Thursday, November 09, 2006

You Think YOU Had a Bad Day?

Okay, no, I have not had an unreasonably bad day today. I was just looking through some of my journal entries from my Latin club's trip to Europe and was remembering just how terrible our first few days in Rome were. Seriously, Shakespeare could not have written a better comedy of errors.

This has been revised from the original entries for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
Names! So you're not unbelievably confused...:
[The students: myself, Chrissy, Naomi, Jennifer, Katina, Jordan, Andrew, and Abigail.][Important people to remember who are not students: Lee (my teacher), Phil ("Papa Phil", her husband), Miss Teri (our female chaperone, and mother of Katina), and Patrick (Lee's and Phil's son, who was of legal age to be a chaperone but declined the title).]

Rome promised to be quite a learning experience even before we set foot outside the airport. Through ways of which I am still unsure, we were invited to join the yearly Founding of Rome parade. All of us, a little group of homeschoolers from Alabama, were going to be the first group of Americans to ever walk in the parade. It was a great honor, and a few of us were excited about it. Now... the arrangements Lee had made with the historical reinactors ("Groupo Historico", I'm not joking) were that someone was supposed to meet us after we landed and made our way through customs. When we finally got our luggage and walked past every sign-carrying pedestrian, there was no member of the historical group to meet us. This struck us as a little odd. So, we sat in the airport until Papa Phil, who had been exploring around a bit, rushed back to us to say that the people had been waiting for us outside this whole time. Oops.

Exiting the airport, we were hit head-on by a steady rain and a cold wind. The weather made the chaos outside even worse than it was, and it took me a minute to realize that the two strange Italian guys wearing the nuclear highlighter-yellow vests were taking our suitcases because they were from Groupo Historico. They loaded our luggage into a white cargo van, and I hoped to high heaven that their van had seats enough for all of us. Unfortunately, I was wrong: it was a van with only seats in the front and room for luggage in the back. Most of us would have to sit on the luggage en route to our accommodations. Ha. It was awkward for the first few seconds, but when the first drop of rain made its way down my neck, I was willing to sit ANYWHERE that would be potentially dry.

So, with five in the front (counting the driver) and the rest in the back (including Mr. Blinding Vest who didn't speak a lick of English) sitting on top of luggage, we set out. And when I say "set out", it's because "drive" is too good a word for our method of transportation. We swerved through heavy traffic at speeds that no cargo van should go. When the traffic was at its worst, the van went into the emergency lane like it was his right to be there, and I think we actually passed an ambulence on its way to an accident.

It should be known that, in any part of Europe, the lines on the road are only for perspective.

We finally arrived at Camping Fabulous, where we were to stay with the other traveling reinactors. Unfortunately, the van dumped us out in the rain with only our luggage and a prayer before leaving for more... er... duties, I guess. And while Lee went into the welcoming center to get the keys to our rooms, those of us with umbrellas stood outside in the mud. We were still cold, half-drowned, and our luggage was getting very wet as well.

[note: some in our group still consider "fabulous" to be an unspeakable word. Long after the trip, we continued to use "fabulous" in a sarcastic manner... or just to hear someone else from our group laugh.]

It seemed an eternity until Lee and Phil emerged with keys and directions. Now, the place where we stood had promise: the so-called "bungalows" nearby looked like glorified trailers, and made me feel like we were back in the South. However, when we were led through the rain and mud dragging our suitcases behind us, our humble accommodations were a bit less, well.... just less. One single-wide was split down the middle into two separate "hotel rooms", consisting of a cramped bedroom with three beds and one closet-sized bathroom We really didn't care, though; it held promise of a dry, warm place out of the rain.

Well, at least it was dry.

All of the rooms were cold, had non-working heaters, no blankets, and no hot water. So, we (myself, Chrissy, and Jennifer) put our muddy suitcases in the dryest places possible, stashed our umbrellas in the shower stall, and headed nextdoor to Naomi, Katina, and Abigail's room. They made us wipe our feet and remove our shoes before we could venture farther in, and while the room was warmer than ours had been, it smelled of sweaty feet in there. Jennifer disappeared to find Jordan so she could talk to Lee, and I stayed for a little bit before leaving with Katina and Chrissy to visit the guys. I was getting tired of smelling other's feet.

