from Italy: The Rules of the Road
with Mom and Dad in tow
(Annie Ruderman is a former PAW On the Campus writer who works
in Milan for the International Herald Tribune.)
After four years I had the Princeton University parental visit
down pat: There was the frantic pre-visit campaign to down 2,000
pages of reading and two-weeks' worth of dorm cleaning; the misunderstood
messages about where to meet; the stroll through the gothic campus
to comment on tiger gargoyles; the lecture with blatantly brilliant
and charismatic professor; and the trip to the U-Store to buy siblings
something unnecessary and orange.
But basically it was hard to find much in the way of adventure
or surprise in Palmer Square and surrounding environs. Not so Italy.
Some people travel in style. My mother travels in bulk. She brought
a suitcase the size of a small aircraft carrier and filled it.
Apparently she did not realize that you could buy shoes in Italy.
To prepare for the trip, Mom upped the Deerfield Barnes & Noble
April guidebook sales figures by a factor of three. She also interrogated
every single person in the greater Chicago metropolitan area who
has ever set foot on the Italian peninsula as well as several thousand
who have not been to Italy, but have traveled in France (close enough).
My father, for his part, bought a new toothbrush (red).
The general plan was to rent a car, drive along the Ligurian coast,
dip through Tuscany, and windup in Venice before coming to Milan
to check out office and verify legitimacy and existence of so-called
My father drove and I navigated. We accidentally took the scenic
route on several occasions, but over here the "scenic route,"
is actually scenic so no-one much minded. My mother kept her hand
firmly planted on the imaginary brake in the backseat and remained
unconvinced that she could not stop the car by saying, "Bob,
take it easy."
For me the trip was educational as I realized that many of the
places I write about almost daily actually have a physical reality
attached to them.
Unlike the pizza-pasta-Metro-smog staples of Milan, cuisine and
terrain in the rest of the country change markedly over (what Americans
would call) a short distance. We found cliffs, valleys, and vineyards,
not to mention the day's catch, Tuscan sheep cheese and chianti
in the amount of time it would take you to get out of Midwest corn,
even if you did not get stopped by the Interstate highway police.
Incidentally Cinque Terre (five towns) is a misnomer. If you get
lost you will discover that there are actually seven towns tucked
in the hills along the Ligurian coast. Not all of them are in the
tour books and there's a reason for that.
If you have any sort of siblings, you know that traveling alone
with your parents is an experience that simply does not occur. It's
cool, especially when their level of comprehension is about 10 percent
of yours. In a spectacular instance of role reversal, I caught myself
constantly checking to make sure I hadn't lost them. The country's
somewhat bigger than Palmer Square.