The initial auspices for an endurable trip turned out to be justified. Most people were unmasked at O’Hare and on the plane, we left Chicago and arrived in Rome on time, and, although we arrived early at the Azeglio on Via Cavour, two blocks from Stazione Termini, the hotel had one of our rooms ready so we could stash the bags, take a walk, and eat a lunch that, while it was not offensive, was nothing to write home—or this website—about.
Rome has changed in two years but the signs are not dramatic. A significant minority wear masks on the street, and nearly everyone puts them on inside public buildings, though no one says a word when we slip them under our noses or even our chins, and the hotel clerks frequently pull them down or off to speak. After testing the waters we ignore the masking rule in the hotel and only make token submission in restaurants when we eat indoors. Most restaurateurs and shopkeepers appear bored with the whole routine, though two groups remain adamant: certain pretentious purveyors of lifestyle identity badges—expensive purses, scarves, perfumes, gimcracks—and subcontinentals running their disgusting minimarkets.
We’re in Rome only two nights to get our feet used to walking and our bodies used to the seven hour time difference. It’s a bit harder to speak Italian without thinking, after two years of absence, but a little wine unlooses the tongue.
I was concerned about the rigmarole of online booking and the trenitalia site did not allow me to check in, though in giving me a barcode, it had done the equivalent. The trip to Florence on the Fleccia Rossa was a snap, our host Pietro, who warned us he might be delayed at the doctor’s, was ready for us and was outpouring with offers of help in getting reservations, which are tough these days because of restrictions on the number of visitors.
He was happy to learn that we’d spent a lot of time in Florence and were staying nine days. “Some people,” he complained, “have only two days to spend on their first visit to Florence and waste a day going to Pisa. Sure they have their tower, but nothing else.” while I agreed with his general view, he was hardly fair to Pisa, whose cathedral is much more beautiful than Florence’s and whose baptistery and Campo Santo are the glory of Tuscany.
A good lunch at a joint advertising Barbecue—by which they only meant grilled meat—restored our sense of wellbeing.. We nearly finished our good Fiorentina, excellent fries, spinach, and salad, and, after a liter of house red, went onto to order a mezzo. I said, as always, “Siamo in vacanza,” and the proprietor, a true Toscano replied,”Then you won’t have to drive.”
For some reason the subject of Pisa comes up again. He dismissed Pisans as a race of curs, adding, “You know what? I don’t even see them.” Dante had the same attitude, and I wounded if something had happened recently to reinflame the ancient hostility .
His manner is gruff, intense, even a bit cruel, but that‘s Tuscan humor. When people ask me to describe it, I sometimes say the sense of humor here reminds me a little of Richard Widmark cackling as he pushes a little old crippled lady in her wheel chair down several flights of stairs to her death. A Tuscan wouldn’t have pushed her, but he might still laugh.