48 hours in Italy

On Thursday, I was planning a nice quiet evening. I had a flight at 6:25 on Friday morning and I would need to get to bed early. As class rep for the 79 PhD students in my department, I had organised a class party for 7:00 pm on Thursday. I wasn’t worried. The last time I had done this, I was the only person there who was under 60 years of age. We’d had two drinks and all been home for nine o’clock.

This time, however, there was a very different atmosphere. There was one man who had a particular thirst. And I do find it hard to say no to someone buying me alcohol. Especially when it’s someone who’s interesting. And someone who shows an interest in me. And it didn’t hurt that he’s quite handsome. (He’s married to a woman and has a little baby, so don’t go getting any ideas, reader.)

We drank until all the others were gone. We drank until we were kicked out of the pub. We went to a late bar and drank another two there. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t tell this guy. We’d only met twice before, but now we’re totally besties4ever.

I staggered out of a taxi at 2:50 am. I bumbled into reception at Hall.

Connor (in an unusually cheery voice): Hello!

Security guard (smiling): How are ya, buddy?

Connor: I’m drunk. What taxi company gives the best price to the airport?

Security: KCR cabs. Are you going to the airport buddy?

Connor: Yeah. I need a taxi at 5:00.

Security: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. You’ve had a few, have you Connor?

Connor: Yeah. I didn’t mean to.

Security: Would you like me to order you a cab buddy?

Connor: Yeah. Burp.

Security: I’ll phone you when the cab is on its way to make sure you’re awake.

Connor: Thanks. I didn’t mean to get so drunk.

Security: Mind yourself, buddy.

I made my weaving way to my apartment. I drunkenly packed my bag for the airport. I had to be up in less than two hours. So what did I do? I sat down and watched an episode of Big Bang Theory. Drunk Connor: an even worse decision-maker than Regular Connor.

I got forty minutes of beer-soaked sleep, until the security guard phoned me to say “Taxi’s on it’s way buddy.” “Grrrhthankshhh”.

I struggled out the door and into the car. I didn’t realise until I was taking off my jacket going through security at the airport that  I was wearing it inside out. And it’s not a jacket that looks OK inside out. It’s three different colours, with labels everywhere. I was very clearly still drunk. God only knows what security thinks of me now. Between my tearful drunken sailor act on the bridge last Saturday night and my drunken airport run on Friday morning, they must think I’m in the middle of a breakdown. The irony is, I think I’m more stable this year than I have been in ages.

In the airport, I realised I was still super-drunk. I nearly started crying because I couldn’t remember what month it was. Nobody asked me what month it was, but I stood there thinking, “I know it’s not May, but I can’t remember the name of any other months. May, May, May.” Next I realised I had my jacket on inside out. And then I stood staring at the departure board, completely unable to remember where I was going.

Somehow, I made it onto my flight and slept all the way to Bergamo. I had to make my way to Venice, where my friend who I was visiting lives. The first train I took was a little local line that chug-chugged along like a real train. At every little village station, the same thing happened. A self-important looking man in uniform, presumably the “station master” would come out of the door of the little station and look at the train. After observing the train with quiet and inactive pride, he would turn around and go back into his station and the train would chug out of the little station.

I texted my friend to say I’d need a nap before we hit Venice by night. He texted me back detailed instructions for how to get a boat to his house.

I arrived in Venice. If you’ve been a reader since 2010, you’ll remember that the last time I was there I had had no sleep either. But yet again, Venice bewitched me. A city on water is like a city made of candyfloss – too magic to be fully real.

I got the boat to my friend’s and he put me to bed.

