Saturday, October 13, 2012
A couple of weeks ago I spent a week in Stresa, on the shores of one of the largest lakes in Northern Italy, the magnificent Lago Maggiore. Although I was there for work it is a spectacular setting, with the deep blue water a stark contrast to the forested hills and soaring snow-capped Swiss Alps in the background.
While there I was reminded of an incident that occurred a little while ago to two colleagues who were also in Italy – I think it was in Rome – on a business trip. They needed to visit several clients so she arranged a rental car for the trip. He’d heard that you have to be very careful when parking in Italy because there’s a good chance your car will be clamped or, even worse, towed away. So wherever they parked they made sure to buy a parking coupon from the vending machines that would more than cover the time there were there. On the second or third day when they parked in a large car park they had trouble finding the vending machine. She walked one way, he walked the other…but no machine was to be found. They could see that every car parked there had the usual piece of paper so there was a machine somewhere…but where?
Finally she spotted it, and yelling to him to come over, started rummaging for coins. You know what it’s like, you never seem to have enough loose change at moments like this. He turned out his pockets but between them they didn’t have nearly enough for the rather steep price indicated on the vending machine. He asked some passersbys if they could help out – obviously they took pity on these two middle aged foreigners who didn’t speak a word of Italian, who were gesturing at the machine and clearly desperate to get to the contents. Eventually a small crowd of locals gathered around, all chatting animatedly, having a laugh and waving their hands as they all pitched in to find enough money. Those present called out to more people walking past to come and help these two desperate foreigners by donating some cash. My colleagues fixed smiles on their faces, sweating now not only from the heat but also from the discomfort of being the amusing center of attraction for an increasingly large crowd of spectators, all of whom were encouraging them on with gestures and loud words they couldn’t understand. The simple act of purchasing a parking coupon had turned into the best entertainment of the day; half the crowd were in hysterics, the other half seemed to be slapping him on the back in a gesture of solidarity and encouragement.
Finally, enough coins were gathered, and accompanied by cheers from the animated crowd, she shoved the last coin into the slot, he triumphantly pressed the big green button….and out popped a packet of condoms!