Donald and I flew into Rome, where we spent a week visiting the sites that Donald wanted to show me. “I love this fountain,” he said as we stood holding hands in front of the Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain) that during the Roman period had been a source of water for the cittadini (citizens). Later we sat in one of the two cafés at Piazza del Popolo, the People’s Plazza looking out over two identical, side-by-side churches. The two cafés, one for politicos of the left and the other for those of the right, sat opposite one another.
I asked the white tuxedo clad camerieri (waiter) for il conto (the bill). He replied, in English, “Just a minute.” I had noticed that when I spoke Italian to the Romans they almost always replied in English. I understood, given the number of tourists, it was far easier for the Romans to speak to tourists in English, but it was disappointing and I hoped that the same wouldn’t happen in Venezia, where we were planned to spend four nights before going to Lucca.
We had booked a room at Cà della Corte, a sixteenth century Venetian palazzo, palace, that had recently been converted into a small hotel. In a city filled with turisti Cà della Corte seemed the perfect un-tourist hotel. I was very excited to finally see la città, the city. This was my second trip to Venezia. I spent my first trip in bed, exhausted from spending twenty some days in a dozen countries. So, by the time I arrived in the beautiful city I immediately went to bed and stayed there. For three days!
Lo and behold, as our train passed Florence, Firenze in Italian, I began to feel nauseous and by the time we reached the hotel, I was clearly ill. Katarina, the hotel’s owner welcomed us. She was the last person I would see, except for Donald and the doctor, for the next four days.
The staff at Cà della Corte were incredibly kind and caring. Katarina gave Donald an automatic orange juice maker, along with a dozen or more blood oranges and full access to the kitchen. “Take anything you might need,” she had said. By Sunday, my temperature had reached 103 degrees. Donald was worried. Katarina arranged for her personal doctor to come first thing in the morning. I wasn’t sure how I felt about seeing an Italian doctor. I had heard mixed things about the Italian Health Care System. “It takes forever to get an appointment or to schedule an operation,” Monica had once told us. But I also knew that it takes care of its citizens and, often times, even though not obliged to, its visitors. That was a comforting thought, given that I had often wondered what would happen if Donald or I developed a serious health problem or had an accident while in Italy.
I was delirious when the doctor arrived. He was a middle-aged man, probably in his early fifties. He seemed kindly. He asked me a number of questions in English – none of which I fully grasped – and carried out what I thought was a methodical examination. Then he put down his stethoscope, closed his bag and slowly turned towards Donald, ten years my junior. Putting his hand on Donald’s arm, the doctor literally forced Donald to take a couple of steps backwards.
Despite my delirium, I heard the doctor very quietly say, “Your father is going to be all right.” The crooks of Donald’s mouth turned, ever so slightly, upward as he tried and failed, to suppress a smile.
The following morning, I pulled myself out of bed, said “Grazie and Arrivederci” to Katerina and climbed aboard the boat taxi for the train station. I strained to catch a glimpse of the city I had still only dreamed about. “How are you feeling?” Donald asked.
“Your father is just fine,” I replied.
It would be three years before I finally got to see Venice in all it’s glory.
Next week we’ll answer the question: Can a strange Americanized version of Italian help learn the blessed language?
If you have friends or family members traveling to Italy, especially anyone heading to or near Lucca or anyone wanting to learn a bit of Italian, please let them know about my website, www.welovelucca.com. Grazie mille!