Wednesday, July 8, 2009
On Monday night we returned to Frankfurt after ten days away - 2 nights in London then the rest in Italy. I managed to fulfill a few of my aims in London, but not all of them. One important aim I failed at dismally was catching up with everyone I wanted to see. I realise now I was way too ambitious about what could be achieved, especially with a small person in tow. But I did manage to tick one important thing off my list early on - eaves-dropping. As a committed sticky-beak it has been driving me crazy not being able to understand what people are talking about in Frankfurt. So when we boarded the Tube I carefully positioned myself next to two young women and started listening.
'So have you decided on the dress?' said one. 'Is it the one in the photo you sent?' The other woman nodded. 'Yes.' There was a pause. 'Are you doing your own hair?' 'No, Louise is doing it for me.' 'What about your make up?' 'I'm doing that myself.'
Perhaps it wasn't the most exciting conversation to listen in on, but that wasn't the point. I could understand it. All of it. I was equally enthusiastic about reading things. 'Warning: Contents may be hot.' 'No pedestrian access.' 'This weekend only: 50 percent off.' I felt so intelligent.
Another one of my aims was to find some English-speaking kids for Mads to play with. I was concerned she was losing her friend-making skills so we took her to a museum that had a kids play area in it (the place we were staying had no local park). There was one other kid there - a slightly older boy, and I was suddenly concerned that the whole exercise would turn into a huge disaster, but Mads was enthusiastic to try. She came running up to me after less than a minute, her face shining and said 'I asked him what his name was and he told me. It's Christopher. And he wants to be my friend.' It was lovely to watch, but it also made my heart ache. It's not that Mads is friendless in Frankfurt - she has a couple of really great mates, but it reminded me of how much easier it is to make new aquaintances when you share a language. Not surprisingly there were tears when we had to say goodbye to Christopher.
Then on Monday I was propelled back into stupid muteness. Mads and I went to Italy on our own (Thieu joined us on Friday) to meet our friends Trish and Ol in Castel Gandolfo, which is where the Pope chooses to summer. I seem to have this naive idea that everything in Europe is incredibly close and that the longest trip you'll have to do is maybe going as far as Mt Eliza or something. But that's really not the case. It took us all day to get to Castel Gandolfo and the journey tried the patience of both mother and daughter.
To be fair, the German leg of the trip was fine (we left from Frankfurt) but the moment we arrived in Italy, Chaos rose up and consumed us. I had done some intensive study on how to get Mads and me from Rome to Castel Gandolfo - there was a bus, costing a very reasonable 4 euros that went from Termini to the small, regional airport where we were to meet our friends. It all seemed easy enough. In theory.
After some effort I found the bus station at Termini and entered the office. Once inside I almost left instantly, as I assumed I had stumbled into a production of some kind of complicated Italian farce. A femle customer was shouting at the top of her lungs at the girl selling tickets and only left after she'd kicked over an over-flowing bin. The girl in the ticket office was shouting back. Then another customer (with an impressive and clearly quite new scratch on his neck) leant into the office and scratched the ticket girl's arm. She shrieked, grabbed her bag, locked up the office and departed. Mads watched all this, open-mouthed. I could tell what she was thinkiing. We have arrived in Tantrum Land. I shall be happy here.
I really had no idea what was going on. A kindly French woman said to me, eventually, 'we have to go and queue. The bus leaves in only an hour and there is no guarantee that we'll get a seat.' I thought at first that I hadn't understood her properly. But no. We were expected to stand in a queue for an hour (me with a grumpy three year old) for a bus (already there, but locked up) that we may or may not get a seat on. Trish's plane was due in 40 minutes and if we didn't connect wih her I had no idea how I was going to get to the appartment she'd rented.
So that's when I decided a taxi was a better option. I found one and the driver and I agreed on a horrifically expensive fare (at this stage I would've paid anything) and once inside, Mads promptly fell asleep. I was thankful for this, because the taxi went so fast (I stopped watching when the speedo was pointing to 150 kms) that I consoled myself by thinking 'at least she'll be asleep when we crash and die.'
But we didn't crash, and we didn't die, and even the fact that Trish's plane ended up being an hour late failed to concern me, or the thunder storm that commenced just as we all left the airport together, as it was just so lovely to be there. Or perhaps I'd plateau-ed with the stress.
And once we arrived at the appartment and opened some wine and admired the view of the volcanic lago from our balcony and the dome of the Bernini-designed church in front of Il Papo's summer residence the pain of the trip quickly receded.
So for the next week, things went something like this: Long breakfast followed by coffees in the piazza. Lunch. Swim in the lago. Gelati (Mads discovered a new favourite green flavour which she referred to as moustachio). Some dancing to the Wiggles. Wine and pasta. Kids in bed. DVD. Rinse and repeat. We did go into Rome one day, which was a whole other test of endurance, although quite wonderful in its own way.
It was a great, crazy, fun, exhausting holiday, and I'd do it again in a flash, but next time I'm going to hitch a lift in the Papal helicopter. Or something.