Would You Lika Some Pizza With Youra Pizza?

14: Italy  

Archetypes of the Stereotype

From the second I saw the Pinecone Hand, Ernie and Hads, I knew. It didn’t matter that I don’t know Italian. I didn’t need to. I’d seen that gesture a thousand times before, from Providence to North Providence, Federal Hill to Fruit Hill.

“Ohhhh, stugots…” is what it meant.

It didn’t matter that this stugots was asking the bus driver for his help, asking him to call the police while he held the wrists of the woman who had just ripped the mask from his face and was threatening to do him bodily harm. His shift was over and he wanted to go home – and this, this stugots, was trying to screw that all up.

The fight had been brewing in our standing-room-only bus throughout the entire ninety-minute ride back from the Amalfi Coast, the woman hurling verbal daggers at the younger man about something-or-other I couldn’t understand. But it had quickly escalated when we arrived back in Sorrento and the two had stepped onto the sidewalk.

I can’t tell you how it was resolved, or if it ever was. While the other passengers pointed their iPhones, waiting to make them both viral sensations, I’d gone looking for Polizia in the nearby square, only to be distracted by two very pretty American girls asking me for help finding a nearby market for wine and cheese. I would never look back.

But what I can tell you is that moment was the final bit of evidence I needed that Italians didn’t just invent pizza – and the pizza oven – they’re also the archetype of the stereotype.

How so? Well first, that hand gesture. It’s called “Pinecone Hand” to help differentiate from the estimated 250 other hand gestures that each and every last God-fearing Italian makes each and every day – and that statistic is an undeniable internet fact. 

Want more, Ernie? Italians do eat a shitload of pizza, it’s true! In Italy, nearly every restaurant is called a pizzeria. So many in fact that I googled – and this is also true – “In Italy, is the word ‘pizzeria’ slang for ‘restaurant?’

And if it’s not called a pizzeria, you can guarantee that even the finest, highest class joints have an entire menu section dedicated to that delectable, single-dished, always-uncut pizza pie. 

And they do speak so aggressively and passionately and with such animated gestures that you’re convinced you’re about to see punches being thrown. Their words sound bitter and biting and angry, but then they laugh and give a kiss on the cheek or a pat on the back and an affable “Ciao!” as they part ways in the street.

They do love to sing – anywhere, anytime, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t seem like every last one of them can hold a tune. They love to be seen and heard. They love fashion. They love their hair. They love their cleavage. They do drink wine at all times of the day, and they do ride vespas, goddammit!

Old men really do greet one another with an “OHHHH!” and “AYYYY!” while middle-aged men, far too old to be dressed like 1990s Vinny Pazienza, do so unironically while posing outside of storefronts as if it’s the local Coin-O-Matic. I almost took a photo of one group but couldn’t tell if the guy in the mirrored sunglasses, all white track suit, gold chains, slicked-back, jet-black hair and neatly trimmed five o’clock shadow wanted to kick my ass or compliment my shoes.

On the ride to the Amalfi Coast, along its narrow, hairpinned turns – in an entirely different but also dangerously overcrowded, standing-room-only bus – sometimes inches from safety rails that appeared merely aesthetic, our driver made personal call after personal call, dialing with one hand while way-too-casually navigating with the other, chatting animatedly and loudly, interrupting his conversations only to berate passing drivers, something he would continue to do well after the “offender” was long gone. He even stopped in the middle of the one-and-a-half-lane road to have an open-windowed, hand-grasping conversation with an oncoming bus driver, talking as if they hadn’t seen each other since grade school but who had probably driven into work together that very morning.

