I cannot remember what the argument was about but what I do recall is passing and re-passing my mother, heads averted, on separate tours through grand reception rooms, hallways and chapels of the Vatican.
That was day three of our four day visit to Rome in the early 80’s and was not the only reason I remember the trip with such clarity.
We arrived in a thunder storm, Mum’s fingernails gripping my arm as lightning threatened to strike one or both of our Alitalia wing tips. The noise, the shaking, rocking and dropping, the bursts of light and thunder bolts inspired awe and terror. More terror. And the rain. The rain was still doing its thing as we found a taxi to take us into the centre of town.
It was dark as we took to the motorway and pitch black when we broke down. Thankfully on the hard shoulder.
Even with my lack of electrical and/or mechanical engineering know-how I believed the sparks, hisses, fizzes and smoke that preceeded the stall indicated that Jupiter had done his business with finesse and we were, post 10pm, in a spot of bother.
Back in the day I had the most basic of Italian linguistic skills. So basic were they that years previously I had armed myself with ‘mi dispiace ma non lo so’ for my Stage One oral exam feeling the apologetic phrase would come in handy. It did. A number of times in that tortuous fourty minutes and I have never forgotten it to this day.
“Que?” I said to the taxi driver. “Que?” It was the best I could muster over the sound of the rain and his swearing.
“L’auto è ripartito,” he shouted and smashed his fist on the steering wheel. A couple of times.
“Evidente,” I said getting into my stride. “Che cosa abbiamo intenzione di fare?”
Not a lot it appeared. Cell phones et al a distant dream in them thar days, my mother and I began to think we might be spending our weekend in a beaten up Fiat, with a cussing stranger on the outskirts of Rome.
But then another taxi pulled up (grazie a dio). We piled in and made friends with our fellow English passenger who, I understood, we would drop off before the two drivers took mia madre e me to our hotel by the Spanish Steps.
And it all was going so well right up to the final approach to our new friend’s hotel. The underpass was flooded. I really do mean flooded. A simpleton could see that the heavily loaded taxi stood nary a chance.
Unfortunately we had not one but two simpletons in charge of the vehicle and although there was much loud discussion it appeared they planned to go for it.
“No, no no,”I screamed in Italian.
“No,no no,” my mother shouted in English.
“Please go around,” our mate said.
“Per favore, no,” I repeated. “Lui è pazzo,” I informed our driver pointing at his comrade in a final attempt to divide and conquer. Madness can be catching and I needed one of them to remain scantily sane.
Maybe it was my command of Italian or that they just saw sense but we took a tortuous diversion that meant Mum and I did not get to our hotel until gone midnight.
We left the two men fighting over the fare and bearded the somewhat aggressive night porter who showed us to our room.
Once we changed rooms we managed to get a good night’s sleep. Wanting to make the most of our first day in this ancient city this was a good thing.
I had packed a capsule wardrobe for the four days. A few tops (day, evening), plenty of underwear (emergencies), a cotton sweater, jacket and one pair of jeans and it was all good until I broke the zip in my one pair of jeans as I dressed the following morning.
Thus, from bitter experience, I say to you, never, never, never take only one pair of jeans on a holiday anywhere and more particularly to Rome where women are models or midgets and buying jeans isn’t part of your travel plans.
Begging a safety pin from the hotel we abandoned the Colosseum, I tied my sweater round my waist carefully disguising the gaping fly and, feeling most unattractive, headed to the shops.
I could find no jeans that fitted my girth and that I could walk in without buying twelve inch heels. I flagged the shopping understanding that the safety pin and I were destined to become best buds over the next few days.
I was in a slightly bad mood. But nothing that a nice lunch and an even nicer glass of Pinot Grigio wouldn’t cure.
“You’re not going to have wine at lunch time?” my mother asked/stated when she saw me salivating over the beverage list in the tratoria.
Oh my days, the running sore. How could I have forgotten Mater’s antipathy to alcohol and all that sail in her? The next three day stretched desert-like ahead.
I ate yummy pizza, discovered chili oil (80’s remember), quaffed my glasses of wine as fast as I felt I could get away with and regained my equilibrium but our positions were staked vis a vis fermented grape consumption on this city break and it was only mid afternoon on the first day.
Still we were keen to see some sights and there are plenty of sights to see in Rome.
It is such a shame we got on the wrong tour bus. And that we didn’t realise our mistake for such a long time.
We had decided not to visit the Villa d’Este because the famous fountains were undergoing maintenance and wouldn’t be operational. I guess you could consider it a good thing then that we arrived a said villa so late in the day that it hardly mattered. We had less than an hour to tour the house and gardens.
Thank goodness my middle name is Grizwald and one of my fortés speed tours of most things. Not so my mother. If I told you that I took her to the Tate in London once, I walked fast, she slow, she got cross, I had the car, she came home with me in silence and, before I woke the next morn, caught the tube back to the Tate for a whole day’s pleasure minus her only daughter you will understand that I was less disturbed by the brevity of our time at Spring House and the absurd pro rated entry fee. Mother was spitting tacks.
We did however have a good laugh at the driving/parking/crashing abilities of Roman drivers on our way back to the old town and dinner (read wine).
Sunday morning, jeans safely pinned we set out for the city within a city and as I said recall is nil about what went wrong or how things got so sour but by the time of our timed entry Mum had decided she was touring with another group. And she did. For about three hours.
I sat wilting outside for half of that time hoping that she had calmed down and would at least attempt to find me among the Pope’s Sunday gathering. My mother it must be said was an expert in the silent treatment. Let me tell you about North Devon another time.
Suffice it to say I fore went the lunchtime vino.
My mother was diddy in size with a strength of personality and opinion in direct contradiction. She did not suffer fools or rule breakers whatever their power or size.
This she proved to a full plane on the return flight when she discovered our across aisle neighbour was about to light up in the non smoking section. My mother hated smoking as much as rule breaking and possibly more than wine drinking. I have never smoked.
She asked him to put it out. He declined. She complained to the stewardess who tried to ignore her but found that impossible. The rule breaker continued to enjoy his pre take off fag (the 80’s remember) while he and the stewardess had a vociferous conflab in Italian. The stewardess then moved the smoking sign to include our row (you have to admire Italian problem solving) and my mother went ballistic.
It was a sight to behold and it wasn’t directed at me. That has to be a really good thing.
I loved Rome but have never been back. A visit is overdue. I wish I could go with my mother.
HeyJude over at smallblue-green words gave me the idea for this post not only by one of her photographic journey’s but a story I love about a trip with her daughter. Thanks Jude.