2020 May 25

Visiting Relatives in Italy

Topics

Tower of Pisa

Elliot and I toured Italy in the early spring of 1991.  As planned, we went down the Amalfi Coast (stunning) and then on to visit his great uncle's family.  The hotel we stayed at before we got to his relatives was kind enough to help facilitate a call to those relatives to coordinate.  Elliot and I spoke no Italian, and they spoke no English, so the hotel owners, who spoke both, were very helpful.

Elliot actually did know some Italian.  He had been cramming Italian lessons from a beginner Italian book.  To my eyes, the book was not well written.  At that point, his Russian was practically fluent, his French was excellent, and his English vocabulary was better than mine is now, 29 years later.  So his Italian became passable, and while he had to be very focused when people spoke to him in Italian, he could generally understand them.  It was very impressive, especially to me.  You know the joke: if you speak many languages, you're a polyglot.  If you speak just two, you're bilingual.  If you speak just one, you're an American.

Elliot's relatives were very kind.  Shortly after we arrived, Elliot's cousin once removed took us around his home town.  We walked on walls that were thousands of years old.  He took us into churches that were closed for lunch (their priorities are in order, I think).  Elliot constantly translating for me, so I didn't feel like a third wheel.  That evening the family cooked us a wonderful meal and poured way too much wine, which I kept drinking.  They got a bit angry if we didn't eat more food, so we gamely stuffed ourselves.  That evening, I remember telling Elliot that I was very pleasantly drunk.  That feeling lasted for about five minutes, after which I was afraid I was going to be sick.  Elliot took care of drunk me, which is not a task I've had him do before or since, and I appreciated it.

The next day we toured with the same cousin to Pisa to see the tower and other sights. We had Italian pizza for lunch, which was excellent, and also square.  That evening, a friend of the family who once lived in England and taught English was over for dinner.  Her translations were much better than Elliot's and we were able to have much more in-depth conversations.  Elliot and I have always admired the Italian bridge team, which won many world tournaments with their novel bidding methods and insanely good card play.  The friend did not know bridge, but did teach us a traditional Italian card game.  It was a partnership game, like bridge, and if you knew what cards your partner had, your partnership would do much better.  When we first started playing, she'd often tell her partner what she had, we thought to make sure we understood how to play.  At some point, it became clear that cheating at this game was expected, and she talked about how clever the cheating could get.  We immediately put together that this culture could create the world's great bridge players (also a partnership game) by something other than just brilliant bidding and play.  I have never seen Elliot laugh so much.

As we were about to leave his relatives, who had been very kind to us during our entire stay, I went to our rental car and tried to turn it over.  It was a finicky car and I had to do it about ten times before it caught.  As I tried, his second cousin came over and pulled the choke on the car, and it started right up.  In the states, all cars had automatic chokes, so it hadn't occurred to me that I should look for one.  Off we went for our next part of our Italian adventure.

It was a great trip with a great friend.  I miss him.  He would have been 50 years old today.