Traffic whizzed by on both sides as a protective ring of motorcyclists and scooter riders stood guard. The rush-hour sun was hot like a mid-day melt. A policewoman did her best to address me in English to see if I was physically okay. The fallen scooterist held his lower leg in pain as the ambulance arrived. In the background, I heard the loud sound of rushing air, then noticed it was coming from the rapidly flattening front tire of my rental van.
Something I attempted to depict in my new book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, is that there are two main things necessary (I believe) for maximizing your downtime:
First, a definite break should be made from your normal life. This means to truly get away. If your life looks like a race, your vacation should not.
Second, emergence in a foreign and unfamiliar environment will produce all sorts of unforeseen benefits. When everything is unfamiliar, your senses are over-stimulated and you begin noticing much more in a completely fresh way. You no longer subconsciously ignore 99% of what confronts you because you suddenly don't know what to ignore and what to let in. (By the way, it is not necessary to take an expensive foreign vacation to accomplish this. There are other methods, such as attempting things you’ve never done before, staying in accommodations different from those to which you’re accustomed, spending time with people of a different culture, etc. which can provide the same result.)
If you truly do both of the above, I promise you experiences and memories to last a lifetime. Let everyone else travel over and over again through the worn out ruts of routine; the real adventure begins when you step away from the known and submerge yourself in the unknown.
Sometimes, however, the formula misfires.
"I'm pretty sure you won't get arrested or anything," the hotel general manager said, trying to be reassuring.
"Arrested?" I managed to gulp in reply.
"No, no, no. It's not your fault. Obviously. You have no need to worry."
Still, I was shook by what had happened. There's a good reason the phrase "it happened so fast" has become a cliché for traffic accidents, largely having to do with the fact that it's entirely true. In this case, I had only caught a glimpse of a black streak whizzing past my left window before the scooter's foot peg caught my front tire. I had been looking left at the hotel at which we were arriving, just beginning the process of determining how to access the parking in the upcoming piazza, when the black streak materialized into a crashing, spinning scooter accompanied by a pronounced "clunk" and Terri's startled gasp. Then in slow motion I saw the scooter rider tumble and roll as his bike "high-sided" him. I jammed on the breaks, shut off the van, and rushed out to the fallen rider. Amazingly, tens of other scooter riders had already dismounted and were attending to him as well. “Thank God,” I thought, realizing in an instant that it could have been much, much worse.
And then the long ordeal of the after-crash bureaucratic slow dance began. Those funny sounding European sirens blared, a smashed up ambulance took forever to carry the scooter rider away, police in all types of uniforms talked to observers, each other, and finally, me. After nearly two hours, the scooter rider's banged up leg was being attended to at a nearby hospital, his girlfriend came to drive his surprisingly intact scooter home, the police had me sign a statement, and we drove on the flat tire to get the van off the road and to the curb directly in front of our hotel.
We had begun the day on the dangerous, tight, twisty Amalfi coast, cruised at high speed on the Autostrada, and had wangled our way through crowded, rush-hour Rome without incident, only to have this happen at the very last minute of the journey.
Gathering ourselves in the hotel’s courtyard, my family and I said a prayer for the young man on the scooter. Meanwhile, the staff of the Hotel 47 catered to our every need (I will highlight more about their amazing service to us in the next post). I sat still for a moment, feeling totally exhausted and drained. I had certainly accomplished everything I teach about submersion in another culture! But it was time to go home.