Here’s part 3 of the tale of my last day in Italy.


I emerged from the metro at the station appropriately named “Duomo” into the cold night. When I reached the surface, the first thing I saw was a huge inflatable building inside which a man was shouting very loudly in Italian into a megaphone. Ignoring him and the gathering crowd, I went around the left side of the building, and gasped in amazement. Il Duomo was ginormous. Hugantic. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my life. There is nothing, nothing at all like it in America. It was the kind of structure that makes you shut the hell up and just be in awe of it, unencumbered by the vapid and transitory thoughts that invade your mind and dominate your daily life. Seeing Il Duomo for the first time had the effect of utterly clearing my mind, even if for only a few moments, and forcing me to recognize something greater than myself.

The only bad thing about the cathedral was that the façade was nearly completely covered for restoration. When you’ve got a building that’s over 700 years old, restoration is a non-stop activity. Despite the fact that much of the front of the building was obscured by a shell, the spires were still clearly visible, including the golden Madonna atop the highest tower, and the sides and back were untouched. It was a magnificent sight. However, not visible among the beautiful features of Il Duomo was Paolo. It was past 6pm, and he was nowhere to be found. Fortunately I had his cell number, so I ambled over to the bank of payphones to the right of the church. I had no idea how many Euros to put in the phone, so I just grabbed coins and stuffed ‘em in. I dialed the given number, and…nothing. I got a female voice in Italian saying something I couldn’t understand, but the connotation was clear: I had the wrong number. So I dialed again. Same result. Shit.

I called the States and left a message for DWW, just to let her know I had gotten the money, and wandered around. I studied the doors of Duomo, stared at people gathering around the church, and basically just tried to stay warm while I considered my next move. I looked at the number again, and realized that Paolo had thoughtfully included the country code in his phone number, which I had dumbly dialed also. I went back to the phones, tried the number without the country code, and bingo – he answered. He told me he was on his way and to hang loose. I found a shopping complex inside an ancient arch and set about spending some of my new-found Euros. After that, I went inside Il Duomo. I won’t go into specifics about the wonders I saw there – that would be an entire post all to itself. I was spellbound, though. The whole time I kept saying to myself “Don’t desecrate anything. Don’t desecrate anything.”

After I came out, I found Paolo out front, and he proceeded to show me Milan. The most interesting thing I saw was inside the giant archway, where the shopping mall was. On the floor of the ancient building was a section of tile depicting a bull. It looked a lot like this. In fact, it looked EXACTLY like this:

This bull was significant because, according to Paolo, people come from all over to see this tile in order to spin around 3 times on its balls for luck. Given my day, I spun around 6 times on the bull’s nuts, figuring more was better.

After walking the city and buying Paolo dinner, it was 11pm, and I decided it was time to head toward the airport, where my hotel was for the evening. The airport was about 35 kilometers north of the city, but I knew that there was a bus that went there from Central. See, by then, I was an Italian public transportation expert. But Paolo insisted on driving me there, which I greatly appreciated. We walked to his apartment, got in his car, and drive north, chattering the whole time about politics and Jessica Alba’s performance in “Fantastic Four”. We got to the airport, and encountered a problem. You see, the hotel was called Airport Hotel Malpensa. Malpensa is the name of the airport, so we figured if we just drove up there, we’d eventually run across the hotel. We were sadly mistaken. After driving around for 15 minutes, we pulled into the airport itself, and I hopped out to ask a group of cabbies for directions. Now, the fact that I got out is important, because as you recall, I don’t speak Italian. But by then I was swelling with confidence in my communication skills, which were indeed mad skills by then, so I bundled up and trotted over like I knew Italian or something. I asked, and a cabbie started giving me directions – in English! This conversation took place:

Me: “Buena sera. Dove Airport Hotel Malpensa, per favore?” (Good evening. Where Airport Hotel Malpensa, please?)
Cabbie 1: “Is close. Very close. You go out of airport. You go go go. Road ends, you go. Then go right, then go right. Then left. You there. Hotel.”
Cabbie 2 (to Cabbie 1, while furiously swinging his hand in a circle): “L’icindsia dkndlkio e sshsilvi waidkjsdfnei? Nsiewi cnejnc fava!!”
Cabbie 1 (to Cabbie 2): “No, no, fhfiitio fknvfowe dgfnle!”
Me: “Uh, what did he just say?”
Cabbie 1: “No important. No worry. You go. You ok? You know?”
Me: “Si. Grazie. Buena sera!

I hopped back into the car, and relayed the directions to Paolo, who looked at me with a “I knew I should’ve gotten out” look on his face. By now it was close to 1am, and we were both exhausted. We followed the cabbie’s directions, which led us to a problem. He was dead-on accurate with the stuff about the road ending and whatnot, but the “turn right” led us to a roundabout. And anyone who has ever been in a roundabout will tell you that ALL the turns are right turns. For sure, that’s what Cabbie 2 was telling Cabbie 1 to tell us. We picked one at random, and drove down it. We were wrong. It was foggy, it was dark, and there were no signs or cars. It sucked. We turned around and went back to the roundabout, and took another road. That road led us to yet another roundabout. Now we just looked at each other. I told Paolo to take me back to the airport, and I’d sleep in the terminal. I had to be there at 5am anyway, but he utterly refused, I think mostly out of male pride. We picked a road at random, and we saw a sign for “Motel Hotel Airport”. By then, as tired as we were, we weren’t choosy – maybe this was the right place. I went in, and sure enough, they had a reservation for me. I said my goodbyes to Paolo, and settled into my room. It was 2am. I had to be at the airport by 5am. The shuttle left at 4:30am. I got like a half-hour of sleep, and paid a freakin’ king’s ransom for the hotel room. Ugh.

I had no trouble with getting to the airport, or with my flight to Paris. In fact, they put me in business class, which pleased me to no end. Business class is delightful. Wide seats, nice headrests, sexual favors from the flight attendants…awesome. I changed planes in Paris, and that’s when trouble started. I’ve heard many things about how rude the French can be, but I never really generalized it to all French. I’ve since changed my opinion. French people are the rudest, crassest, loudest, and most unpleasant group of people I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been to Ku Klux Klan parades. There must’ve been about 60 French people on that flight from Paris to Dallas, and none of them would take their seat. Seriously, they wouldn’t sit the fuck down. One couple kept getting up every 20 minutes to grope each other in the aisle. Ridiculous. The flight attendants got on the P.A. multiple times, in English and French, and finally the damn captain had to get on it to tell those frogs to sit. The FAs couldn’t even push the drink and food carts down the aisles, and when they’d ask people to sit, the people would look at them, sniff, and wave them off. They were loud, yelling across rows of seats to each other, taking off their shoes, going 5 and 6 at a time to the toilet. And this was an 11 hour flight. I was sitting at the very back of the plane, and witnessed all this nonsense. At one point, about 6 hours in, one of the American FAs was walking down the aisle toward me, and when we made eye contact, he said “We’re having QUITE the party, aren’t we?” as he jerked his head toward Claude and Pierre having a loud French conversation across 3 rows of seats. I got no sleep on that flight. None. Thank God for my mp3 player. When we landed, I nearly pulled a Pope and kissed the American soil.

Nothing makes you appreciate your country like being away from it. America has it problems, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, except maybe bacon. But that’s a given.