Wednesday, 28 September 2011

When in Rome... Or Venice to be more precise.

Let me paint you a picture of a perfect Venetian escape: A converted palace nestling in the corner of a picturesque square with exclusive access via its own private bridge: A quintessentially Italian balcony overlooking a canal used by actual, real gondolas: A typical Italian meal cooked every night by an in-house chef.
There are some things money can’t buy, but for everything else... 35 Euro per night will get you a bed in the Venice Fish! But sheets are extra mind, as is a key, and to use the shower and pretty much everything else. Apart from the bed bugs, those are on the house.
Bought you back to reality with a bit of a bump, huh?
Staying in a hostel is something that everyone should experience at some point in their life. On the one hand, it’s a great way to see a city for a few pennies, but on the other there is the fact that you are going to be staying in a dorm (if you are particularly penny pinching like me) which therefore means that you probably will be privy to some things that you really shouldn’t see. In this case, it was the bible-bashing guy from Louisiana on the bunk beneath me, who had obviously decided that he was going to cut loose on his statutory, early twenties Euro-trip-of-self-discovery funded entirely by daddy dearest, and well and truly discover himself... and a few others along the way. Now I’m not going to claim to be a prude, ‘cus I’m not, but even so, as I’m lying on my top bunk being (not so gently) swayed to sleep by him and the Korean girl fornicating on the bed beneath me, I realise that I’m getting too old for this. I mean I’m a teacher, a profession synonymous to responsibility and being sensible! (Note to self: Must stop using that as an excuse as it’s becoming less believable, especially after what I’m going to reveal.)
Anyways, the hostel I was staying at specifically said on the booking form that you shouldn’t stay at this place unless you were sociable and prepared to party, (hard) every night. Blimey I’m thinking, it’s more like an application form than a reservation. Just to be on the safe side I decided to take back-up in the form of my straight talking, whiskey drinking accomplice, Hayley, just in case things got out of hand. The fact that she bailed two days before we were due to arrive, means that I lay the blame for what is to come squarely on her. Yes Hayley, I blame you. (Weirdly, as you already know, going to the cinema by myself in Birmingham, the place where I live, is a more traumatic prospect than going to a foreign country alone, but you guys should know I’m unconventional like that.)
After reading the full spectrum of reviews I was expecting a completely wild time here, and to be honest, there was some room for improvement: I’d give it a B+. But oh well, I would be starting work the next day so an early night wouldn’t be quite so bad.
So where did it all go wrong/right?
It definitely wasn’t the little shop down a pretty dodgy looking alley that temped in any unwitting tourist under the guise of We’ll fill any bottle with wine for 1 Euro. In fact, I can barely even remember that experience so it definitely couldn’t have been that.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur of... well, blurriness, until I heard the three little words that can simultaneously strike fear and a childish sense of excitement into even the most responsible adult.
Spin. The. Bottle.
Spin the bottle? I’m twenty four! I don’t need to participate in some hormonally driven game of debauchery in order to have a drunken snog with somebody who’s almost good looking if you’ve drunk a bottle of wine and kinda squint through your right eye.
Then again, I was in Italy, the land of romance. In Venice, one of the most romantic cities in the world so surely that can justify and any eventuality of pursuing romance marriage a night of entertainment until one or other party check out the next morning.
But this was not like any normal schoolyard game of spin the bottle. No sir-ee. The conventional bottle was replaced by a full grown man. A full grown naked man at that.
How would that work, I hear you say? A marble floor, and olive oil... lots of it. After sharing this with my colleagues back home when I felt that the staff room conversation with starting to stagnate, there were various mutterings about “chafing” and regular intervals and many of them are probably still trying to figure out the logistics behind this feat. Let’s just say it’s one of nature’s miracles. Nevertheless, as with the official rules of spin the bottle, no exceptions to could be made, therefore I shall omit the following section and leave it up to your own imagination. (N.B. for the more liberal readers I would like to point out that I do have some standards. Some, not many mind you. For those who are of a sensitive disposition, why the hell are you reading my blog anyway?! You should know better by now!)
So I shall end this post on the following note:
To my parents, who will undoubtedly read this; I’m sorry; I’ve disgraced the family name once again.
To everyone else, it’s the Venice Fish. That’s V-E-N-I-C-E   F-I-S-H.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Lost in Translation

