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How Italy Tried to Break Us Up

By: Glenn John Arnowitz

“Do you want to meet me in Rome?”

That question came in August from Colleen, mi amore of five months. and without hesitation, I said, “Yes!”

Our meetup wasn’t until the beginning of October. After eight days at an art workshop in a thirteenth century castle in Umbria, Colleen would travel to Rome. There, I’d meet her for an overnight. The following day we’d make the trip north to Trevignano, a small village on Lake Bracciano, where we planned to spend the next seven days far away from tourists for a more authentic Italian experience. Bellissimo!

When I told my buddy Mike that Colleen and I were spending eight days in Italy—our first extended stay together—he laughed and said, “Oh, Glenn, baby! This trip will either make or break you guys!” Mamma mia! What did I get myself into?

The first sign of trouble came after we wined and dined in Rome. Colleen was feeling nauseous and blamed the linguine vongole; I blamed the poor service. The second hiccup came when we arrived at the Rome train station to pick up our rental car. We waited in line for what seemed like forever, only to find out Expedia had botched our reservation and there was no car to be had. Aiuto! My patience was wearing thin as the rental car rep kept telling me it wasn’t his problem and to call Expedia. All this started to sound like a familiar Seinfeld episode: “You know how to take a reservation, but you don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s the most important part of the reservation. The holding….”

Trying to reach an actual Expedia rep was futile, and I could feel my blood pressure rising. Scialla! Chill, don’t lose your cool. Well, it was a little too late for that. Colleen could already see my seams starting to fray. We stood in line for various rental car companies, only to be told no cars were available. Okay, Rome, you won this round. But we’re tough, so we hit the streets and called for an Uber. Should be easy, right? But the drivers couldn’t seem to find us. Colleen kept saying we were on the wrong side of the train station, and I kept telling her we were where we needed to be. Did I mention it was over 80 degrees, and we were dragging two large suitcases, two backpacks and art supplies? After two hours of missing every Uber car we ordered, we found we were, in fact, on the wrong street. We moved to the other side of the train station—me with my tail between my legs and an “I told you so” look from Colleen. But so far, minimal damage. Rome has the lead, but we’re still together. Tutto bene!

By now we’re both cranky from the heat and lack of food and water. I finally located a car (one point for us!). While we waited a taxi pulled up and a portly 80-ish year-old woman got out. She was having a lot of difficulty navigating her large suitcase. I imagined it packed either with concrete or a body, maybe her ex-husband’s, but I automatically went over to help. But instead of letting me take the suitcase, she handed me two leashes with a dachshund on the end of each. Colleen started taking photos as we both laughed hysterically at this scene. Nothing like a couple of dogs to make you forget that you’re nauseous (Colleen) and shvitzing (me) on the sidewalk during a Rome heatwave. Finally, our car showed up. Even though the driver wasn’t thrilled about taking us an hour north to Trevignano, we finally made it there. After an amazing lunch, Colleen and I settled happily into our Airbnb. Arrivederci, Roma!

On our second day in Trevignano Colleen wasn’t feeling well again. I walked to a nearby farmacia and spent twenty minutes explaining to the woman behind the counter what a thermometer was in a bizarre game of charades. When I returned Colleen was on the couch in tears. As Italy was testing us, I was now testing Colleen… for COVID. Okay Italy, you’ve lost our car reservation and thrown in a COVID scare, but we’re prepared. Colleen had brought along a few at-home tests, and we now had to face the moment of truth. Those were the longest fifteen minutes we’ve ever spent as I stared down at that tiny piece of cardboard, praying the little red line wouldn’t show. And it didn’t—phew! Another disaster avoided, and another point for our team! So far no casualties. I told you we were tough.

On Saturday we went kayaking. When we returned to pay for the kayak rental, the merchant would only take euros, not credit cards or US dollars. Before the trip Colleen said that we didn’t need any euros and could get by with just our credit cards. Well, it didn’t take long for us to realize that wasn’t exactly true. We did need euros for tips and, as it turned out, kayak rentals, so it was my turn to give her an “I told you so” look. One of the workers drove me into town to the ATM, but I wasn’t able to get any euros. Who knew your credit card has a PIN number? When we returned to the kayak rental shop, they were kind enough to let us come back on Monday after the banks opened. Grazie!

On Monday morning we walked to the local bank. Yes, more walking. In fact, we were logging in almost 20,000 steps each day! To enter the bank we had to climb into a futuristic clear plastic tube resembling the orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper. I climbed in but couldn’t seem to get out, while the Italians on the other side of the orgasmatron were all shouting instructions—which, of course, I couldn’t understand. At this point I wasn’t sure how much oxygen I had left but was finally able to press the right buttons to make it through to the other side. Colleen had difficulty beaming herself into the bank as well. We finally sat down and took a number. When it was our turn the bank manager said he couldn’t give us euros unless we had an account. Ok, Italy, you’re starting to get on my nerves.

It was a long thirty-minute walk back to the kayak rental shop (remember, we didn’t have a car), and what would they do when we couldn’t cough up any euros: seize our passports, our credit cards, ban us from renting kayaks in Trevignano or Italy or possibly anywhere in the EU ever again? But the same guy who refused to take my American dollars on Saturday took my cash that day without any question. Why? I have no idea. All I do know is that it was another point for us! Grazie!

Later we stopped off at the local supermarket and picked up some things for lunch and a few well-deserved bottles of beer. Well, on the way back one of the bags broke, and we lost a beer or two. The hard Italian sidewalk won that time. Thank God we still had some wine left at the Airbnb. Salute!

We still needed to get a car, but in such a small village there weren’t any rental agencies. On our last day our host helped us find one in a neighboring village, and we finally rented a car from Mario, a loud, extremely animated, head-shaved, pumped-up forty-something man with tattoo eyebrows. Our car wouldn’t be ready for a few hours so we went back into town and waited for one of Mario’s drivers to pick us up. After a while, we noticed a car parked on the corner and assumed it was Mario’s driver. But when we got in, I had a sinking feeling that maybe it was a mistake, imagining we might be kidnapped or robbed. So I silently planned our escape: If we were in the car for more than fifteen minutes (the time it took to get to Mario’s place), I’d grab the wheel and jerk it hard to the left so oncoming vehicles would smash into the passenger’s side, not the driver’s side where Colleen was sitting in the back seat. Then we’d escape the wreckage, unharmed, and call for help. Liam Neeson would be proud. Fortunately, nothing happened. Take that, Italy! We got our rental car and spent our last day exploring quaint back roads, Mistro Park and Civita di Bagnoregio. We made it!

So, in the end, Italy lost, and we triumphed. Not only did we survive, but we thrived and arrived back home even more in love. It would take a lot more than lost car reservations, a COVID scare, a lack of euros, broken beer bottles and a fantasized kidnapping to break up this relationship. Despite all that Italy had conspired against us, we laughed more than cried and realized we were good travel mates, great life mates, perfect soulmates. So, Italy, we’ll be back some day, stronger than ever. Until then, ciao!


Glenn John Arnowitz is a musical and visual artist who is always looking for new ways to scratch that insatiable creative itch.


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