The past few weeks had been filled with every hilariously inappropriate Italian stereotype I’d grown up with, guys, and I’ll be damned if they’re not real. So whether it’s a kvetching Jewish mom, an Irish drinking lad, a tale about hapless Poles, or even jokes at the expense of my black friends, old an new, with whom I have shared many serious conversations about racism and equality in recent months and years, yes, even you have traits we can and should be able to chuckle about – and that’s coming from a pasty white middle class Irish German who likes to think he’s woke, which is a treasure trove of humor unto itself – because we all need a little more humor in our lives, and we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves from time to time, but maybe more importantly, we need to be able laugh at other people, because it’s much funnier that way. So if the PC push to take away our right to make fun of entire ethnicities for a few cheap laughs continues on its current path, well all I can say is that you’re going to have to pry stereotypical humor from my cold, dead, pineconed hands.

– – – – –

Meanwhile, after getting back to nature in Slovenia, my trip to Italy was mostly a return to playing tourist, the storied canals of Venice putting me smack dab in the middle of a sea of humanity for the first time in a couple of years. Besides reminding me that I hate tourists who aren’t me, it also confirmed that cruising its waterways by taxi or gondola is something that absolutely has to be done once in your lifetime.

If you read my last entry, you’ll remember that I’d given up a sweet apartment in Venice’s posh San Polo neighborhood thanks to pressure from Jeff Hull, future author of The Adventures Of A Hero Named Pud, to add Lake Bohinj to my journey. So it isn’t that big of a leap to say he also owns some of the responsibility for the place in which I ended up staying in Venice.

Not all AirBnB’s are a win, and we need look no further for an example. I even sent the listing to Margot to prove it wasn’t my fault this time, but it appears that nice photos, a collection of high praise reviews and crossed fingers aren’t always enough. Top floor, last three windows on the left. Entirely Jeff’s fault.
When I left to tour Venice in the morning, I sent a message to my host, a truly kind and wonderfully eccentric gentleman named Enrico, saying that we “might have a dead rat outside the gate.” He would later reply, “I took care of the mouse.” Well played, Enrico, well played, my friend (slow clap).
On the plus side, I was entertained by these three guys selling crack every night. I watched one buyer drop his rock as he walked away and it bounced on the pavement several times. Ugh, such a rookie move. I can only pray it didn’t affect the quality of his crack.
But! With the metro station literally across the street, I was door-to-canal in 20 minutes…
Say what you want about blasé modern architecture, but at least half of the fancy places I’ve seen on this trip are getting some sort of repair work done. So much for those legendary architects of old – build something that doesn’t fall apart and then I’ll be impressed.
Stopping at this cafe in Murano for a couple of drinks – where the water is flush with the sidewalk- is really just tempting fate.
A little eye candy for the two of you, Ernie and Hads.
Why am I including this piece?
Because of this guy. I have so many questions.

In Florence I would see the stunning Statue of David at the Accademia Gallery, visit its famed Cathedral, and walk the vast collection of masterworks at the Uffizi Gallery. I would stroll along the Arno, crisscross its bridges, and pass by Art History sculptures casually on display in outdoor squares throughout.

He’s like my twin. Hair-wise, anyway.
The Hall of Prisoners leads up to the Statue of David. In it are four unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo. David alone is mind boggling, but it’s equally difficult to comprehend he was working on all of these at once, not to mention many other pieces in various states of completion.
Hello, Rembrandt, old friend.
Michelangelo wasn’t just a sculptor – this is his piece, Doni Tondo.
Caravaggio’s Medusa.
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
This masterpiece, called Lamentation Over The Dead Christ, by Bellini, is actually “nothing more” than a practice sketch for a painting. How mindblowing is that?
Few know that the baby Christ also had the world’s longest and weirdly proportioned torso.
Take a good long look and tell me I’m wrong.
Fun fact: 97.3% of all master painters couldn’t paint a good baby if their afterlives depended on it.
No need to google, I’m making a coffee table book that will be available for Christmas.
My Michelangelo tour would continue with a visit to his grave inside The Basilica of Santa Croce, alongside Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Marconi, a memorial to Dante, and more.
Nothing to see here, just Rape of the Sabines, by Giambologna, one of the most important sculptures in art history, sitting in an outdoor square in the heart of Florence.
But world famous sculptures weren’t the only things to see in that square – a little lunch at
Ristorante Cantistorie before heading into the Uffizi.
Wild Boar with Polenta at Osteria Cinghiale Bianco. Excellent recommendation from Erik Hanna!
Monkey Brains.
Kiddinnnnng, I’m kidding. I was in Italy, for god’s sake, this was Panna Cotta.
I won’t eat monkey brains for another two months at least.
Living on the road ain’t all Wild Boar and Panna Cotta, people, and jelly only comes in heavy glass jars, so I discovered a more portable alternative to the world famous PB&J. PB & Honey.
Yes, I discovered it. No one else had even thought to try this before. I call it PBoney [TM].
God Bless the Irish. From the balcony of JJ Cathedral Pub with a view of, well, the Cathedral, obvi. And yes, Mom, I would also tour it. I’d be asked to leave, but I did tour it. Some of it.