At some point during the visit to the guys' room, I asked Patrick to come look at the heater in my room, because I knew he would have better luck at fixing the blasted thing than I would. He and I headed back around to the cold room, and upon investigation, we flipped the circut breaker and Viola!, it lived! Almost. It still wasn't putting out warm air, and would reset itself when we tried to adjust it. Oh, how amusing. But it was working, in the loosest sense of the word, so Patrick started to leave.

And now comes the tangent aboutnthe doors. All of the doors had at least one issue with them: two of them would not latch unless locked with the deadbolt, one's handle would fall off in your hand (though Katina was able to climb out the window and open it from the outside), and the door to my room would latch a little too well (e.g. I had to throw my shoulder against it the first time before it let me out). Patrick thought that our door was like his, which did not completely close on its own, and that naturally we would have latched it upon entering the first time. So, to get out, he accidentally locked the deadbolt, and then couldn't figure out what was wrong with the door. We tried to get out, but we flipped the deadbolt back and forth so many times that we couldn't remember which way to turn it to open the door again!

So, as Patrick patiently fiddled with the lock, he turned his head to grin at me. "Oh, by the way, you're trapped for now."

My first thought was, 'I'm accidentally locked in a room with a guy. Wow. How cliche.'

After a while we grew increasingly desperate to leave the room, but just as Patrick was readying himself to climb out the window, I shoved against the door and (luckily for me, who could've ended up with a broken shoulder) it finally opened. Another crisis averted.

But when we had all regrouped in the warmest, least threatening room (the other girls' room, which still smelled of feet), Lee came in to give us very bittersweet news: we were still going to the banquet for the re-enactors tonight, but we were promised that we would have working heaters and running hot water by the time we got back that night. With that carrot dangling in front of us, we almost didn't notice when she reminded us to dress in costume.

Hang on... what was that? Costume? The students had all been under the impression we could wear our warm, comfortable streetclothes instead of our non-rain resistant Roman garb. Evidentally not... Lee had been told that the re-enactors should be in costume. Well... fine, if everyone else was doing it, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. So we grudgingly layered as best we could with whatever would blend into our costumes, grabbed our jackets, and trudged out into the cold afternoon. Sunlight was streaming through the breaking clouds, thus holding a bit of hope on the horizon.

With the promise of hot water and heat on our return later in the evening, our weary group headed down to the area where the buses were parked. May I remind you that we are in full costume at this point, and the most observant amongst us began to notice that no one else was in costume. Needless to say, a few of our conspiracy theorists (myself included) began to mutter about how the Groupo Historico members were probably laughing at us behind our backs. The entire banquet went like this, and many were more than peeved that we were the only visiting group who came in costume, aside from the entertainment. And, when we got back, the rooms were freezing cold, and we were still unwashed with no intent of bathing in ice water. We prayed for good weather over the parade the next day as we fell into bed that night, huddled together.

We awoke from our cold slumber to a mildly sunny Sunday morning. It was almost too good to be true! Could today really be a happier day for us?

Hmm... let's put it this way: before we left the States, someone suggested we name our to-be scrapbook about the trip "A Series of Unfortunate Events". If I ever find who said that, I will personally strangle them for being right.

Trouble started even before we left Camping Fabulous that day. When we tried to board the charter buses with the other re-enactors, we were stopped by several people talking to us in Italian. They finally found a translator, who struggled through anything from "Where are you from?" to "Where is your group?" in an attempt to help us. We thought she meant, "Where is the REST of your group?". Oh, no; she was asking where our group's bus was. Weellll, we had just hopped on the last available seats to go to the banquet the night before -- we didn't have a bus. So when she told us, "This... this not your bus," we panicked. How were we going to get there?

