Monday, January 7, 2008

Italy and mammograms

The Trevi Fountain, Rome

I have travelled to many countries and hope to travel to many more. Some places I have been to a couple of times because, I guess they speak to me. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Monterey and Carmel, California in the US and London and Italy. I've been to London 3 times for about 4 weeks total and only once did I ever leave London on a day trip to Stonehenge. All the other time, I was perfectly content and very busy with stuff in London. My last time in London, my hotel keeper was making an argument that there wasn't even a good reason to leave Hampstead (a section of London). And as soon as I photograph the Parthenon Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the Portland Vase, the Vindolanda scrolls and a really handsome bust of Julius Caesar located in the British Museum, he might be right. (You may remember that Julius is dead. I might have some personal, relationship issues coming to light here people, because I think he was like, a really sexy guy. Him and Admiral Lord Nelson. Also dead. Entombed in St. Paul's Cathedral and memorialized at Trafalgar Square.)

I fell in love with London on my first trip to Europe. We landed in Paris and went to all the usual places. Amsterdam (great cookies and where I picked up the habit of dipping my french fries in mayonnaise), Germany (brots and senf), Austria (oh my, the weinerschnitzel!), Switzerland (chocolate!chocolate!chocolate!) Norway (pickled herring, oh so good, and I don't even like fish), Denmark (danish pastry that makes our version taste like glazed over, recycled paper), Luxembourg (thin, pressed ginger cookies)then came south to Spain (unbelievably delicious tapas, tortillas, paella, fresh ancovies in olive oil, again, did I say I don't like fish! and a whole host of stuff that I ate and can't even tell you what it was but I think it had been hanging from the ceiling for several years).

In each country, I learned to say please and thank you in the appropriate language because, for one thing, it really made the bus drivers happy and for the other thing, people were a lot more helpful. People like the bus drivers.

We had originally planned to be gone for 9 months, but after about 3 months were sort of getting tired of always having to look for a new place to stay. We were staying in youth hostels which are not located, in well, let's just say they are not centrally located or easy to find or in particularly nice neighborhoods. Sometimes we were kicked out of a place we had planned to stay for awhile, if they need the beds for some passing youth group making us have to scramble to find another place to stay.

Because we were traveling by train between cities and countries, sometimes we would find ourselves traveling with other young backpackers and meeting the same group of people again and again. Stories would be exchanged. Like the one about a young, Chinese heiress who having lost her parents was traveling around Europe alone with a suitcase stuffed full of money. Girls who have been sucked into a scam to drive cars to Turkey or the Middle East but really transporting drugs, or worse, getting abducted.

Then, there were the stories about Italy. Notice, Italy was not listed on the countries I had gone to. Nope, not Italy because we began to hear stories about Italy. Stories of women whose handbags had been snatched by Vespa-riding thieves and dragged to the ground if they didn't let go. Women who had their necklaces ripped from their bodies and even thieves who would crack a raw egg on the head of a woman wearing a fur coat. When the woman removed her fur coat to prevent the eggy mess from dripping on them, the thieves would make off with the furs.

Now, we listened to this all, of course, even at our tender age, with a grain of salt. I felt sorry for the Chinese heiress because it seemed only a matter of time before she would be clunked over the head, suitcase gone, then left orphaned and penniless. I duly made note to self - don't take anyone up on offers to drive a Mercedes Benz to Turkey. I felt pretty safe from Vespa-riding, egg-cracking Italian thieves having no jewelry, furs or even a handbag because handbags and backpacks don't mix well together.

But, on a train ride south, the story got upped a little. Now, the story was that the Italian thieves were so good, that they had stolen a camera from a man who had been asleep on the train, with the camera strap wrapped around his hand. And the thief had been so good, the man had not even been awakened. When he did wake up, all he had was the strap still wrapped around his hand. I dunno why this started to unnerve me. I had a strapping, 6'4" tall, former high-school quarterback for a boyfriend, but he was kind of a sound sleeper. For all I knew, some Italian thief could swap me out for my backpack. And there he would be, snuggled up to my backpack on the train while I was packed off in the trunk of a Mercedes en route to Istanbul before he even knew I was gone.

How could he protect me or even me protect me from these ingenious thieves in Italy if they were so good, we never even woke up. So, we never went. Yep, we turned around in Spain and went to London where I fell in love with London and all things British before we flew home to start our lives. It only took me 25 years to get to Italy.

And that reminds me about the stories I hear ladies tell about mammograms. That they hurt, how the tecnician laughs evilly as she gives the device invented by a masochist an extra crank. How the technicians are cruel because they are flat-chested blah, blah, blah... But, I get mine every year with a smile on my face knowing that a few moments of discomfort may save my life.

Cause, I have the knowledge that I listened to only the bad stories once and I let it stop me. So, go and get your mammogram and don't let the stories stop you.

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