Una Terra del Miracoloso
Mr. and Mrs. Ewing are preparing for their Italian vacation. Mr. Ewing researches flight and hotel accommodations, the U.S. dollar to Euro exchange rate, various cities for both day trips and overnights, train schedules, and tickets. He cancels home delivery of their two newspapers, places a vacation hold on their mail, changes their cell phone plan to accommodate international travel, and visits a downtown branch of their bank to convert dollars into Euros.
Mrs. Ewing signs up for a few Italian lessons (lezioni in Italiano), purchases a volume of poetry written by an Italian poet she is unfamiliar with (the only book in Italian she could find at her neighborhood bookstore), and with the help of an English-to-Italian dictionary, manages to translate (she thinks) one entire poem. Trying to be more pragmatic, Mrs. Ewing does practice, without any real schedule or discipline, a few phrases her Italian teacher gave her useful for the trip:
Scusi, può ripetere per favore?
Non capisco, non parlo bene italiano.
Può parlare lentamente?
Mr. Ewing tells his wife, a communications specialist, that she is responsible for communicating with the Italians. Mrs. Ewing happily agrees but does not bother to memorize numbers in Italian or how to tell a waiter she is vegetarian.
Getting a taxi from the Aeroporto di Roma to their Airbnb is easy, as the white taxis line up outside the terminal and take turns receiving passengers.
“Buongiorno,” Mrs. Ewing greets the driver in an apologetic whisper.
“Buongiorno,” the man responds with a big smile as if Mrs. Ewing were a competent student in la lingua Italiana and not the slacker she is.
Mr. Ewing shows him the address of their room on the reservation printout, and off they go, winding through streets narrow and wide then narrow again, at a fast, crazy Italian taxi driver speed, narrowly missing cars, bicyclists—without helmets!—and pedestrians, while 1970’s U.S. pop-rock music blares on the radio. Both Mr. and Mrs. Ewing stare out of the taxi windows, drinking in the tall buildings and cobbled streets, the sun-bronzed women in their breezy summer dresses and strappy sandals, the men in their tight white shirts, pressed jeans, leather shoes and eye-catching belts, every third person smoking their cigarettes as if they were in a Michelangelo Antonioni film.
They spot the tourists, too, dressed in t-shirts produced in Bangladesh and carrying shopping bags filled with souvenirs made in China. “I want to tell people we are from Canada,” Mr. Ewing had said before they left home.
“Mi chiamo Don,” Mrs. Ewing instructed, “Io sono di Canada.”
Mr. Ewing will not say this, of course, as he is an honorable, truthful man, but he will later tell Italians who ask where they are from that they are embarrassed to say they are from America. When this happens, many will look confused. “But why?”
“Our president embarrasses us.” They continue to look confused as if their English is inadequate in translating just what it is this strange man is saying.
Arriving at their destination, Mrs. Ewing thanks the taxi driver correctly—she hopes—saying “grazie” and not “gracias,” which is far too easy to do. She is now regretting all the time she spent translating some obscure poem from Italian to English that made little sense once finished. How much better to use those hours learning how to ask for the bathroom or working on the pronunciation of the few words she did learn. Que sera sera, she thinks, and then wonders what language that is.
Arriving is easy, but it won’t take long for Mr. and Mrs. Ewing to learn that when it is time to leave, calling a taxi to pick them up at their apartment is much more difficult. The recording on the taxi answering service is in Italian, and there is no slowing it down by requesting it to Può parlare lentamente? When Mrs. Ewing finally does get a real live person, the taxi dispatcher does not speak English. Mrs. Ewing has not memorized their house number, 255, in Italian, remembering too late that the Italian teacher warned the students not to say each number in the one-digit format. Still, it’s all she knows, and so she gives it a try: “Due—cinque— cinque,” she keeps repeating and the street name—she is apparently mispronouncing the name of the street.
Per Cristo’s sake, Mr. Ewing thinks, what kind of a communications specialist is she?
“Che cosa? Che cosa?” The dispatcher answers in turn and spews a Mount Vesuvius stream of Italian words as undecipherable as the hieroglyphics on the ancient Roman ruins they have visited at various sites and museums. “Non capisco.” That Mrs. Ewing understands. The dispatcher does not understand.
San Cristoforo, patrono dei viaggiatori, where are you when we need you?
Suddenly, the dispatcher says very slowly, “Text? Can – you – text – it – to – me – if – I – give – you – a – number?”
“Si! Si! Si!” Mrs. Ewing reassures her, writing down the number for texting.
When the taxi arrives, Mrs. Ewing briefly toys with the idea of lighting a candle in honor of Saint Cristoforo at the next ancient basilica they visit. “Italia is truly a land of the miraculous,” she tells Mr. Ewing.
He takes her hand and gives it a loving squeeze.
About the Author
Robin Michel’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, The Comstock Review, Northampton Poetry Review, San Pedro River Review, South 85 Journal, and elsewhere. She lives and teaches high school English in San Francisco and is editor of How to Begin: Poems, Prompts, Tips, and Writing Exercises from the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective–to improve your poetry practice or start a group of your own (Raven & Wren Press, 2020).