Fortunately, some other group let us jump on with them. The girls (plus Lee and Miss Teri), Jordan, and Andrew rode with the Bacchanalians (which turned out to be a bunch of people singing in Spanish and bearing the most frighteningly realistic adhered horns on their heads), and Patrick and Papa Phil jumped on with the group they called "Grumpy-Old-Men-Re-enactors, Italian Edition." It was a short ride, thankfully... I was getting a little wary of the guy across the aisle from me, whose horns looked unreasonably sharp.

It was starting to cloud up in the distance as the buses slowed to a halt and shuffled us out onto into the busy city, but we soon figured out they had dropped us off across the street (and nearly a block away) from where the other re-enactors had congregated. Had I known I would have to run across a busy Roman street at Patrick's heels, I would NOT have worn sandals without a heel strap. In any case, we found our way through the crowd to the head of the event (who called himself Nero...) and asked him where we were supposed to be. He showed us a paper of "formations" that instead resembled a text version of a pan of lasagna, and cheerfully told us he had to go deal with everyone else and ran off. Dazed, confused, and overtired, we resigned ourselves to stay put between the groups on either side of us.

Our formation? Naomi and Katina were in the front with their bright, cheerful, and particularly too-thin-for-rain costumes; I was between Patrick and Andrew, and we were second in line; Chrissy and Abigail were behind us; Miss Teri and Lee followed them; and last came Jordan and Jennifer. Papa Phil was on the sidelines, filming the parade. Luckily for him, he had enough camera equipment that no one thought he was one of "those weird Americans" and he was not questioned or stopped by anyone.

The cool thing was, we got our own flag-carrier! She was a nine-year-old Italian girl named Sylvia (and like almost everyone else, she spoke no English) who had either volunteered or been volunteered by her group. Her mother wasn't far off, and she had briefly spoken with Lee (because she spoke enough English) before we set off in our cozy little formation. Sylvia was placed at the front, shyly carrying the American flag she had been given.

As the parade went on, we heard an ominous booming in the distance. My head shot up from where I'd been trying to stare at Katina's ankles, and I swallowed nervously and said, "please tell me that was a drum horribly off-rhythm..." But a loud crack of thunder caused us all to jump. As we had feared, the clouds were getting bigger and darker by the minute, and heading straight for our precession. By the time we had nearly reached the Colosseum, a light shower had started to fall on our heads (and down our necks, which was cold!). The eternal optomists of our group agreed that in a matter of moments, the rain would stop and the sun would be out again.

Oh, yeah.

The bottom dropped out of the clouds. In a matter of moments, the rain had gone from an uncomfortable shower to a fabulous downpour that was a lot of rain on a lot of people who had no means of shielding themselves. Sylvia, our poor flag-carrier, was taken to the sidewalk by her mother and sheltered under an umbrella; we felt so sorry for her, as frozen and half-drowned as we all were. Andrew took the flag and we reassembled our fleet a little: Patrick was between Naomi and Katina now, and I was between Chrissy and Abigail.

The rest of the parade went on in this manner, rain and all, and at the end of the procession was a small tent at the bus stop where most of the groups had already congregated. But it was dry. We all huddled as tightly as we could, and I ended up resting my forehead on Patrick's back, partially hugging Katina, and squished between Andrew, Naomi, and Abigail. Normally I have fear of being trapped in such a crowd, up to the point at which I get violently desperate for personal space or make myself as small as possible and cry, but I suppose this only shows how a basic need can overcome an irrational phobia.

Also, some of us were able to strip their top layers of dripping wet costume, tolerating their mostly wet topmost undershirt (yeah, I was THAT prepared) for when they found a dry place to wear just their middle and lowest undershirts, and that morning I had slid on my jeans had been under my costume with the legs rolled up around my knees. ^^v I was happy -- I HAD PANTS.

a troupe of shivering bellydancers offered to give Katina a ride in their van, and unbeknowst to the adults in charge other than Lee, she jumped at the opportunity to be warm and left with them. Soon, our bus came, so we boarded eagerly only to find that we were still cold, wet, and slightly miserable, but now we had additional elbow room.