Have you wondered where I was?
Of course you have!
(Well you probably haven’t but I’m gonna tell you anyway!)
Italy! That’s where! For the last few weeks I have been inflicting my idiocy on the continent, and believe me I’ve lived up to expectations. In a similar way to when the new settlers in America gave the natives syphilis, I offered myself up to the Italian education system in the vain hope that I might be able to impart some of my limited knowledge of Italy’s next generation. As if I haven’t done enough lasting damage to British youths, the Italians seemed more than happy to welcome me into their country (and for particularly unsuspecting families) their homes in order to enrich their understanding of English.
Whilst I’m pretty sure the families were expecting some dictionary toting English boy, drinking tea and fawning over the monarchy. Instead they were faced with me; a pseudo-Brummie, binge drinking, potty-mouthed 24 year old with a penchant for insulting small children, large children, parents, Catholics, the Pope and pretty much everything in between.
And this year I’ve even learnt enough Italian to do it in their own language! Score!
I learnt very quickly that with Italians they find certain English words particularly difficult to differentiate; ear and eye, angry and hungry, (although it would seem that most words are prefixed with an elongated “h” sound as they don’t have it in their silly 21 letter alphabet!)  as well as the much more frequently used No! and everybody run around, hit each other, cry and generally cause as much chaos as possible. Do you get my drift?
Well as it happens there are some Italian words that sound pretty damn similar too, and with my shamefully limited intellect this was just another disaster waiting to happen.
To get you in the picture, every week whilst in Italy, I decamp on a new family who take me into their lives, feed me, water me, and engulf me into the ample bosom of every Italian nonna. It’s a pleasure, it really is. I guess that’s why I feel like such a shit for offending them quite so often. Like when I went to my boss’s house and noticed the pictures around her apartment with a bearded Italian man.
“Wow, you’ve met Pavarotti loads of times,” I said trying to make polite conversation.
“What?” she said.
“You and Pavarotti,” I repeated, gesturing to the closest picture.
“That’s my husband,” she relied in a tone tempered with annoyance, pity and possibly even a bit of loathing.
You’d think that once is enough to embed in my mind? Y’think?
My repeat performance at a latter host family: “When did you meet the Pope?” Turned out to be her husband. Right.
But now back to that language point that I seem to have got a bit distracted from, but trust me it’s worth the wait. So it’s a Saturday and yet again I arrived looking dishevelled at a new host family to the usual hearty welcome and this time I’ve properly lucked out; this family were awesome. And I mean every different kind of awesome with a few extras thrown in for good measure. After a night in their guest suite and air conditioned to the point that I was actually cold (which is a pretty steep challenge in Italy, in August!) I stumbled out of bed in time for the usual breakfast of coffee before by embarking on my busy schedule of lounging by the pool, sunbathing, and drinking copious amounts of the legendary Spritz. It’s a hard life, what can I say!
Now at this stage I had been in Italy for several weeks and was feeling pretty confident about my growing language skills. (Although ironically, the night before I had sidled up to an extremely attractive bar tender and asked her for a tortoise, to which she responded, “You’re English aren’t you?” What gave me away I will never know!) So to get back to the situation in hand, I was revelling in the general perfection whilst waiting to be fed more of quiet possibly the best food I had ever had. The sun was shining, the barbecue was sizzling, and most importantly the wine/spritz/beer/limoncello (at lunchtime?!) was flowing.
On seeing the family’s four year old daughter positively throwing herself into the swimming pool and demonstrating levels of bravery that Evil Kenevil would be proud of, I decided to test out my still developing language skills and tell them their daughter was crazy.
“Cazza,” I point and smile feeling pretty smug that I have used the correct inflexion to denote a female subject (clever innit?) Well that got their attention.
Cazza?” said the host mum looking perturbed.
Cazza?” said the host dad looking angry.
Cazza?” I said with growing concern.
“Do you know what that means?” they asked.
“She’s crazy,” I say cautiously.
Then they smile, and then they laugh, and then they laugh some more.
Cazzo, means head-of-dick,” the host mum said, enunciating each syllable with a hand gesture to match the beat, “Pazzo means crazy.”
So in return for the hospitality I was receiving, I’d just called their daughter a dickhead. How do you recover from that? I’ll tell you how; you retreat to your deckchair, alcohol of some description in hand, only to spectacularly capsize it, throw your drink all over yourself, and take out the now laden barbecue in the process.
Subtlety was never my strong point.
“Cazzo,” said the voice of the four year old.
(Of course she didn’t actually say that, but wouldn’t that have been brilliant?!)