From Florence I went to Siena, prodded by my brothers and mother who knew that the simpler, slower pace of this gorgeous little Tuscan town would be more my speed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the art and the history and wonders, and wouldn’t do it any other way, but I feel much more at home and in my element in a less chaotic place. There I would do simpler things, like walk to the Campo each morning where I would read and write and enjoy a couple of cappuccinos – not to mention being the recipient of a little Prosecco early one morning, courtesy of a group of elder gents. What started as one at one nearby table became two, then three of them, then two tables worth. When one of them popped the top on their bottle, the cork flew high up above my head and bounced off the concrete wall, falling on the cobblestone sidewalk between all of our tables. As an offering of apology, where one was certainly not needed but in the end very much appreciated, I was included in their toast, to what I don’t know, perhaps simply being alive on a wonderful morning in Siena, Italy. I could certainly toast to that.

I had lunch each day – an enormous slice of spinach pizza accompanied by a glass of Bocelli wine – with the owners of a little café at the end of my Old Town cobblestoned street. And I ate dinner at a little restaurant right around the corner from my front door. I did tour the Duomo and City Hall, filled with art and frescoes and historic artifacts, but that was the most I would play tourist in this lovely little town. I easily could have spent a month here.

Some AirBnB’s are a miss…
…others are not.
I would eat and drink and write and enjoy the sun and watch passersby from this patio.
The Campo, where at least twice a year (and sometimes more) the roadway is covered with dirt, stands are filled to capacity, and horses and their barebacked riders from 10 of the 17 city wards compete for the Drappellone.
My friends awaiting their toast!
Our spot, Bar Gelateria.
The view from City Hall.
My street.
The Duomo.
Legend has it that Siena was established by Senius, son of Remus and nephew of Romulus, who were nursed by the She-Wolf. The three are the symbol of Siena.
I know it will hold me. I know it won’t break. And yet, deep down in the pit of my stomach is a little voice saying, “It’s just glass, dude, and some random guy made that thing in his garage one weekend after having like four beers while watching the futbol match.”
Here I give you the world’s largest baby Jesus, apparently born the size of a 3 year-old.
For her sake I hope Immaculate Conception included an Immaculate C-Section, hahaaa, ammiright!? Hello? Is this microphone on?
Lunch after a busy morning of Cappuccino and Prosecco.
The only question is who sues first?
So. This is odd. On my last night in Siena, I was somehow visited on my rooftop balcony by this little guy in the far corner, a mini version of you, Ernie. But that’s not all…
The very next day, on my way to the train station, probably 3/4 of a mile from my AirBnB, I looked up, and lo and behold…Mom showed the pictures to Cruz, a beloved relative, a young man with a natural gift who is wise well beyond his years. Cruz very matter-of-factly replied that this little guy is the spirit of you, Ernie, sent by Dad to watch over me. I refuse to believe anything else.

