Getting There is Half the Fun
I traveled to Livorno, Italy with Mick Wheeler on business. If Mick were any more high strung, only dogs could hear him. First we flew to New York where we were to catch a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where we would meet Hal Brown, our marketing rep, and from there another flight on to Pisa, and then drive to Livorno. As we were in line to board the plane in New York, Mick was given a message - call Hal Hostmeyer. Since this could have been instructions to turn back because the meeting was postponed or cancelled, we both went to find a phone and call Hal. As many phones as there were in the lounge, and there were plenty, there were more people who wanted to use them. Our flight was boarding and we didn't know if we should get on it or not. Mick was going nuts between the tension of trying to get a phone before the plane took off and nicotine withdrawal because of the restrictions on smoking. I thought he might yank someone off the phone he was getting so desperate. I wasn't so desperate because of my low key nature and because I figured we could just get on the plane and claim we never got the message if we had to. At last we got a phone - one quick call later we got the word: Hal Brown wouldn't be meeting us in Frankfurt because he had been diverted to cover a crisis in Greece. Mick was still steaming -- "you yanked us from boarding just to tell us that?" he complained to Hal. We still made the flight which was uneventful.
When we got to Frankfurt, lo and behold Hal Brown was there to meet us. He could spare one day to be there for the first day of our meeting with Whitehead. On the flight to Pisa, Hal befriended three ladies so when we landed Hal, Mick and I got to carry their unchecked baggage off the plane for them. Hal's words were "make yourself useful" as he slung my share of the bags to me. Hal felt better about himself, even if I didn't feel better about Hal. So while they sailed on to bigger and better things, we stood around watching a German Sheppard sniffing the luggage. At least he was having a good time as he rode around on the carousel, jumping over the bags so that he could sniff them as they came out of wherever it is they come out of.
We figured we'd stop off and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa as long as we were in town before heading on to Livorno. So Hal got directions at the Hertz counter when he rented the car. He also claimed to have been there before. As we left the parking lot, he said "there are two ways to go -- one takes you there real quick and the other you wind around a lot before you get there, and I can't remember which is which." After a while, Hal decided he'd picked the wrong one, so we pulled up at a roadside newsstand and out I went to get directions. I quickly discovered the proprietor didn't speak a word of English and since all my Italian consists of three words meaning, loosely translated, "how beautiful you are" we had a problem. Finally I hit upon holding my forearm straight up and then slowly moving it askew while shrugging my shoulders. That prompted a very long, complicated, and involved set of instructions, not a word of which I understood, complete with hand gestures that I didn't think our car, or any car, could do. I nodded my head, thanked the man in English, and went back to the waiting car. "Well?" I was asked. "First, we go this way" I said, "then I think we turn up there at the light. After that, I don't know but the Tower seems a ways off."
So off we set, over hill and dale but we had given up on asking for directions. We should have gone back to the airport and asked the Hertz guy again, at least he spoke some English, but we pressed relentlessly forward. At last we hit the old part of town, complete with walls and bizarre intersections never seen before in the states outside of road planner's nightmares. We almost flattened a motorbike rider when Hal abruptly pulled over to look at the Michelin guide to get some idea of where to go. The driver yelled something that luckily we didn't understand and probably couldn't be directly translated. The problem was even though we knew where we were and where we wanted to go, the streets were often one way and so we couldn't follow the miserable little map in the guide which only showed major roads and provided no indication if they were one way or not. Still, sheer perseverance saw us through (it amazes me what gritted teeth, a set expression, and endless argument can do) to a sign with a picture of a structure that was unmistakably the Leaning Tower with an arrow pointing straight ahead. At last, our destination was at hand.
Sadly, we soon ran out of town and it was clear we somehow missed the obvious landmark of The Leaning Tower. Before we could turn around, we went up a hill and Hal saw the Tower in the rear view mirror, shining like a beacon in the valley. But when we turned around and went back downhill, we couldn't see it anymore. And since they don't make straight streets in Italy, or anywhere in Europe, we were soon hard pressed to remember just where it ought to be. So when we saw another sign with the Tower on it, Hal decided we would park and stalk it on foot.
As it turned out, we parked right outside the grounds of the Church which the Tower was on and so we discovered it straight away. The problem was that the grounds were surrounded by a high wall that blocked the view of the Tower from the road. The Tower is actually kind of dinky, no more than four or five stories tall. But it does lean, quite badly in fact. So badly, they didn't let people up in it.
As I said, the area was enclosed by a wall with the Cathedral, Tower, and a stage set in a sea of grass. It was hard to see the grass because of the enormous number of Italian Gen-X idlers laying about in dark clothing. I had no idea that the area was some sort of teen/college hangout. Still, we savored the moment and drunk in as much culture as we colonials could. Having been cooped up together in a little car while arguing over what route to take, we quickly went our separate ways. Hal had seen it before and turned around within minutes to go back to the car to get some work done. While I hung out at the bottom of the tower, Mick went off to the souvenir stands. After what I thought was an appropriate wait for him to return, I went in search of him but unable to I finally gave up and went back to the car. Mick and Hal were waiting there and none of us were happy with the other. Then it was off to Livorno to find our hotel.
We found the highway to Livorno without incident but when we exited it we came down to an intersection with three choices as to which way to go. Hal sat there looking at all three. I felt like Frodo in Moria when Gandalf was trying to decide which of three shafts to take. Hal said one of these goes in the wrong direction altogether, one of these goes down to the water front and then you have a bit of drive to the hotel, and one takes you right there. We took the middle to be safe and sure enough it went through some deserted industrial areas before finally leading us to the waterfront. We had another decision time as Hal tried to decide whether we should go left or right, but he seemed at last to be more familiar with the surroundings and chose left. After winding along the ocean a while we came to our hotel. At long last we had arrived. Now I knew why Hal had been a pilot and not a navigator in the air force.
PART 2: A GRAND HOTEL
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This page last updated 4 September 1999.
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