Monday, April 07, 2014

La dolce vita

So I was traveling through France on the train today and saw that the forty-something woman pushing the food-and-drinks trolley was tall, slender, and looked vaguely Italian. I didn't think anything of it, but her appearance prompted the man sitting across the aisle to start asking her where she was from in French.

She must have noticed something in his accent that I didn't, because she answered in Italian. I didn't recognize the name of the town, but he obviously did. It turned out that he and the two women sitting near me were originally from the next town over in Piemonte. They discussed a few landmarks and families and so on while I sat there quietly minding my own business and editing John Wright's latest masterpiece on my tablet. They got a little exuberant at one point, prompting the woman nearest me to lean over and apologize in French, explaining that they were all essentially neighbors. From Italia.

"Si, lo so, anch'io parlo italiano," I said, which sparked considerable hilarity. The next thing I knew, I was getting quizzed about my last trip to Piemonte, the man bought a bottle of wine from the trolley lady, and was distributing plastic cups to everyone, including me. It's rather amusing. Even when you take the Italians out of Italy, the party travels with them.



Blogger John Cunningham April 07, 2014 6:50 PM  

We need MANY MORE works from Castalia House. how about going back and re-publishing some of the early classics from writers like AE Van Vogt, EE Smith, etc? perhaps Lord Dunsany also?

Anonymous Stg58/Animal Mother April 07, 2014 6:53 PM  

You didn't say "mi scusi, mi scusi"?

Anonymous ENthePeasant April 07, 2014 6:55 PM  

Love it. A few years back I was supposed to spend six weeks in Italy with my family. Because of one thing or another no member of my family was there more than a week and I spend about 4 weeks by myself. Best trip ever. As soon as Italians found out I was along they would immediately include me, took care of me, and were constantly inviting me into these impromptu parties. I would try and buy wine or otherwise contribute but they would insist on the content of my contributions and as a result every afternoon seemed to be filled with excellent wine, most of it around 3 or 4 Euros a bottle. I've never had a better time in my life and your story brings all that back to me. Thanks

Blogger Salt April 07, 2014 6:59 PM  

It was 7am, boarded the train and headed from Innsbruck towards Amsterdam. Two Czechs joined me in the cabin and they pulled out the Slivovitz. About 160 proof I'd say.

Anonymous daddynichol April 07, 2014 7:07 PM  

Best day at work, ever. At least until the next Italian get together.

Blogger JCclimber April 07, 2014 7:11 PM  

uptight modern corporate Americans....I wonder if the Mediterranean nations have higher rates of mental illness than America, but it goes undiagnosed because their culture has incorporated much better coping mechanisms.

and for those with difficulty in parsing meaning, I'm implying that American culture could learn a lot from other countries. Although that culture seems to come with a price tag....

Anonymous Wendy April 07, 2014 7:16 PM  

Even when you take the Italians out of Italy, the party travels with them.

So true.

Blogger Outlaw X April 07, 2014 7:22 PM  

Since I am half Italian as my mother is full blood. I have been to many Italian wedding and the receptions, my band played for many, there was always a wine fountain and Italian sausage served. My Grandmother and Grandfather used to speak Italian infrequently and I learned what all the table Items were such as butter in Italian.

Blogger Outlaw X April 07, 2014 7:27 PM  

Vox I'll never forget my grandmother saying "Sedersi e mangiare". You just brought back a bunch of memories, that nearly brought a tear to this outlaws eye.

Anonymous kh123 April 07, 2014 7:33 PM  

"uptight modern corporate Americans....I wonder if the Mediterranean nations have higher rates of mental illness than America, but it goes undiagnosed because their culture has incorporated much better coping mechanisms."

Was thinking the same thing. Though, keep in mind, they and the surrounding cities are what would be considered the 1984 subset of America. Always watching, always being watched.

Anonymous kh123 April 07, 2014 7:36 PM  

...Or, to give proper due to the right author, they are We.

Anonymous jack April 07, 2014 7:41 PM  

Any excuse for a party is a good one, me says....

I suppose you travel mostly by the train in Europe due to the shorter distances between places than here? Or, its more fun, better scenery, better trains than here, etc.
I don't envy you . I, for one, would not want the responsibility to edit John C. Wright.

Anonymous Seledon April 07, 2014 7:52 PM  

While it's true that the Italians are genial and happily parochial, they are lesser people than the French.