Rome was, well, ROME! In all its jaw-dropping glory. There I shared a four-room AirBnB on a cobblestoned street in its Old Town with three young women, all long-term residents from outside of Italy. The hockey guys would of course find those accommodations spectacular, as did I, at first, until I realized that it meant the odds of getting access to the only bathroom (especially since one of my flatmates also had three friends visiting from Germany) were about the same as getting a tape-to-taper from The Plumber. 

But the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Sistine Chapel, and the breathtaking St. Peter’s Basilica, to name only a few of the sights seen, made it all worthwhile. 

Innocente!!?? Well that must be – and of course would be – my flat.
Some AirBnB’s are a hit, some are a miss, and still others appear to be the empty room of a teenager who is staying upstate with her dad for a couple weeks.
The evening view from my bedroom balcony chair and table, however, were spectacular.
As was the location. Outside my front door to the right…
…and left.
This is where Domitian used to exercise his horses. Or, well, his people did. Okay fine, his slaves. Those used to be all columns and water troughs and gardens.
A view of the Forum with Palatine Hill in the distance.
The Forum from atop Palatine Hill.
Am I just being paranoid or is he staring at me? Do I know him? Is he from Gansett?
What??? I swear to god if you don’t stop staring at me. Say something!
Sant’Ignazio Church.
Clean it up, lady. I’ve seen 6-year-olds on Halloween with more realistic hunches. And the bare foot might have gotten my “feels” goin’ if not for the extra scarves and headwrap and facemask. An elder with a supposedly open foot wound isn’t putting covid higher on her list than a makeshift sock or one you can buy from one of the five thousand corner stores for 1 euro. You’ll get nothing from me but a business card for acting classes, though I will give you a shekel or two for that one shaking hand – nice touch – luckily it wasn’t the one you collect donations with. Also, you’re probably 22.
The Mouth of Truth. Legend has it if you put your hand in and tell an untruth it will bite your hand off. I put mine in and proclaimed, “WE’RE ALL CATCHING COVID BY DOING THIS!!!”
I still have my hand.
As if it’s not cool and weird enough that you can walk around a random corner and find a Roman archeological dig taking up a full city block…
…I then came across this sign. Curious to know more about the dig site I would instead
discover the weirdest segue, not to mention the guy in the wall.
And another.
And another. At one end of the dig site was a stairwell down to a cat sanctuary. Italy is a no-kill country, so strays depend on shelters like Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary to be fed, groomed, vaccinated, and adopted. If healthy, they can even live freely, like those above.
If in need of extra care, like these two blind buddies, they’re kept indoors.
Learn More: http://www.romancats.com/torreargentina/en/introduction.php
In the Hall of Maps in The Vatican Museum, I found the ceiling even more stunning.
Quick question for my religious friends…Say some nerd with a museum badge and walkie talking walks up to you and says, “Sir. please do NOT take pictures in here,” and you reply “What? Who? Me? I wasn’t.” And let’s also say you’re “technically” in a holy place, like maybe The Sistine Chapel,
standing beneath Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.
Is that going to be a problem, like, “later on?” Asking for a friend.
If I am ever asked to choose a Superhero by whom to be rescued, you sir, will be that Superhero.
I’ve been in many, many Cathedrals, Churches and Basilicas along this journey,
but nothing prepared me for St. Peter’s. Just, wow.
My namesake.
There happened to be a mass taking place during my visit.
St. Peter is buried right there.
“”AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA– Oh you’re serious about putting me under arrest? It was just one photo of The Creation of Adahahah-oh, I can’t, I’m sorry, I just can’t take you guys seriously…”

From Rome I would travel to Pompei, where I would tour its eerily preserved city with my new friend Faisal, hike to the rim of Mount Vesuvius with my new friend Corinne, and walk to the waterfront with my new friend Pipito – the latter of whom, I must admit to you both, is of the canine persuasion, but we can talk more about that when I get home. 

