Chapter 4: Italy’s a Tough Place to Leave!

Venice Travel Blog

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Venice was a brief, rainy daydream:  Riding a boat up the Grand Canal in our weatherproof jackets, looking at the buildings on the water, touching the birds in the main square.  We strolled through the back streets and over the canals searching out the perfect panini’s and tall cans of beer.  We were still amazed with the public rest rooms accommodating only a hole in the floor.  Thank God for being a boy!  Keeping in mind that we had just come from a long Michigan Winter and Spring, we were looking for the sunshine.  Venice is going to be in my future, but standing in the rain we decided on that day it would, unfortunately, only be a pit stop.  It was the clam before the storm, as we were full of Greek Fever!         
That night we rode a train down the coast to Brindisi, the Italian port for boats heading to Greece.  Dan and I were tired and ready for a good night’s sleep (or at least as good as it can be with a train conductor every two hours rudely barging in and yelling, “tickets!”).  Just after we stripped down to our underwear and crawled into our sleeping bags, three Italians students (two girls and a guy) with no other cabin to go, came in a sat down.  We sat upright; Dan fell back to sleep and my curiosity grew.  I spoke a little Italian, they spoke a little English and we struggled to communicate.  The girls were beautiful, of course, very dark and very Italian.  One of the girls was the best of the translators, but the other, stared at me with so much on her mind that I had to like her.  The boy, Emilio, was bushy haired and friendly.  We tried to talk about so much with little success, until we hit on the word Amsterdam.  A smile came to both of our faces.  Emilio was me, but full Italian.  The girls were so good about looking out for our evil train conductor as Emilio and I took a few puffs of the magic green.  With Dan still asleep we talked all night, laughing about translations we made and translations we didn’t.  Staring straight across the small compartment at two, dark, cute, Italian women whom were staring back with full curiosity was enough to keep me interested and awake for a week.  Europe was going to be one, wild train ride!  
When arrived at my new friends’ stops, we hugged like we knew each other for years?  Emilio and the good translator jumped off first, looking back with a smile at me with my silent Princess.  They knew.  Love is always in the air in Italy.  It’s understood and accepted.  Not only do Italians believe you can fall in love in hours, it’s almost the norm!  On the next stop, my shy, big-brown eyed friend was next to get off.  I walked her down to the platform and hugged for minutes, not saying a word until the whistle blew.  The trip was expected to be ruff on the liver, I never thought it would be harder on the heart.  A few hours in the middle of the night on some random train and it was a moment none of us would forget.  Travel is a privilege that I will never take for granted and hopefully continue to enjoy for the rest of my life.
Our train rolled into Brindisi (about twenty five minutes after I fell asleep) at some God-awful hour, maybe six in the morning?  I was so tired!  The little town was one strip, directly from the train station, about a mile down past every shitty, little tourist joint imaginable, to the port.  The tourist commission have it planned perfectly because the boats don’t leave until ten at night so you are stuck in that town with nothing to do except get bored and spend money at the shitty, little tourist stores.  And that’s not all they make money on.  Down by the port, we paid to use a public restroom and shower.  The man collecting money was like a pimp:  collecting money then pointing in the direction to go.  Just wanting to get away from the madness, we laid down next to the other couple of dozen travelers on the hard tile floor of the restroom / shower’s waiting room and tried to get some shut-eye.  Didn’t work.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  We decided to wait outside.  The place was completely sketchy, so we were taking our packs everywhere.  We walked down the stairs to the street, leaned against a railing to get a perspective, and there to the left were two back-packers, just like us, getting interrogated by the Italian police and then sniffed by dogs.  I guess I was too tired because I just sat there and watched until they finished, looked at us and waved us over.  A little nervous, I walked over waiting for this dog to go crazy and he didn’t make a peep; just sat down and let me pet his head?  The police immediately took us into their office and asked for out passports.  Again, confused by my last name, the officers were very polite and kept asking, “Anti-polizia?”  That was their unofficial way of asking if I were Mafia and their concern was apparent.  It made sense and I knew it.  A relative of one of the most ruthless, Mafia Godfathers moved to America, with a slightly changed last name away from the dangerous risks and free to travel Italy.  