Have you ever eaten dried, salted horse meat? Neither have I, but it’s on the menu in Florence, Italy. You can also see Italian tractor racing on TV there. The roar of a racing tractor in Italian or English sounds the same. When we weren’t watching speeding Tuscan tractors, we went to art museums and cathedrals. Italy has more culture than you can shake a VISA card at. Even our hotel bathroom had culture, featuring a sign which implored us to “Help the Nature” by reusing our towels. {mosimage}
    It’s hard work having fun. You have to walk 12 hours a day to see the culture in Italy. Italians store much culture in their museums and cathedrals. Your lower extremities develop a condition called Museum Feet, which is indistinguishable from Cathedral Feet. Tired feet in Italy feel like tired feet in America. After three days in Florence, we had consumed about as much culture as can be absorbed by the human body. Culture was oozing out of every pore. I felt like a National Public Radio station.
    Italy is the saint capitol of the universe. There are more pictures of saints in Italy than the Internal Revenue Service has received excuses from people who haven’t paid their taxes. After a while, all the art becomes a holy blur. To maintain my equilibrium by keeping myself at the low level of culture to which I am accustomed, I started taking pictures of coffee cups across Italy. For some reason I found this entertaining. There are many different types of coffee cups in Italy, most of them fairly small but filled with liquid gold. Each cup of coffee went for about $4 if you sat down to drink it.
    Florence is the Museum/Cathedral feet center of Italy. There is so much art there you feel horribly guilty if you don’t walk yourself into bilateral peripheral neuropathy. Dr. Scholl must make a lot of money in Italy. The podiatrist is king, or at least doge there. How can you pass up the chance to see two more Michelangelo statues after you’ve only walked for eight hours? It’s on to the next museum or wear the Philistine badge. Quitters never attain cultural Nirvana. It’s culture versus feet in a 24-hour Texas death match in Florence.
    Italy was our first tour experience. I was resistant to the idea of a tour as I feared it meant I was no longer young. Turns out that fear is accurate. Turns out the transition from backpacks to tour buses ain’t so bad. I didn’t have to drive in strange cities looking for a hotel. Our luggage would magically appear in our rooms. We got to know the folks on the bus. A dinner was included in each new city. Each tour dinner had a bottle of wine per table. I quickly learned to sit with Louise and Donna who did not drink wine. My wife would drink only one glass of wine, leaving the rest of the bottle for my personal edification. Italy became so much more entertaining. Louise regaled us with exciting tales of her dog Cletus at dinner as I studied the wine.
    Culture in Italy is not confined to museums. Street vendors in Florence’s town square were selling groovy, glowing frisbee flying saucers that launched from a stick. We took a day trip to Sienna where Crayola invented Burnt Sienna crayons. Sienna is a nice brown medieval town. Sienna has the Basilica of Saint Catherine where you can see her preserved head and one of her fingers. I couldn’t see the finger but Catherine looked great.
    On the way back to Florence, our bus stopped at a vineyard for a wine tasting featuring excellent grape products and the most olive oil-soaked piece of bread I have ever eaten. We were instructed on the proper method of tasting wine as a bizarre chicken with a pompadour wandered among the tourists. Our table mates were Jake the undertaker from Minnesota and his lovely bride, who were on their honeymoon.
    As a tip for future Italian tourists, never, ever use your credit card to call home from an Italian pay phone. If you think the cost of the Iraq war is impressive, wait until you see the charges for four phone calls from Italy to North Carolina. Send a post card instead.
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