The creepy side of Italy

So I was just going through my mail here at home and was reading through the Children’s Museum’s newsletter, and SARAH you will be SO PUMPED to hear this….

The museum finally completed the excavation of that brand newly discovered dinosaur species, and so they got to give it it’s official scientific name… and they called it Dracorex hogwartsia after Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts! That cracks me up so much… hilarious! Tom is just gonna love that.

But the author of Harry Potter… she said, “This is easily the most unexpected honor to come my way”… haha.

Well since I’m home and no one is worried about me anymore, I will go ahead and tell another bad day story. Well there were plenty of good parts to the day, but also plenty of awful and scary parts.

I woke up early to go to Burano to see the island and the lacemaking museum. Had a couple of pastries for breakfast from a bakery (a chocolate cream filled croissant and this very strange probably 100% sugar, white styrofoam-textured breakfast cookie thing that looked like one huge pile of icing squirted out of a little icing-squirter and let hardened with sprinkles) I absolutely loved Burano… the colors were just radiating the morning light, and really lace isn’t my thing as far as owning or wearing it per se, but I can definitely appreciate it from a textile artist’s perspective… so I really enjoyed learning about all of the stitches… the Burano stitch, the Venetian stitch, the punto di aria (points in the air), etc., and on my walk back to the vaporetto I ran across this shop… most of the shops are all the same and they sell the same cheap touristy junk most of which is imported from China and isn’t local at all. But this shop was REAL BURANO and it was obvious from the prices and the way the shopkeepers followed me around like a leech. (And of course the tags that said “authentic Burano” or whatever)… but anyways, this place made me like lace believe it or not. Because it’s this really extravangant contemporary designs based on this old, traditional craft… there were absolutely exquisite lace placemats that I LOVED but would never actually want to USE because they are bleach white and who wants to get food on that??… there were these gorgeous lace tops for like high class eveningwear… the kind of thing that makes you really wish you had a high class evening event to attend… and then there were other textiles that weren’t lace but were still wonderful textile creations… like woven scarves and beutiful Venetian ornamented woven blankets and bedding and lamps and EVERYTHING…

Didn’t buy anything but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Then I took the vaporettos to the train station and an hour later I was on my way to Verona.

P.S. I did an EXCELLENT job of getting to each vaporatto and train JUST AS it was going to depart… and I didn’t even know the schedules. Timing can be so wonderful.

But Verona… I wouldn’t mind if I never went back, honestly. And this was the day that completely clinched my disdain for Italians and particularly Italian men. Within 20 minutes of arriving, I was approached by two different men (one of which was quite a bit older than me) who were trying to communicate with me and I was like I can’t understand you… go away… I’m sorry.. whatever…. and just as I was finally getting rid of them, they managed to ask me clearly if I wanted to go get a coffee, and I say no I don’t like coffee, which really is the wrong answer because then they just say, OK how about a coke or a beer or something…

But here’s the thing… why do they want to get me a coffee in the first place if we can’t even understand eachother talk at all??? It makes me so frustrated. How miserable that coffee would have been.

Then I went to the Arena ticket office to pick up my opera ticket, and proceeded to buy a program so that I could read the story of Aida so I would be able to understand it that night. I sat on the podium of a monument in the public park in front of the arena and was reading it…

until I got a drip of bird poop on me. How fun.

Then I moved to somewhere where birds can’t perch above me.

All day long I was just so afraid of PEOPLE. Italians. And after a while of reading, I decided to make sure that I knew how to get back to the train station by foot so that I wouldn’t get lost at midnight after the opera. (I had taken a bus TO the Arena because I didn’t want more Italian men walking up to me.)

And I saw a McDonald’s. And I really don’t even like McDonald’s. But in Italy, it was like this little piece of home that I felt like I could feel comfortable in. So I hung out in the McDonald’s with an ice cream cone and a cup of Fanta for probably an hour and a half reading Aida and watching the news. It was refeshing and a good little escape from a scary city. But the scariest is yet to come.