Like I mentioned previously, it was stupid, but I did play with them a little.  I would deny it, then look away.  After all, I had two packets of Amsterdam’s smelliest on me.  I needed to feel out any avenue I might have?  They separated Dan and I in different rooms and started interrogating.  I feel bad because Dan has told me since that he had to go through a strip search and even though he definitely intimidated the officers (nearly bench pressing 400 lbs at 5’ 6” and 160 pounds), felt rather embarrassed about the ordeal.  I’ve profusely apologized since, but knew he had nothing to worry about and that’s what counts.  I wasn’t going to let anything happen to Danny.  Me, on the other hand, was never asked for anything but the truth?  “Just give it to us and go.  If they find it in Greece, you’ll go to jail!” in a thick Italian accent while always putting his wrists together to simulate handcuffs.  I didn’t know what to do?  I played it cool and just VERY POLITLY denied, maybe three or four times.  When they wouldn’t back down I realized they knew I had it and the dog obviously was trained to sit down right next to the confirmed target.  For a quick possible discarding, I kept it close and easy, right in my front pocket.  I decided to trust them and handed it over.  They then searched every little inch of my pack and it’s contents then, literally, wished me a great trip to Greece.  After that ordeal it was almost time to get on the boat, but two things first:  a long cigarette and a trip to one of those shitty little tourist shops to get four big bottles of wine and a six pack of tall-boy Italian beer.  
As the sun was going down we boarded the ship.  It was a tenth the size of a standard cruise ship, but still big.  The lower level was for vehicles and about fifty of us were escorted up to the main deck.  It was a big room with a mass of cushioned, folding chairs identical to a movie theater without the elevation.  As soon as we found our seats, before we sat down, we struck up conversation with the three guys and a girl that were settling down in front of us.  They just looked cool.  John, Simon and Mark were three, mid-twenty, blue-collar guys from London (Birmingham to be specific) and she (whom I can’t remember the name of) was a skinny, but ruff, but sweet, mid-twenties Australian who just got joined the guys that day.  It only took introductions to make the connection.  We split up the beers and I went looking for more.  In a large bar room adjacent to the “ocean theater” was a bartender just cleaning up and closing down for this overnight transport of the grungy, tired back-packers.  Did I mention that I was very excited to be in Europe with one of my best friends and very eager to keep the party going.  I spent a lot of money and had the time of my life.  I was so happy the bartender had cold beer and was able to sell it that I bought two cases.  They came on flat trays, all of the cans exposed; so it looked quite impressive walking back into the passenger room.  My boy and our new friends seemed excited and impressed.  A few beers in us and our initial instincts were confirmed.  We liked each other a lot.  The Brits has super-thick Birmingham accents that sounded like “Bur-mee-umm” and took a week and a half to translate “Sauteeeed!” into “Sorted,” which is “American” for “COOL.”  Then, without notice, we were quickly and rudely (understatement of the year) interrupted by a huge and, almost deformed, ugly ship steward who ordered us off the boat without our stuff?  We had enough beers to laugh all the way down to the dock when Simon announced, “What’s up with fuckin’ Igor?”  HE WAS FUCKIN’ IGOR!  I took a case of beer.  Good thing:  we sat on the dock for two hours!  For just a second, I thought about anything that my backpack might be doing wrong, but I just gave all my weed to the police?  Time to drink beer and toast being completely legit and legal!  We talked the whole time non-stop about where we came from, our differences and similarities, music and culture such as, “What’s it like to have a Royal Family?  Search boats with spotlights floated up and down the side of the ship?  A huge music fan and a pack rat, I did have the heaviest backpack in Europe equipped with thirty-two mix tapes, a walk-man and portable speakers.  I had every type of music you could want to hear and enough batteries to keep it playing.  Music was constantly in the background of our trip!  On that dock it sounded and great as ever and helped to cement the bond that was being built between the five of us.  The “Australian Bird” was just, “along for the ride,” the Brits let it be known through mannerisms.  She was cool, I remember vividly, but on that night it would have been tough for anybody to get in-between the five of us?  It was the perfect combination for friendship and I don’t know how to explain it above that.  It would be tough for others along the trip to join our bond.  They would have to be pretty special.  One did it!  