Pompei is not exactly Rome.
Offensive? Maybe. But once you see the little face you just can’t unsee it.
I was about to begin my solo tour of the ruins of Pompei, fumbling with my map, when I heard a man behind me say “Are you alone as well?” When I said I was, he said, “Good, well then maybe we can go together.” Faisal was born in Turkey but has lived in America since 1966, the year I was born. He travels extensively, often alone, though he was meeting friends in Rome later in the day. It was my great luck and pleasure to have his company for half the day.
Pompei was a happening city, with a range of wealth and trade and agriculture and entertainment and theater – and not without its debauchery – when one day in 79AD it all came to a shocking end.
Some of the homes are still amazingly preserved.
Original frescoes still adorn many walls.
Pompei was not without great wealth – the House of the Faun was its largest home at 32,300 sq. feet
The stones crossing the road (behind the square water fountain) were for residents to cross the road during heavy rains without getting their feet wet
This is a wonderfully preserved lunch café, the food kept warm and served from those pots. There was seating indoors and out.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Pompeian Pizza Oven.
A lesson for you kids out there. Holding your nose and breath will not stop your brother from annoying you, nor will it save you from a volcanic eruption.
Dad always said that lying around all day was bad for your health.
I don’t know what was going on there.
Of course, the only place with a line to get in…?
The Brothel.
Just pick the pic of your pleasure…
Is.. is that the Reverse Goat Girl?
…and pick a nice comfortable bed.
The pillow is a nice touch.
Pompei may be just a memory, but Vesuvius still breathes.
Mt. Vesuvius volcanic crater.
I taunted it with my daring fashion sense.*

*Fashion shoot courtesy of my friend Corinne. Follow her wonderful travels on Instagram at @corymatei

There is in fact a nice stretch of waterfront in Pompei – Pliny the Elder wasn’t just a famous philosopher and author, he was also a naval commander who died when he came ashore attempting to rescue friends from the erupting Vesuvius. Today, most of that waterfront is industrial.

Pietro and Pipito

On my way to the beach I was suddenly met by a little dog. He ran up to me, then turned and walked alongside like were were just a boy and his dog out for a stroll. A few blocks in I would pantomime to a local woman who spoke no English, and she would pantomime back, and when done I felt fairly certain that little Pipito was a neighborhood regular who knew exactly where he was.

We would walk the length of the beach, he often taking the lead by several hundred yards. When I sat to watch the setting sun, he busied himself around me, coming and going, sniffing and investigating, then coming back for a pet and hello.

And then suddenly he was gone. We were quite a ways from where we’d met, and it was time for me to start back. I looked, whistled, called, and would repeat it all a few times as I retraced my steps down the beach, and up the long alleyway to the neighborhood houses. Down one street, around a corner, then up another street. It was about then that I passed a gated home from where I could hear young kids playing inside, and then, all of a sudden…

I would say my goodbyes and walk on, assuming he’d been called home. I was happy to know he had young kids to play with. About 200 yards away I heard what sounded like someone pedaling a bicycle toward me from behind, only to discover it was the sound of Pipito’s nails on the concrete as he went whizzing past, then turned, ran back and stood with his front paws on my thighs, his tail wagging. We would walk along again, with me wondering if this meant he’d be joining me for the next 9 months. Around a couple more corners, the road split. Pipito went left. I went right. But not before he stopped and turned and stared as if we were in some cheesy movie, then he turned away one last time, and we both walked on toward our own adventures.

By the time I decided to go to Sorrento, it was with the expressed intent to do a whole lotta nothin’, and immediately upon arrival I extended my stay from three nights to five.

