't look nearly sixty-seven. But, he told me the story of the world war he'd lived through. His zany father had been a Hebrew (son of a Jew), a Fascist, and a mason; it was virtually impossible to be even two of those things at once. He was briefly imprisoned by Mussolini's Fascists but let go. Mario's mother had been communist. Communists had been the significant force behind an anti-Fascist resistance that held two posts free from Mussolini's rule, one in the mountains near Varzo. Mario's aunt and other family members fought in that nearby post.
     Mario loved hiking, climbing, doing anything in the mountains, even appreciating its architecture. He told me that, centuries ago, tiny refuges had been built in the high high mountains. They were used by pastors. As the snow disappeared level by level on the mountains, the pastors moved uphill so their sheep could get the fresh grass. The buildings resemble big wooden tents and are still up there.
     Mario is proudly Italian, speaks only Italian, but is very disappointed by his country today. He admitted to me that he's always voted communist.
     His wife is in the hospital for a few weeks, after she recently fell.
     After three-and-a-half hours at Mario's, I left to face the hopelessness of the northern Italian road. Sometimes, I think all their cars should be kicked.
     I might continue with some of these ideas next time ...

until then,
peace and love
- Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Damionos; Paolos; Domenico; Marco; Alfredo; Imen & Benny; Julia & Marco; Aldo; Franco & Monica; Peter, Julia, & Orlando; Maurico; Attila; Rigo; Stefano & Brula; Davidi; Anna; and Mario for the rides!
Much thanks to Simona; Stephanie; Simona, again; and Maurico, Oilio, & Renato for the places to stay!

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