Just think: all this has happened, and it's only just lunchtime!

Okay, we arrived at the restaurant where the other re-enactors had already congregated. We searched desperately for Katina, and we were very surprised to see that she had changed clothes... and whatever she was wearing, it was blindingly emerald green. She told us that the dancers had borrowed a tablecloth and pinned her together in the bathroom, and she honestly didn't know how she was going to get back to Camping Fabulous in anything but her tablecloth.
Finally, it was time to eat. In all honesty I don't remember what we ate -- it disappeared too fast from my plate for me to become well-acquainted with it. But as fast as we all ate, it was still closer to three or four in the afternoon before we all managed to get out of there.

But our day was still to be eventful yet. Someone -probably with the dancers, because they were everywhere- caught Katina by the shoulder, pointed to her tablecloth fashion statement, and said, "Be careful, the restaurant might want that back!" Those of us who were nearest to her (including myself, Papa Phil, Patrick, Naomi, Abigail, and Miss Teri) panicked. Papa Phil quickly bundled her in his jacket and we smuggled her out of the restaurant before anyone could see, but by the time we found our way out, the rest of our group had vanished. We hurriedly searched buses in hopes of finding them, but to no avail; then we turned and, to our horror, a bus we hadn't checked was speeding off down the street. Wouldn't you know, our group was on that bus, and now we were somewhere in Rome without a ride.

Papa Phil immediately took charge and shuffled us to the nearest bus stop, checked the schedule, and cheerfully told us there would be a bus along in a few minutes. From there, we could navigate back to Camping Fabulous between a couple buses and two or three Metro stops (which seemed strange because, compared to where we were at that moment, Camping Fabulous was on the end of nowhere). So, when our bus came, we hopped on and took a seat. Keep in mind, more than half of our traveling circus was in street clothes, two were in costume, and one was in a tablecloth with a gold hairpiece on her head. It's safe to say we got some weird looks.

After a series of running to catch last-minute buses and an event in which Katina's tablecloth began to become unpinned in the middle of the subway, we made it to our last bus stop. We only waited a few minutes for our ride, but night had already fallen and we were getting hungry again, and with hunger came the overwhelming desire to be back at the Hell-On-Earth that was Camping Fabulous. But when we got on that bus, we were so tired that we forgot to watch where we were being taken.

After a little while, Patrick looked suddenly alert and glanced out the window. He looked back at Papa Phil a little worriedly and said, "Um... Dad, wasn't that our stop?"


We got off at the next stop, which was a little over a half-mile from our intended destination. So... cold, tired, hungry, sore, and minorly lost, we started walking in the direction from whence we came along the side of the road. It was exciting to walk on the side of a busy foreign road, for some reason... I think I was possibly delirious at that point to think it our entire day had been "fun", because I should have been grumbling about how the day had been nothing short of a lively romp through Hell.

But the day ended happily for us. When we got back, we found Lee in utter relief that we had finally returned. She had worried herself sick because the buses wouldn't go back for us, and she had held a sit-in at the front desk of Camping Fabulous until our group was either reunited or given better accomodations. Fortunately, both were eventually granted -- we now had heat, hot water, and a dry place to sleep. There was much rejoicing ^^

I guess it's true that, as the saying goes, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."


Jobber said...

An adventure! I love adventures.
Did ya'll ever return the tablecloth?
How did you get invited to be in the parade in the first place?

Elizabeth said...

Adventures make one late for dinner. ...but it really was fun, in a really Comedy-of-Errors sort of way. o_O
Honestly, I don't remember how Lee-sensei got us invited to be in the parade. She has a funny way of leaving out information that she thinks we don't need to know... or she thinks we know it already, which made assignments in her class reeeeally fun.
And no, we never returned the tablecloth. I'm willing to bet Katina still has it. ^^a

Caroline said...