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Living Slow in Italy - Italy is Dangerous for People Like Me

Valerie Schneider

I'm not exactly known for my gracefulness. In fact, I can't think of a single person in my family who is known for grace. My sister's nickname as a child was Carp, a play on her name, Cara, to signify her clumsiness. My mother, just a few weeks ago, fell headlong in the middle of Main Street with a giant pick-up truck barreling at her. She sustained a nice bruising and a cut on her face where her glasses broke and jabbed her. I was told (through the grapevine, not by Mom) that as she fell she was heard to cry, "Oh sh*&, not again!" Which just goes to show that this was not the first time such an incident had occurred to poor Mom.

Cobble stone streets

My grandma has, over the years, fallen too many times to count - fortunately and amazingly - without ever hurting herself. She is so famous for this that the staff at the assisted living facility where she resides call her Iron Woman. We affectionately call her the Amazing Bouncing Grandma.

My uncle fell while pulling at a vine and broke his leg in four places. What can I say? With such a gene-pool it's not a surprise that my nickname is Klutz. I stumble over my feet, trip over cobbles and have, at times, been known to walk into walls. And yes, I do these things while I am perfectly sober, thank you for asking.

So life in Italy poses a whole host of new opportunities to exhibit my lack of coordination. Italy is, I've discovered, a very dangerous place. It can't help it; its very history means it is a land rife with pitfalls. The ancient streets we so admiringly look upon were constructed using large, uneven slabs of stones. Staircases are rarely uniform, the steps alternately steep and shallow, and frequently also slanted downwards. Handrails are a rarity. Medieval stone piazzas are slicker than a skating rink when wet. There are screaming vespas and careening cars to dodge. Low doorways, narrow, winding staircases to reach basement-level bathrooms, and non-existent sidewalks add to the potential perils lurking at every turn. Here, I find myself a walking time-bomb of trip-ups.

Steep steps

In Anzio this summer we visited a stretch of beach where one finds ruins of Emperor Nero's seaside resort, complete with grottos. We waded out to the caves and climbed up to the blessedly cool shade inside which was open on both sides, providing lovely views of the coastline toward the peak of Circeo to the south and to a Saracen tower to the north. It was a nice respite in the heat of July. When we rose to leave, however, I forgot I was in a grotto with a low-hanging ceiling and stood up too quickly, knocking my noggin on the rock and giving myself a nice egg-sized welt in the process. Because ice cubes in Italy are a rarity even in summer, I resorted to placing a bag of frozen peas on my head to reduce the swelling.

But that was minor compared to my latest escapade.

Our Roman friends, Giorgio and Francesca, recently paid us a visit. They had an ongoing argument over when was the last time they had been in Ascoli. More than twenty years is the closest consensus they would reach, with Giorgio giving up and Francesca wanting to pin down an exact date they last saw our fair city. She is tenacious that way, and once she latches onto a particular subject she is slow to relinquish it. This was the recurring topic as we strolled about part of the centro storico pointing out our favorite landmarks.

We crossed the Roman bridge to an ancient part of town known as Borgo Solesta, where one finds a very nice prospect over the centro and can see several of the storied (and multi-storied) towers rising over Ascoli. There is also a very old lavatoio, or washbasin, that is rather cool to look at. We've given up trying to find out its date of origin, as when we inquire of such things the locals either look at us like, why would you want to know that? or like, I don't know so please don't ask me. E molto antica is the best answer we can usually muster on such occasions. It's very old, yes we know that, but just how old?

Borgo Solesta

We like to take our guests over to gaze at the old basin where once-upon-a-time women had the back-breaking task of beating their clothes clean while stooped over the great tubs and gossiping. Francesca thought this was very interesting and descended the few steps to the floor of the washroom where she promptly slipped on the slime and fell rather hard. "Hai fatto male?" I asked her. Did you hurt yourself? When she didn't answer immediately, I foolishly set my foot down on the floor to try to offer a hand to get back up. I thought I'd stepped on regular stone, being careful to avoid the green gunky stuff that inevitably forms where there is mineral-rich water. But there was something slimy there, too, and I felt my legs fly up and out like in a cartoon as I haplessly found myself airborne and headed for a rock-hard fall. It was a rather spectacular fling, actually, and I was in the air long enough to contemplate how awful it would be to crack my head open. I came down on my left hand and thigh, making myself quite dirty with muck in the process. The travertine was predictably solid and none too cushy.

I told you I was not graceful, didn't I? So there we were, two ungainly women on the ground while our fearless, strong men stood a ways off mouths agape, watching the proceedings. I must admit that they were probably the wiser of the bunch.

All the way home Francesca and I surveyed our filthy clothes and kept exclaiming, "mamma mia!"; "che sporca"; and "che disastro!" Good lord, what a mess. I'm such a walking disaster, is the gist of that.

Naturally, Francesca who is nearly twenty years my senior had no pain or bruising to report. I, on the other hand, hurt my hiney along with my pride, and procured a shiner the size of Nebraska on my leg. My hand hurt like the dickens. At least I was attempting a good deed when this occurred.

But that doesn't help to change my nickname any. I have a feeling I'll be repeating the scenario sometime soon. As long as I'm in a country that presents such attractive hazards, I'll still be known as a klutz.

Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She is a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Ascoli Piceno where they conduct small-group tours called Panorama Italy. Read more on her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. See Valerie's Slow Travel Member page.

© Valerie Schneider, 2007

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