The french are more civilized, more practices in the culinary arts, know better how to run a country, prize education far more, are better engineers, grow and drink better wine, produce far better athletes, the francaise are better women, they are better diplomats, etc, etc, etc......It's just no contest.

Anonymous srsly April 07, 2014 7:57 PM  

I was traveling on a high speed rail from Portland to Seattle, when the tall slender blonde with 14 inch biceps and a full beard passed me a roach on a clip on the right hand side. She looked vaguely mulatto. The woman next to me pulled out an underwater assault dildo and lased the server's backside, setting it for air burst 5m posterior. Soon we were all meat packing in Redmond Oregon when we were caught in a Animal Liberation Front firebomb. You can take the weirdos out of Portland, but you can't take their meat thermometers out of your rump roasts.

Anonymous Ostar April 07, 2014 8:33 PM  

John Cunningham
We need MANY MORE works from Castalia House. how about going back and re-publishing some of the early classics from writers like AE Van Vogt, EE Smith, etc? perhaps Lord Dunsany also?


Blogger Slamdunk April 07, 2014 8:34 PM  

My father-in-law lived in Italy for many years. When friends from there visit him in the states it is interesting to see him shift from a reserved retired professional to an animated and opinionated Italian speaker. I think being around his old gang from Bologna shaves 20 years off of him.

Anonymous TJ April 07, 2014 8:48 PM  


How far is Nizza Monferrato, Italy from your area?

My friend and I happened upon a festival there 5-6 years ago. They were celebrating kicking the neighboring village's ass in a war 300 years earlier.

We were treated very well by the people ... too much free wine. We were both very hung over the next day on our drive down to the Italian Riviera.

Anonymous A comment relating to a legendary Mets third baseman April 07, 2014 9:31 PM  

One of the huge misses in popular US entertainment over the last couple of decades has been the whole Mediterranean culture life-as-a-party drama thing, which only shows up for Americans as a background in stupid mob soap operas and in romantic films about Greek weddings, or filtered through subplots, like the Kramer subplots in Seinfeld where he imitated George Theodore, or the performance comedy of Joe Biden as he stomps around the country making fun of the popular persona of the funloving "Joe Biden".

Anonymous more on the mets and joe biden April 07, 2014 9:35 PM  

Btw, I realize that "Joe Biden" claims he is not Greek. I don't care, anyone who understands Greek culture has seen that fool a thousand times ....

Anonymous jack April 07, 2014 9:36 PM  

@ Seledon
I find your courage entertaining.

Anonymous Claymore April 07, 2014 10:09 PM  

I've only been there twice, but I love Italians. Typical example: My friend and business colleague saw that I didn't have much to do over a weekend, so he invited me along to a family gathering. I could not really understand the language, but they treated me like family. The patriarch took great pride in showing me his excellent garden. Then we had a long lunch with wonderful local wine and cheese. The grandfather with a tear in his eye spoke of his respect and thanks for US servicemen during WWII. We took a ride and stopped at a roadside bar for a "digestive", then we walked along the banks of the Po with the kids. Then to cap it off we all cheered at the TV while Michael Shumacher won an F1 race in a Ferrari. What a day.

Anonymous Daniel April 07, 2014 10:24 PM  

Dumb me. I think it is funny that trains have trolleys.

Anonymous Seledon April 07, 2014 10:47 PM  

"I find your courage entertaining. "

It's nothing that people who know the French and Italian wouldn't agree upon

Blogger Remo April 08, 2014 12:44 AM  

Vox I am shocked and saddened by this post. It seems you were on a train and had fun with a bunch of like minded friendly people. Shame on you. Don't you know that true happiness is only allowable if it comes via diversity? A bunch of Italians having good wine (and you) is not diverse enough. You needed:

* A Hutu native who speaks no European languages and wants to kill and eat the person across from him because that person is a...
* Tutsi who wants to kill the Hutu
* A Chinese man who speaks Cantonese and some Mandarin who is traveling in Europe to spend his corruption dividend on property, further driving up the price and driving out...
* The one actual French person who is sitting next too...
* 2 Eastern European gypsies who are hawking stolen computers in pigeon English
* A morbidly obese white female American who speaks only English wearing an ill fitting too-tight colors of the rainbow shirt.

Now this is a group that can have lots of fun together and sing kumbayas around a campfire. Please strive to enjoy yourself in a correct manner in the future.

Anonymous Michael Maier April 08, 2014 12:57 AM  

Upon reading Vox post the phrase "La Bella Lingua" some months back, I've been inspired to examine Italian culture and its tongue. Its phrases and simple way of being seem more grounded and earthy. Very sensual.

