Don’t Touch Me With Your Filthy Lucre

Can’t seem to ever have time to write. I’ve been in Santiago and Florence accompanied by other folks and now, since yesterday, I’m on my own. So maybe I’ll be able to update this more often. I still intend to do some things on Galician folk music (I have lots of fotos and videos), Galician attributes, whatever that means, oh, and a more complete rundown on the food. Then I have to catch up with the same stuff for Florence. So many meals, so little time.

Speaking of which, while in Santiago, I actually lost weight, the food was so mediocre and unappealing, though it seemed like we were eating all the time. Now, in less than a week in Florence, I know I’ve found all that I’d lost, and maybe a bit more.

Another thing, in my Santiago entries, I ranted on and on about the ubiquitous smoke in every restaurant and cafe we entered. Apparently, in most of Spain, such places are, in fact, smoke-free. But Galicia, declared an autonomous regions years ago, still strives to maintain their freedom and disregards what I was told is a national no-smoking rule, and allows folks there to light up at will. From what we saw, I think maybe the law in Galicia requires people to smoke as often as possible, and in as many places as possible!

No celebrity sitings the last few days, we’ll see what happens in Rome! As I write this segment, I’m on a EuroStar train to Rome, the trip takes about and hour and forty-five minutes…fast, really. I’m in second class. On all my previous trips, I’d always gone first class, but the prices are so much higher, and for a two hour trip, this is fine. Don’t know what I was thinking before.

While I was in Brazil, I noted that guys there have not adopted the shaved head look. Well, in Italy, that is not the case…lots of ugly shaved heads. What ever fashion god decided this was an appealing look certainly had some right strong powers of persuasion. While not as widespread as at home, there are still plenty of ’em here. I had to stare at one last night during dinner. Yuk.

As in Spain, everyone in Italy, especially the women, dress in black. Black shoes, black tights, black pants, black skirts, black sweaters, black coats, black hair. It’s crazy. Carlos says it’s more practical for city living, and maybe that’s true, but come on! Oh, this has been the style in NYC too for many years, so?

Here’s a funny observation on Italian bar/cafe habits, maybe anywhere money is given in payment. On the countertop next to the cash register is a little dish or try. Whenever you pay, you put the money in the tray. When the cashier returns the change, it, likewise, goes into the tray. You will NEVER, EVER have a cashier place the money directly into your hand, no matter how outstretched it may be, no matter how impressively large and close and obvious it may be as a receptacle for money coming your way. Forget it. Ain’t gonna happen. Likewise, don’t even think of trying to put the coins or bills directly into the hand of the cashier. To him or her, you might as well be handing them a fist full of pus, or anthrax powder. They will recoil, resisting any such attempt.

This very thing happened to me the other morning after drinking one of my two morning coffees. The cup was one Euro and ten cents. I didn’t hear the amount in cents at first and, after having already placed the one Euro coin on the counter, was confirming the exact figure in cents. He said, “Dieci.” Ten. So I pulled out the correct coin and was about to put it into his hand which was positioned over the cash drawer. He grimaced. He nodded downward, For a second, I thought he wanted me to just drop it into the drawer. And then I got it. He was motioning for me to put it on the counter. “NOT IN MY HAND YOU IDIOT,” was I’m sure what was running through his mind. So I did the socially acceptable thing and put the damn coin on the counter. Only then was my ten fucking cents safe for him to handle. I guess the marble of the countertop sucks out the kryptonite or those anthrax pustules. Amazing. I wonder if, having been sanitized in this way, the money is safe to put into your mouth. If so, it’s one less thing Italian mothers have to teach their kids.

So instead, they teach them about the importance of always wearing black. And that it’s ok to eat raw pork in the form of prosciutto, pancetta, lardo, salsiccia cruda. And that, when you eat in a restaurant, you really should order a first course, like soup or pasta, then a second course of meat or fish. And, especially from grandmothers to young women, how to push to the front of the line as if you were the Queen of Italy, and doing so with such aggressiveness and authority–“Of course I have every right to go to the front! I’m a an old woman with power coming directly from god, the king, the queen, and Michael Jackson!!!”—that no one would possibly contest the action.

