People often ask me, “Tim, how do you know so much about other countries?” It’s true. I consider myself an authority on world geography. For example, did you know that Africa is not actually a country? Don’t worry. Donald Trump didn’t know either – and soon he’ll be our overlord, er, I mean, president.
I don’t like to brag, but I know many important things about the world’s nations, primarily from consistently losing in the board game RISK during college. (I always went for Australia. Bad strategy.) So this week, let’s discuss what you need to know about what is arguably the most popular vacation destination for Americans – that is, if you don’t count the country of North America. I am, of course, talking about Italy.
Let’s face it. You’re way too busy binge-watching Game of Thrones to read Rick Steves’ 874-page guide book on Italy that your wife asked you to read. So, I have done the work for you by highlighting everything you need to know. Follow my advice to the letter and you’ll have a wonderful time – and probably won’t get arrested. On a completely unrelated topic, Italian policemen have no sense of humor. This I discovered when I offered one 5,000 liras to try out his riot gear and Taser. [Travel Tip: When attempting to bribe a “poliziotto” do NOT offer liras. Seems they’re not appreciated ever since Italy transitioned over to the euro.]
History: Italy is an extremely old country. I mean seriously old. It’s amazing it can still stand after all these centuries. If Italy were a pet, it would have been put down decades ago. But it has an amazing history that dates back to well before the American Civil War. Its history can be divided into four periods:
The Roman Empire: The country was ruled by emperors called Caesars, who loved salad (in fact, a staple of every household was the Caesar salad). They wore amusing wreaths on their heads and long, flowing togas – just like the ones worn in the acclaimed film Animal House. They built elaborate marble temples to a bunch of pagan gods they stole from Greece without paying for them. And if you did not believe in these gods, you’d be executed.
The Black Plague: In 1348 the Black Plague wiped out 25% to 50% of the population of most Italian cities. The plague was blamed primarily on sinners who still believed in pagan gods rather than the one true God of Christianity. I strongly recommend NOT visiting Italy during Black Plague season – or saying anything to tick off God.
The Renaissance: Italians eventually concluded that having rats as pets was not a good idea, and in the subsequent two hundred years, their culture blossomed: Art flourished, reading was invented, Galileo developed the telescope, and Da Vinci even designed a prototype of the helicopter, which centuries later would be used to transport Hollywood celebrities to their Malibu homes. Life was good. But it was still not a good idea to say anything to perturb God. Just ask Galileo.
Modern Italy: In 1861, Victor Emmanuel 2nd became the first king of a unified Italy. Ever since then, Italians have lived in complete harmony, and everybody always raves about their government – just like in the USA. Some of Italy’s presidents have been known to rule for as long as a year before being thrown out of office on corruption charges.
Art: There is no country on earth that compares to Italy when it comes to art. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Titian, and Caravaggio are just a few of the scores of gifted Italian artists whose masterpieces I probably should have studied far more seriously when I took Art History pass-fail in college.
The range of subjects painted in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was surprisingly broad. According to the Catholic Church at the time, artists were free to paint anything they wanted, just so long as the piece focused exclusively on one of the following subjects: Baby Jesus, Jesus on the cross, the Virgin Mary, Mary with baby Jesus, Mary with Jesus on the cross, or the Final Judgment (preferably with Mary and Jesus tastefully positioned somewhere next to God).
Food: Italy is a foodie’s paradise. They have lasagna, ravioli, linguini, and spaghetti, just to name the ones I can pronounce. They are all incredible, but if I were to recommend just one entree, I’d have to go with gelato. In Italian restaurants, the tip is included, so no need to tip – unless it’s not included. And they won’t bring you the check unless you specifically ask for it. So to avoid all the confusion about whether to tip, here’s another Travel Tip: Don’t ask for the check. Just leave. It will be hours before they notice you’re gone.
Things to see: Where do I begin? Check out the canals of Venice, the craggy coastline of the Cinque Terre, the amazing cathedrals of Florence and Siena, and the Colosseum in Rome. But do NOT attempt to swim in Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain. The guide books won’t mention this, but I’ve discovered that you’re not allowed to dive in to retrieve coins that other tourists throw in.
Phrases to learn: Italian is actually fairly easy to learn. I found that within days I had already mastered several words, including: spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, risotto, gelato, siesta and mamma mia. When you are not sure what the correct Italian phrase is, just speak loudly in English, add an “a” to the ending of most words, and gesticulate frantically for emphasis. Example: “Gooda afternoona, seniore. Canna you tella me howa to finda the exita outta thisa boring arta museum? Ifa you’ve seena one Madonna painting, you’ve a seen ‘em alla, am I righta, seniore? Grazie!”
Helpful Italian phrases: The following are a few phrases I’ve used which may come in handy during your travels:
Scusami. Sono terribilmente dispiaciuto per rompere questo vaso antico romano. Era caro? [Translation: “Excuse me. I am terribly sorry for breaking your ancient Roman vase. Was it expensive?”]
Devo dire, pizza italiana va bene, ma la pizza americana è il modo migliore [Translation: “I have to say, Italian pizza is okay, but American pizza is way better.”]
Perché è che ogni bella ragazza sotto i 25 abiti come una prostituta nel vostro paese? [Translation: “Why is it that every pretty girl under 25 in your country dresses like a hooker?”]
Italy is a lovely country. Don’t hold it against them that they’ve no clue about the proper way to make pizza. (They don’t even have stuffed crust pizza. Can you imagine!) Italians are friendly, love to laugh, and don’t take life too seriously. You’ll have a fabulous vacation. Just one more Travel Tip: Don’t try to take a selfie with Pope Francis during Sunday mass at St. Peter’s without first clearing your request with Vatican security. The guide books won’t tell you, but the Vatican’s detention facilities aren’t nearly as cushy as one might expect.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. Buon Viaggio!
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Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2016
Bon giorno Timicus. Nos appreciato voci visitat e Vaticano. Per cortesia retourni di corpus petrifica da Papa Clementus V, i es pari nos famigli. Grazie….Papa Francis
( Good day Tim. We appreciated your visit to the Vatican. Please return the petrified body of Pope Clement V, we consider him part of the family. Thanks… Pope Francis)