The opera itself was quite a good experience. I had plenty of room around me because I sat in the row right behind one of those bar/fence things that keep people from falling off balconies… most people can’t see over them, but I’m tall enough that I can see quite easily.. I sat next to an older American couple who were avid opera-goers and this man knew all the music from Aida already and was humming it forever (got a little annoying but it was okay… much better than other people I had encountered)… and I also sat near this really nice lady from a town just north of Verona, who had a degree in foreign languages, so we had some good conversations before the opera began, and she explained the differences between the Italian words cucina (kitchen) and cushino (cushion). There were people trying to sell rental cushions to people because the arena is all stone steps to sit on… and they were yelling “cushini” and I knew obviously the word meant cushion because that’s what they were selling, but I thought that it sounded like cucina and I asked the foreign language lady why they were saying kitchen or what was the difference or whatever, and she explained to me that one subtle “ch” versus “sh” sound, and that was fun.

The opera itself, of course, was quite beautiful. I enjoyed the scenery and colors and music most since I couldn’t understand any words.

And then it was intermission, and Italy had just won the world cup. (There were a lot of people listening to the game on radio during the opera so you would hear several sudden random cheers during the opera.. it was so funny.) But during intermission, the stage lighting crew created an Italian flag out of the lights and projected a giant flag onto the Arena itself… the entire cast came out and led the arena in singing the national anthem, and from then on out it was mass chaos in the public. The arena is an open-air arena, so everything that goes on outside can be heard… and the arena basically IS the city center, so it’s where everyone goes to party at a time like that…. there were fireworks, airhorns, whistles, rioting, cheering, SCREAMING…. and at one point the two main Aida performers gave up because they couldn’t hear the orchestra at all because the fireworks were being picked up the the microphones and there was this backfiring sound that I’m sure made it quite difficult for the performers to follow the beat of the timpanis. LOL. But after the fireworks ended, they came back on stage and finished out the performance, although from where I was, basically no music could be heard.. I just watched.

It was definitely a unique opera experience and I’m not upset about that part at all because it’s quite a storyteller.

But afterwards, I could HARDLY make my way through the masses to the train station. And it was super scary trying to do that on my own after midnight once I got out of the mass, amongst the drunk Italian men. But I made it to the station safely, only to find out that there were no trains back to Venice (where my hostel was) until 5:30 in the morning. Just four hours… not a HUGE deal, except that it was the middle of the night… on THAT night in particular.

I tried to sleep in the station, but again, random Italian men that get entirely too close to you. Again, can’t speak any English so I can’t communicate through words. He motions to go get a coffee. NO! HOLY COW! I was so angry! Really what is open nearby anyways? AND we can’t even talk to eachother at all! Another man tries to talk me into letting me sleep at his house supposedly 5 minutes away until my train in the morning. I said it’s only 2 hours from now, that’s not enough time to be worth it. (really it was 4)… then I said “Why are you here if you only live 5 minutes away! Go home!”

So I gave up trying to sleep because I was too scared. Plus after that little power nap I did get, I wasn’t as tired.

Luckily there was a giant queue waiting for taxis, so I made temporary friends with a couple of Germans my age, and also a group of six English girls all in that line. So that was soooo nice and comforting. But by 4 AM, the last of my temporary friends had gone away in taxis, so I just sat in relatively near proximity to this lady. We never talked, but all I wanted was to not appear alone to random Italian men. I set my alarm for 5, and fell asleep seated against the wall. SO HAPPY when my alarm went off and I went up and boarded the train to Venezia, and at that point, I really felt like I was on my way home so my worries calmed significantly. I got back to the hostel at 8 AM, met a roommate who was wondering if this mystery person (me) was ever going to show up. She was quite friendly and wanted to go to Murano to see the glass factories, so I told her how to get there, and then she left. I got in the shower which was WONDERFUL, and took a two hour nap before I had to check out.

Then I went back to the Scuola, said hello to one of my teachers there, got on a computer real quick, and took off back to Verona where my luggage was being stored, and then continued on to Milan, where I checked in to the hostel around 6 PM, fell asleep immediately and woke up at 4, showered and checked out, went BACK to the train station, took the shuttle to the airport and that’s the end of the story, basically.

Called home from Detroit airport and asked to have a Taco Bell party with Tim and Jenny and Rebekah when I got home that night. It was a very good thing.


Hannah Downey

UX Design Consultant at Salesforce focused on content & sustainability. I love information design, the art+science of text, guac, sweet potatoes, & amazing people.

Read More