Ilivetolearn's Blog

April 26, 2009

local knowledge

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 9:35 pm

It is a family joke that no matter where I go people stop me on the street to ask for directions. I must look either very wise or very approachable. Early on in my trip to Italy I practiced saying “Non parlo Italiano” to drivers who rolled down their car windows as they idled at red lights, walkers who wanted to know if we were on the Via Marconi…but as the ten days progressed and my vestigial Italian wormed its way back to the front of whatever is the foreign language center in the brain, I began to understand the questions (“C’e un Bancomat vicino a qui?” = “Is there an ATM nearby?”) and I would actually try to answer. I misdirected people right and left.

Lost Italians would rather ask a passer-by than look at street signs or maps or posted bus schedules. I speculated that this showed social proclivities; as in Spain, any excuse to start a conversation! But Elliot pointed out that the official information was often wrong. We took an overnight trip to Parma, and having read about the Fondazione Magnani Rocca, a country-estate-turned-art-museum akin to the Barnes Foundation–only a half-hour bus ride away–we struck out for the bus station. Both the Foundation’s glossy brochure and the bus company’s website touted four additional daily buses to the Foundation, and the hotel clerk and the tourist information people confirmed that there was a bus at 10 AM. We waited and waited. At 10:40 we called the bus company (no answer) and then the Foundation. “Oh…the bus is at 11.”

Of course, while we sat waiting, not knowing enough Italian to ask the locals why the Mamiano bus hadn’t come, approximately 37 people asked ME for directions.

My favorite street sign in Bologna:

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No-Name Street

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