Everything about French language and culture makes me think they think far too highly of themselves. It makes me also think "no wonder the Revolution killed so many and so many of their own". They're the pretentious "bright" uptight liberal douches we despise here.

Someone who spends time in both countries wants to tell me I'm wrong, fine. I'll reconsider. But that's the overall image both countries project.

Anonymous dh April 08, 2014 1:47 AM  

They're the pretentious "bright" uptight liberal douches we despise here.

I don't see this. Italy I am not that comfortable saying anything about. I've spent some time there when I was younger but under unusual circumstances. I know that the church there has a lot of influence still.

You cannot apply the US liberal-conservative paradigm on anyone, French or otherwise. It is simply not applicable. VD as pointed out, many times, that these are people who are not cowed into racial politics like the average American liberal.

In that regards, even a card-carrying French socialists is far, far, far to the right of even the most strident mainstream GOP on some issues. This is a country with classes that teach you how to be properly French for residency. This is a country that reveals in it's lifestyle as being French, who ardently defend the language and culture. They tell you no head coverings, and yes to jewelry with crosses. They are in the process of a correction immigration and I would not surprised if they follow the UK's lead in changings course on the multi-ethnic experiment.

As far as "thinking too highly of themselves", yes, there is that. My own impression has been that the young men in France lean, against stereotype, to the aggressive alpha type more than they probably deserve. They are aggressive, boisterous, but also confident and smooth. They have get a lot of female attention, but their young ladies are tuned to deal with it and so the battle goes on.

Your average French young person thinks Europe is run by Germany, that the low-lifes from the outer reaches of the EU should go away, and that France is fundamentally fine.

Almost all Europeans have other qualities that are bizarre to me. They are all very comfortable with authority. They will openly mock, tease, berate, them. But in the end, they simply live with it. It's like the sunset. Everyone cheats the tax man, there is surprisingly little shame in it in most places. England still has a sense of shame for high-earners to circumvent, even legally, the tax man, but through the contintental countries short-of-Germany, it's run of the mill. Low-level corruption is accepted. Adultery no problem. In that regard, they are more comfortable with power than even most boot licking Democrats and liberals in the US. But on the other hand, they would be revulsed by the military-esque police force that even small US cities house. So a lot of oddities that do not fit easily into the US left-right paradigm.

Anonymous GreyS April 08, 2014 2:14 AM  

A fun and inspiring anecdote-- wish you inserted more of these here. It reminds me of how my tiny amount of Italian is disappearing to nothing. And it reminds me of a year or two ago-- on a train from Marseilles to Lyon. We are an obvious non-French couple, and there was an older French man and wife, very well-dressed, who were scouring us up-and-down with their gaze. They even had their noses perched up a bit as they seemingly tut-tutted about us. I was midway between being excited to be on a train cruising the French countryside, and miffed that this arrogant couple were sniffing us with their eyes in such a way. I was debating saying something or gesturing when an attractive French woman about our age came and sat near us. To my surprise, the older couple switched their imperious gaze at this new woman, and then when at the next stop another few people came onboard, the couple did the same exact thing to all of them-- and a few did it back to them.

Anonymous Fisk Ellington Rutledge III April 08, 2014 2:59 AM  

I spent the summer and fall of 1979 in Italy, and I enjoyed myself immensely. It was profoundly interesting. I had taken Italian lessons for the entire previous year, so I was able to communicate fairly well. EVERYBODY I met thought it was GREAT FUN that a young American would come to their country to relentlessly butcher their priceless language. All I had to do was wander into a bar or restaurant or store and start speaking, and the party more or less began; slowly at first, gathering hilarious, unstoppable momentum.

One of the weirdest things that happened to me was one day in Turin. I was standing in front of some kind of store waiting for somebody to meet me. A woman came out of the store with several shopping bags, a box and her purse somehow all hanging off of her arms. She was about 35-40 and looked extremely nice. She looked at me and said, "Could you find a cab for me." She shrugged her shoulders and smiled as if to direct my attention to the fact that she was loaded down. In case I hadn't noticed.

I hailed a cab for her and took about half her stuff and helped her shove it into the cab. She then KISSED me on the cheek and gave me a bright happy smile and said, "Thank you my precious jewel." Or something very like that. For a minute I was sick with love and desire. Then it occurred to me that if that same thing had happened to me in my home city that her "precious jewel" comment would have translated into "Thanks!! Bye!!"