At the urging of nearly the entire Hanna family some months ago, I would take the aforementioned trip to Amalfi, the coastal cliffside route through Positano offering stunningly beautiful views. But I would pass on a boat trip to Capri, as well as a few other tourist offerings, opting instead to simply enjoy daily walks along the cliffs, taking in sweeping views of the islands, Naples, and Mount Vesuvius across the Gulf of Napoli. In the marinas below I would spy schools of boiling fish and fishermen, jetboarders, and swimmers, walking down to its beaches and piers on a couple of occasions. I would grab a cappuccino and relax on benches or at cafés, dropping crumbs to pigeons like and old man killing time before heading home to shake an angry fist at passing school children. 

I shopped and cooked and did laundry and at night I streamed shows and listened to the everyday lives of my neighbors through my open courtyard windows. A birthday party. Kids laughing and playing after coming home from school. I began to look forward to hearing the same four Italian songs played once each day by one neighbor, along with the occasional, impromptu singing by another. I was even treated to a good old-fashioned, hot-blooded Italian couples’ fight, complete with ring-banging smacks on a wooden table and, eventually, another neighbor intervening to implore them to please shut the hell up. Just as it should be.

When I had my fill of wine and felt the urge for a beer, I would visit The Horse Shoe Pub just around the corner, an Irish bar owned and operated for 33 years by Luigi and Maria. If there was any question of their heritage – and short of legal blindness, that was impossible – it would immediately be dismissed by Luigi’s welcoming of the evening’s college girls with his live rendition of That’s Amoré.

I even got a long overdue massage, guys. It wasn’t quite a Jill Sarmento Therapeutic Massage, but my road-weary feet, legs, back, and shoulders are forever grateful to Georgia and Spa Ulysses.

And just like that, it was Christmas.
Sorrento’s main strip.
Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Naples to the left of it.
My AirBnB alleyway and door.
Looking the other way.
I wasn’t kidding when I said dangerously overcrowded. I was standing next to the driver for 40 minutes when he stopped to let on five more people with luggage. Oh, and if we go through that guardrail we’re plummeting to our deaths.
Covid Shmovid.
The Amalfi coast with our roadway in the distance.
Earlier I’d said hello to this fisherman and asked what he fished for here. He turned, looked at me, turned away, picked up his gear and walked away. The funny thing here isn’t so much the fact that he extended his retractible fish rod to a length of about twenty feet…
…It’s that he’s fishing from here. He’s there. In the distance. You can hardly see him.
And that’s at least seventy-five feet down.
Two other things I’ll say for the Italians.
1) They sure do make it easy to get beer (this is on the street).
2) And they also put a lot of faith in teenagers.
They also make it easy to get weed. I assume it’s easy, anyway. I wouldn’t know.
Hangin’ with Bob OUTSIDE the Amsterdam Cannabis Store in Sorrento. Outside, Mom.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the occasional pint.

During those last few days in Sorrento, and then aboard the 10-hour ferry crossing from Brindisi to Igoumenitsa, Greece, I had plenty of time to reflect and be thankful for where I’ve been so far, what I’ve seen, the people I’ve met along the way, and the ones who have helped make it all possible. This was all around Thanksgiving, after all.

Family, friends, Mom, not to mention Jason and Rachel and Grayson, who entered into a very odd arrangement that allows you both to watch over our home – and them – while I’m away.

I have been sent good and grateful vibes in the form of poems, prayers, and astral thoughts through spiritual eyes from dear friends old and new. I get tons of messages and updates – and thank god for WhatsApp. And I’m amused almost daily but the goings on of a child terrorist whom I will refer to here only as Cookie, because if I’m being honest I’m afraid of her.

And I am of course thankful for the two of you, who I miss and think of often, especially when I see other cats – and dogs – along the way. For dealing with such an odd arrangement, with my up and leaving after 9 years together, replaced by two complete strangers moving in with an enormous, defenseless, clawless, soft and probably very delicious bunny rabbit, whom neither of you have killed and eaten yet. For you and that and everything and everyone above, thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I hope you all had a joyous Thanksgiving holiday with family, friends and loved ones, and wish you all a fantastic holiday season ahead.

Ernie and Grayson.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s