This Australian woman sitting with us on the dock basically listened quietly to the five of us getting to know each other that night, but the one conversation I do remember with her was a complete and total fondness for one tape that she had with her.  When seeing my collection, she thought I would appreciate it and played it through “my system,” with the desperate need / proclamation / vow of not forgetting it.  Well, trying to keep up with three, blue collar Brits and two college-affected, small town, American boys proved a little challenging because I found the tape about a year later?  I had never known what it was unlabeled and fairly hard on the ears at first listen.  When I finally heard it right I loved it and listened to it constantly.  It was a live show of a hard-core, industrial band named “Underground Resistance.”  They ripped the place apart and gave total props to the city of venue and their hometown, Detroit, Michigan!  It’s nice to see and hear the city rockin’ once again.
At eleven we were taken back on the boat with word that the delay was a bomb threat?  We thought about that for a second, then remembered the other case was onboard.  Let’s set sail!  Everyone else was sitting back, chilling, eyes closed, definitely nervous and ready to fall asleep.  We were in full party.  We were so happy together and happy to be getting drunk together.  It may have been a simple beginning, but it led to an intense ending.  The only outsiders I approached were three Canadian girls sitting in the back.  One was wearing a light blue sweatshirt and so pretty.  The three girls thanked me for the invitation to join, but passed.  Didn’t think twice, back to the party I went!  Mark, the hardest to decipher, with constant smile and wearing the bluest collar disappeared with the “Australian Bird;” Dan, John Simon and I went out into the night and onto the outer deck.  The wind was blowing so hard out on that Algean Sea that you could stand on the bow and lean fully into it without falling!  You couldn’t hear a thing but the muffled, drunken excitement in our screams.  Fifteen or sixteen beers and I still sobered up quick when a wind caught me off guard and threw me across the deck into the railing.  A little more and I could have flipped over without a word, without a thought, on my own.  Trust me, it was jet black out there, no light and that boat wasn’t turning around!  On a side note:  I have a list of near-death experiences, but this night isn’t on it.  Part drunk, part scared, I stared down at that water and out at the barely visible lights from the nearest coast and psyched myself into the possibility that, if facing the that horrible situation, I would not give up!  I would have stripped down naked and floated on my back as long as it took.  I was in pretty good shape at the time and not ready to give up, sink and drown, even hating the sound of that word!  Today, it would make the list.  Our buddy, John, the most like myself (introspective, but outgoing), wasn’t so lucky to escape the wind and railing unscathed.  I was pulled out of my hypnotic, near fate with that black ocean by Simon looking for help.  John was inside, drunk and scared with his ear lobe hanging off.  One of my proudest qualities is my coolness under pressure, especially when it counts towards the well being of a friend.  I looked in John’s eyes, told him everything was going to be all right and he calmed down.  I told Simon to go look for the Ship’s doctor’s room and wake him up.  I grabbed my first aid kit and used gauze to stop the bleeding as much as I could.  John was scared, but Dan and I made him laugh a few times.  After about an hour of Simon’s loyalty and anger and drunkenness unleashed on the Doctor’s door, the bastard got up and took John away for stitches.  Dan, getting full credit for his partying abilities that night; hit the floor for some much needed sleep.  Simon and I found the last bottle of half empty wine and poured us a drink.  It was the worst wine I have ever tasted!  I remember choking it down while the doctor worked on John.  I laid down at 5:30.

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photo by: asturjimmy