Friday, June 19, 2009

Termini, Where Less Is More

When travelling, whether to a neighboring town or a far away land, it is usually a good idea to have some sense of what to expect when you reach your destination. A basic understanding of language, currency, tipping practices, and local customs will alleviating many scary and embarrassing situations. It is no secret that in Europe you must pay to use public restrooms, a practice that has long since disappeared in this country, though I can remember those dime slots in U.S. airports. Knowing this, I made sure to visit the facilities in the Rome airport, where the toilets were free, before we began the two train and several hour journey to Assisi. My beloved travelling companion kindly stood with the bags while I went to restroom, but failed to take advantage of this opportunity himself.

So begins our first tale from our glorious trip to Assisi. The following words are Weber's. Just as he kindly guarded our luggage for me in the airport, I returned the favor in the train station at Termini.

I had the good fortune to go to Assisi with my love and a group of good Franciscans (undoubtedly better than going with bad Franciscans). As I am just beginning the journey with Saint Francis, I consider my self fortunate to have the opportunity to walk in the places where St Francis and St. Clare walked at the very start of my own way; guided by others who have made the Franciscan journey.

Some of my reflections were deeply spiritual, some marvel at the wonder of being a visitor in someone else's home, and others simply convey elements of the practical This will deal with the practical. In fact very practical; as it chronicles my first experience with Italian public toilets.

I will skip the flight stuff and simply say we got to Italy as planned. The train ride from the airport to the city was uneventful and made me jealous of a place with a functional public transportation system. We arrived at Termini only to discover that because it was Sunday there were fewer trains to Assisi and we would have a nearly four hour layover.
I found I needed to heed the call that all must follow and went searching for the facilities. Having been forewarned that Italy has “a pay when you go system” of public hygiene and with a 5 euro bill I headed off in the direction of the “Servizi Ingenico” signs; the ones with the small icons telling the non-Italian speaker what is meant. When I got there I found the entrance to the facility blocked by a toll booth that required €0.80. “Non รจ un problema”; a change machine is conveniently located next to this potty portal. It had a place for coins and bills. You may not know that the Euro comes in 1.00 and 2.00 coins and there are not any bills for those denominations. So the logic, to me, is that the bill slot is meant for the 5.00 euro bill. But it was Sunday, and the machine was evidently, like my bladder, full. So it would only take coins. Exact change is required for the turnstile to relief which takes neither of the larger coins.

So off I went in search of the another facility, which was inconveniently located at the other end of the terminal. This is a considerable, but not impossible walk under normal circumstances. But for he of full bladder, it was the level of Hell Dante overlooked. Having no other options, with knees as close together as could be to allow walking, off I went. And when I arrived what did the change machine say “Monete solo per favore”; “Coins only please.” Torture most polite! So, back down the terminal I went. I asked at three shops for change. No one was giving change was given unless you bought something. (Economic stimulus Italian style.) The thought of buying a Coke in my present state was certainly less than appealing. This strikes me as a type of hard sell tactic bordering on blackmail. On the positive side, I did learn quickly that the ability to absorb an unknown language under duress is amazing.

And the pressure was on - literally and figuratively.

Finally a Panini place, sympathetic to my situation, gave me 5 euro coins for my bill and off I went to the pause that refreshes.

And so it began. Not some mystical experience but a down to earth practical lesson in language, money, another country, and the need to find peace.

This may not be the most inspirational story from our trip, but it was a study in humility. And hey, even the saints had to go.