That night we went out on the town. Venice could claim to be the most special place on earth, and by pure fluke I’d booked my flights for the last weekend of Carnival. Everyone was wearing costumes, masks, 18th century wigs, giant dresses, powdered hair and faces, or long porcelain noses like toucans had mated with toilets. Even people who weren’t in traditional costumes were dressed as Spiderman or Tigger  or Scottish man in kilt. I loved this. Apparently there are masked balls where everyone goes in full costume and it’s difficult to imagine them not being filthy, debauched affairs. Everywhere we went, people were showering each other in confetti. As we crossed Rialto bridge, two guys dressed as scarecrows with grossly enlarged penises (about two and half feet long) rushed about roaring and small children pointed and laughed. How continental. In Ireland, the children would be rushed past these giant penises with their eyes covered and their parents in a blind panic. On mainland Europe, penises are just part of life.

We had beer and prosecco and mojitos and caipirinhas. It was fun, though I must say that Italians don’t party as hard as Spaniards, or the Irish for that matter. By 12:30, the streets were more or less deserted.

We waited at the boat-bus stop, which rocked us back and forth where a man and woman in eighteenth century clothes did the tango. That night, I slept very, very well.

On Saturday, I didn’t get up until the middle of the day. It was raining very, very hard so went to the nearest restaurant we could find for lunch. It had plain pine walls. I don’t like pine. Like pigeons, boys who play the guitar and heterosexuality, pine is unaccountably popular. It’s yellow and it reminds me of mediocre kitchens, unimaginative floors and dreary cupboards. Anyway, this restaurant had pine walls and the room were in was called the Sala Cinema and was decorated with photos from classic cinema. Errol Flynn, Clark Gable and Cary Grant all had their portraits on display. And among these luminaries, hung a picture of Hugh Grant. It warmed the very cockles of my heart. I have to admit that Hugh Grant has the opposite effect on me to pine. He’s in at least four of my favourite ten films and his movies make the world a better place.

We ventured into the city centre in the pouring rain, where crowds of costumed people were hiding from the weather under awnings and archways. My friend was meeting an Argentinian friend of his. As it turned out, we were meeting three Argentinian girls. Their plan seemed to be to buy a bottle of whiskey and stand in the square in the rain, passing around the whiskey and “enjoying” Carnival. There couldn’t have anything my hungover brain wanted less than mid-afternoon, rain-sodden, Italian supermarket whiskey. Luckily, my friend decided that we’d all be a lot happier finding a warm bar and drinking wine, which is exactly what we did.

As I was flying from Bergamo on Sunday morning, we had to get a train from Venice to Bergamo that evening. We had to hurry through torrential rain like lovers in an indie movie, except instead we were just a pair of wet Irish boys on a train.

In Bergamo, we accidentally went to dinner in the most expensive restaurant in Italy. They opened a bottle of water for us before we even saw the menu and its prices. They had a “deal” of dinner (without a drink) for €35. We eventually found a few reasonably-priced things, and ordered them timorously, a pair of rubes in the palace for the night. We were sitting watching the man who did the platters of smoked meats and cheeses. He was an elderly man, with wild white curly hair and thick-framed round glasses like a pioneer of early aviation and an apron like a butcher. He was “being artisan” arranging various cheeses and slicing things from a pig’s leg and adding honeys and jams. He did not wear gloves, or wash his hands once in the entire time I watched him. He gleefully sucked his fingers between every dish he made. I dreaded to think what was happening to the hot dishes we had ordered, as there was no doubt that every ridiculously expensive cold dish that was served in the restaurant that night was coated with a generous helping of an old man’s saliva.

When our food did arrive, it looked delicious. It was also tiny. My friend literally got six little ravioli, each one costing about €2.50. I did a little better. But not much. We had both finished within seconds.

We spent the night in a bed and breakfast, decorated in bright pinks and greens with giant pictures of birds and animals, like something designed by a little girl on LSD. I loved it. Except for the fact that the next room to ours was occupied by an impossibly blonde couple who had four small blonde children, who all decided to wake up at 5:30 am and spend the next three hours running around the B&B, screaming and laughing.

I made my flight in good time.

I was in Italy for 48 hours, and I saw beautiful buildings, the most amazing costumes I’ve ever seen in my life, pretty bridges and stunning canals. But I only took one photo in that whole time. And it was well worth it. (I have no idea what it means either):

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