The 11:42 To Ancona
I first experienced it courtesy of the taxi driver in Ancona. In Jan Morris’s Trieste, she quotes someone offering oversimplified descriptions of the various nationalities living amongst each other in Trieste. To Italians, the observer ascribed “harmony.” When my driver arrived at my apartment on a hill overlooking the Adriatic and the town of Ancona below, he told me he would wait until the landlord arrived to make sure I wouldn't be stranded. My only regret was that I didn't have enough coins to make a more generous tip.
Later during my stay, I caught the bus from downtown Ancona back to my apartment. For some reason the driver (had he been reading my GPS stories?) was concerned I wouldn't know where my stop was. So concerned was he that he elicited the aid of an English-speaking passenger to be my wingman all the way to my stop. She opened her GPS (rubbing it in?) and proceeded to show me images of what my stop looked like. Mind you, this is the same stop I stood at to catch the bus into town; all I have to do is watch for the green farmicia sign, and I know where I am. But I didn't have the heart to tell her that, so I continued to play the role of dumb, lost American, for which I am apparently perfectly cast. The young woman soon regretfully informed me she would not be able to assist me further, as her stop was next. It also happened to be mine, but she did not appear concerned, when I hopped off too, that I may have simply decided to follow her home, as a lost kitty.
The final example of harmony took place the day I departed Ancona. As I opened the main door to my building, a man was standing outside on the steps. He said, “Are you Mr. Champagne?” I cant imagine how he knew me. Is he from customs control? “Yes,” I cautiously answered. “I have been asked by [my landlord] to drive you to the train station.” I was just about to call him about ordering a taxi for me, since the bus would on my take me part of the way.
When we arrived at the station, he would not accept the twenty euros a taxi would have cost me. “[landlord] told me to only accept ten."
While other countries, with the possible exception of Switzerland, demonstrated gracious friendliness, Italy was the only one that consistently went the extra distance as in the case of all three of these drivers having proven. Now, is it a case of the old Sicilian custom regarding favors, and should I come back to Italy and not return these favors in kind that I shall wake up one morning with a horse’s head at the foot of my bed, I cannot say at this point.
What I can say, though, is should you visit Italy anytime soon, just play dumb. I mean really dumb. You will be well taken care of, my friends.