Yesterday I wasted an hour trying to save time by purchasing my train ticket over the Internets. It seems like an easy and efficient method and the official train website even has an English language version. But you have to register, and that itself is a pain. Then, once you’ve selected your train, your seat, etc,, it’s time to pay. This is where the edge of the black hole begins. Dante, my man! Did you design, or did your Inferno inspire the designers of this website? I punched in my MasterCard number and all the correct data to back it up, a card I use day in and day out for online purchases from vendors all around the world. I had even just purchased an Italian train ticket a few days earlier from a ticket vending machine in Rome. But still, the card was refused. This in itself should not have been a problem, when it happens on other sites, you simply pull out another card, enter the data, and go forward. No biggie.

But this is Italy, and I think the trains are owned by the government. Big problem.

Not only was the card declined by the card processing firm, but because of this, the TrenItalia site told me, not so graciously, that my “account” with them was frozen, and unusable. They were nice enough to tell me how I could reinstate things back to “normal”. Here’s the helpful email they sent to me, about 24 hours before the train I wanted to catch:

“You can request authorization to re-enable the credit card for making purchases on the Trenitalia website by sending the documentation indicated below, by either fax (06/44104036) or e-mail (
– the content of this email,
– your User ID,
– a contact telephone number including the country code (for example 0039 for italy),
– the photocopy/scan of a valid identity document of the person associated to the User ID,
Within 48 hours you will receive the outcome of your request on your e-mail address.”

Yeah, I’ll get right on that. Then I remembered this had happened before. What I did then was to create a new account with a new user name, a new email address, and so on. So that’s what I did. I went through the entire tedious process again, entering a different credit card number as well. Push “Enter” and then see what happens.

Then, with the tension and expectation one must feel when playing the slots in Vegas, I waited.

Declined. And yet another TrenItalia customer account frozen.

(The ad with the trains: Alta Velocitá means High Speed. This does not apply to their website. The other ad with the mom and kid needs no explanation!)

To get this far, I’d probably spent at least 45 minutes. Slow Internets in the hotel, combined with one of the most frustrating websites I have ever encountered. So I went downstairs to see if my buddy “Irma”, the daughter of Annamaria, the owner of the little Hotel Porcellino where I was staying, could help. She was so gracious and agreed that sometimes things in Italy could be very frustrating. “That’s why I want to live in the US,” she declared. We used her account on the train’s website and went through the process. And we went through the process again. And then again. And then again. I tried FOUR different credit cards, all perfectly good. But to no avail. And I felt sorry because this had then frozen her “member’s account on the website.

So, after all that, I arrived at the station about 9am this morning, went straight to a ticket vending machine (run by TrenItalia, I’ll have ypu know) and bought a ticket–for an earlier train–in about 3 minutes. With one of the offending credit cards, of course. Wacky.

I’ll get in a bit earlier than expected and hope the woman will be at the B+B to check me in. Who knows!???? Many of these places in Italy are almost self-serve, with no regular hours for the reception desk. I told her I’d be in about noon, and now it will be about 20 minutes earlier. We’ll see what happens. I really don’t want to hang out on the street, but it won’t be for long if that is the case.

A bit later:

Train arrived early, had a nice taxi ride to the hotel, chatting with the driver about restaurants in Rome. I think he was impressed with my knowledge (who wouldn’t be?) and called me an expert! I laughed and said, “Maybe in the future.”

Got to the hotel, or almost. I had to walk a bit to find it, and the numbers are not obvious. Oh, and 99 on the street is across from 34, so go figure. Lugged the heavy (with books now) suitcase up 4 flights of stairs, checked in and am getting ready to go out, to start soaking up this great city. Lunch is in a bit over an hour at a tiny hole called Sora Margherita. Will be meeting Lidia Agraz and her pal Allan who are staying in Rome for a while.

The room is cramped. Clean, nice bathroom, but the room is cramped. Very cramped. But it’s close to everything and that is all that really matters for me.

Rome is a giant city, dirty, noisy, busy, crowded. But I love it.

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