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Two days later I booked a half day trip, but for the life of me cannot remember to where. All I can remember was our guide. A good looking Italian man in his early forties, a bit on the florid side, but really full of himself. His gestures were dramatic and large, his voice loud and his attitude superior. Most of those on the tour with me were American. They are most distinctive with their mannerisms, the twang in their voices and the inevitable loud colored dress, be they male or female. They are invariably friendly and kind.
This guide started off by rattling off all the virtues of the Italian people, the country at large and its history. Then he started enumerating all the cultural achievements attributed to Italy, the only one I can now remember is the opera, but he did enumerate quite a few. Then turned to us, his audience, and started belittling American achievements, not so much by words as by tone of voice. Then asked around individually what each one’s nationality was. The Americans were a bit offended, but complied and told him that they were American. He took it all in with a smirk on his face. I was standing on the periphery of the crowd, so was the last to be asked. In a clear voice, loud enough to be heard by all, I said: Egyptian! Now what was it you were saying about the Italian heritage to humanity? The man blushed to the roots of his oily hair and most of the Americans in the group spontaneously applauded. I was their hero for the rest of that trip, which unfortunately was only a half day.
The following day I took a full day trip to Florence. It wasn’t very crowded as the weather was starting to turn a bit too cold and overcast, but still it was mainly Americans again, some Germans, an Italian or two and a French couple. The guide was a slight man, dark and very nice indeed, especially after the guide of the day before. None of the people of the day before were on this trip with me. All new faces. The trip went pretty well, till half way through we stopped for lunch. It was an open air restaurant, but we were lucky, the sun broke through and lunch was very good. The guide sat D. with the driver for lunch and I noticed between them polished off a large bottle of chianti.
When it was time to get back on the coach, as I was sitting in one of the front seats right behind the driver, I saw the guide wink at the driver and hand him over another huge bottle of chianti ! I said nothing, thinking that this might be the restaurant’s way of paying for bringing customers in. We started on our way, and the guide started again with his explanations in English, French, German and Italian. I think he was showing off as all of us spoke English well. But we let him do it as it was melodious and made him quite expansive. But I noticed that after every bout of the four languages he would turn around and take a couple of swigs from the chianti bottle, hand it over to the driver who also took a couple of swigs. I wasn’t the only one who noticed that, the American couple sitting across the isle from me also noticed, and we were getting a bit worried about the driver. Strangely enough, the more those two drank, the better they became at their job. But when towards the end of the bottle the guide started telling us intimate details of his personal life, in four languages, we thought something should be done about it. He was going on and on about how difficult his personal life was, when he suddenly stopped, looked at me and asked me point blank why did I think that was? Automatically, without thinking, I just blurted: “Maybe the chianti?”. Total silence, then a gasp, then the rest of the passengers burst out laughing, and the tension that was mounting in the coach broke. Both the guide and the driver took it in good part and were kind enough to take me back to the very door of my hotel.
To be continued …