Anyway, I love the Italians. I always root for them in whatever they do as long as they don't try to reconquer Albania. My wife and I watch Italian movies just to hear the sound of the language. I even drove an Italian car for about 12 years. The car was eager, stylish, beautiful, sonorous, comfortable and only occasionally flaky.

Check it:

Blogger ajw308 April 08, 2014 3:05 AM  

are better engineers,
Selendon, My European roots run further North and/or West, but how can you argue that in light of Lambourghini's, Ferrar's, and Baretta? If Italy had stayed in the war, or fought on our side, there are some who'll argue the 205 was the best fighter of the war.
Do you realize you're furthering the stereotype of the arrogant Frenchman?

Blogger orlando braga April 08, 2014 3:30 AM  

This description corresponds entirely to what happens in reality.

Anonymous Wendy April 08, 2014 9:11 AM  

Of course, if the party is not impromptu, more flows than just wine. Apple mead is a fixture at the event I occasionally am able to attend. I don't normally drink, but it's impossible to avoid in Italy. Free prosecco with the meal, the 'try this' spinello (and whatever else the friends I'm with bring), the obligatory digestif...

Good times. A little awkward at time because I can't drink wine though.

I might add, it was a Frenchman who said my life wasn't complete without wine.

Blogger Hermit April 08, 2014 9:46 AM  

Sometimes visiting a foreign country is just like being at home if you are italian.
One can be sure to find another loud italian on the metro, the bus or in the line for some museum; five minutes later you are laughing with that funny guys from Naples at the bar.

Blogger John Wilson Bach April 08, 2014 10:32 AM  

How incredibly hip it must be to be traveling through France on a train, hearing and understanding Italian. I am jealous. Truly so.

Blogger Drew Ogle April 08, 2014 10:34 AM  

John: no need to be jealous, learn yourself some Italian.

Anonymous The Old Sarge April 08, 2014 10:48 AM  

You can take the Italians out of Italy, but you can't take Italy out of the Italians. :-)

Blogger Laguna Beach Fogey April 08, 2014 10:53 AM  

A moveable cocktail party.

Anonymous Michael Maier April 08, 2014 2:17 PM  

@ Vox (or anyone else):

If you could go to anyplace and any time in Italy, where and when would you go?

I'd love to do Carnevale in Venice but I'm not sure that time of year sounds like a good time to go to Northern Italia. I definitely want to go back and see at least Venice, Verona, Pisa, Florence and Rome.

OpenID videoacct April 08, 2014 5:53 PM  

I wouldn't go to Italy. I was in Naples twice in the Navy, and find no reason to repeat the error.

Blogger Hermit April 09, 2014 5:09 AM  

I wouldn't go to Italy. I was in Naples twice in the Navy, and find no reason to repeat the error.
Naples: a Paradise Inhabited by Devils. [cit. Goethe]

But avoiding the entire peninsula you lose like 50% of european artistical heritage.

Anonymous Anonymous April 09, 2014 4:07 PM  

Ma Napoli è bella, è un casino ma è bella.

Anonymous GreyS April 09, 2014 6:23 PM  

If you could go to anyplace and any time in Italy, where and when would you go?

I'd love to do Carnevale in Venice but I'm not sure that time of year sounds like a good time to go to Northern Italia. I definitely want to go back and see at least Venice, Verona, Pisa, Florence and Rome.

All of those are great-- Rome especially so. I would guess Carnevale in Venice would be pretty fun, but if it's an early Easter then it would be pretty cold. Venice is already expensive, so during Carnevale it would be very expensive. Still, Venice is a must-see no matter what-- you don't need a ton of time there, but it is definitely a must-see.

Unless you have tons of time and money, stick to the usual famous cities and places tourists go and then add whatever/wherever appeals to you time and budget-wise. We know one couple who spent their entire first visit ( a couple weeks) on a farm in Tuscany-- they had a fantastic time, but it would have driven me crazy knowing all those places were relatively close and not going there.

Now that we've done a bit of traveling there, next time we will focus on leisurely driving ( ! ) and random train trips to regions and towns we want to cruise in. We will start again in Rome before heading north to Assisi and then further on through Tuscany hill towns, up through Emilia-Romagna to Lombardy, Lake Como etc.. If we can work out the trains for it all we will do the trip that way because it is a great way to travel. Otherwise, we will have to do some driving.

We would save the coast(s) and more in-depth south exploring for another time, and attempt to schedule some small-town visits with some local festivals.

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