People in the Trash…

In each hotel room, I crack open a rickety old desk drawer, where I stow business cards I pick up throughout the day in my research work. This gives me a “trash can” that the maid won’t take out. I strive to keep loose papers out of my writing world, but very often I need to retrieve something I tossed.

Rummaging through my trash, reviewing the discarded cards of two days’ worth of people met, reminds me of how travel here is like a gelato social.

I met John Mica, a congressman from Florida, while dodging a horse carriage under a Donatello statue. He called himself a “knuckle-dragging conservative on economic issues who believes in funding the arts.” He and his wife sneak over here with no fanfare (so he doesn’t have to mess with security or any protocol). He was enthusiastic about a new “open skies” initiative leading to more transatlantic flights…and some funky little trattorias he wanted me to check out for my guidebook. For some reason he reminded me of salt on fresh pineapple (one of my favorite things). Meeting a likable Republican (like meeting a Catholic priest who challenges my intellect) reminds me that there’s more than one way to skin an idea.

When Congressman Mica opened his wallet to give me his card, I saw he had the card of a man I had just met and whose card I also had: David Stempler, Esq., president of the Air Travelers Association. A crusty man (and an Esq.), the government listens to him on consumer affairs dealing with the air industry. I told Stempler and Mica I thought the clamor for an “air travelers’ bill of rights” was media-stoked over-reacting to a perfect storm of airline bad luck, and that I am mightily impressed with our airline industry even if they do lose a few bags and once in a snowy blue moon a few planes are stuck on the tarmac. We agreed that the worst thing for our airline industry (and for consumers who know what’s good for them) is to saddle airlines with needless regulations and to create a business environment where they’ll cancel flights out of needless timidity.

Other cards were reminders of other encounters. For example, there was “Dr. Patricia Cantilli, Medic veterinary homeopath,” a Romanian woman on an extended computer date with a friend who once ran my favorite hotel in Florence (La Scaletta, which I deleted this year after about 20 years in my guidebooks — bad new management). Free trade, globalization…the expanded EU spills into romance, too.

“Lora Gori, president Scuola del Cuoio” runs the leather school at the Church of Santa Croce. It was actually referred to as “Citta dei Raggusi” (“Boys’ Town” in Italian) when her leatherworking family established it in collaboration with Franciscan monks during the tough years after WWII to give orphaned boys a trade. Sra. Gori still welcomes tourists as her leather workers fill former monks’ dorms with fancy belts and purses (www.leatherschool.com).

Christoph Rehli, a conductor from Switzerland with Young Frankenstein hair, was in Florence preparing for a concert. He was eating alone in one of my favorite restaurants. We had pianos in common. I told him my piano was made in the same Black Forest village as the accordion of the Gypsy man who just left the restaurant (Hohner harmonicas and accordions, and Sauter pianos — all made in Spaichingen). I told him my dad imported fine German pianos. There were three Steinway brothers, so factories ended up in New York, Hamburg, and Braunschweig. (Dad imported the Grotrian-Steinweg from Braunschweig. Back then, CBS owned the New York Steinway, was threatened by the better German Steinway, and successfully sued requiring that the name be simply Grotrian in the USA.) Christoph said he had a Hamburg Steinway that was old but good. I guessed it was a “vintage” from around 1930. He said yes. (Knowing pianos like others know wine assures me that we can all be snobs in some realm. I am forever impressed by wine-lovers who know the good years — a topic which completely baffles me.) Maestro Rehli and I had a wonderful chemistry…the kind of person I know I could be great friends with, but I’ll never see again. (A sad reality a traveler gets callous to: the best travelers say the most goodbyes.)

And another card from someone who called herself “The Tuscan Concierge” was a reminder that countless Americans and Italian entrepreneurs are still capitalizing on the “Under the Tuscan Sun” fascination we have with this part of Italy (and would love to get into my guidebook). Ristorante Medioevo (that Buca I loved in Assisi) has one of those cards so artsy you have a tough time actually deriving the name of the establishment — a growing problem, it seems, in Italy. Thankfully, Web addresses generally list the name without the over-the-top font play. Jim Fox and Barbara Miller, an American expat couple living in Florence, pass out their tandem card to people they meet. Jim said when you travel with a personal card and hand it out liberally, Europeans take you more seriously. Good tip.

Among piles of other cards penciled up with notes for the next edition of my Florence guidebook was a very clever card by Dr. Stephen Kerr, “the tourist doctor” with a clinic 100 yards from the Uffizi, open two hours a day for drop-ins. He also makes €80 “house calls” to hotels and gives student discounts.

A card from the Istituto Oblate dell’Assunzione, a welcoming convent renting rooms and tranquility, actually has an email address on it. Finally convents are getting a little business sense. The spunky sister there — Theresa — remembered me from the early 1980s when I kept my tour groups (minibus loads only back then) at a convent near the Vatican on via Andrea Doria. I didn’t remember her…but I did remember kindly sisters letting me hang my wet laundry on the rooftop with all their linen.

This little nostalgic swing through my trash drawer reminds me that good travel connects people with people. Whether I’m leading a tour group, researching a guidebook, or producing a TV show, I know that connecting my traveling Americans with Europeans is what will carbonate the experience.

 

Comments

16 Replies to “People in the Trash…”

  1. You mentioned a topic that bothers me – people who call themselves concierges (or guides or whatever they style themselves) and offer services to travelers. I’m sure plenty are legitimate but many others may have been to Italy once and now want to charge unsuspecting new travelers for services of dubious value.
    Travelers would be better off arming themselves with a good guidebook than paying these people.

  2. Ah meeting interesting people. I just met Samantha via RS webpage. She lives in Washington but will be moving to Italy in the next few months. She is a young lady studying language and cooking in Firenza. She says being in retail and travel are like oil and water so she is following her heart. Ah to have a dream and follow it!!
    We have been invited to join her for dinner in Florence while we are in Italy in October.
    Thanks Rick for the most alluring stories to follow along in your travels. I’ve met so many nice people via the graffiti wall and now they are my friends.
    Safe travel to you. Waiting for the next blog. It’s been down for a day but your great staff has it working now.

  3. Suggestion for the Comments Section of your Blog: Prefer having most recent comments at the top to avoid scrolling to the bottom for the latest commetns. The blog and the graffiti board would be uniform in format. Look forward to your postings. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for sharing your travel adventures and insights. It’s a great way to get a peek into your world and to be reminded of why travel is essential to not only understanding others better, but to also better understand our own selves.

    Your “pineapple with salt” comment piqued my interest. A dear friend of mine just recently suggested that combination to me (along with watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew with salt). To me it’s like the nectar of the gods.

    As for the business cards, I do the same. I share the info with friends and fellow travelers, but I also keep them as lightweight souvenirs. When I look at them after a trip, I’m immediately transported back to delightful memories of places explored.

    Happy and safe travels to you! T.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your experience as always.
    We are very interested in knowing how much of the Uffizi courtyard/bldg is covered with scaffolds for new construction. We are going to Italy next month and will be in Florence in June.
    Once again we are grateful to you for making our travel so much enjoyable.

  6. I have to agree, pinapple with salt is the best! Great blog Rick! It takes me away from my work desk everyday.

  7. Rick,

    Thank you for your blog, tv series, and etc. Love all of it and want to go back to Italy, see the places that I haven’t seen, and the rest of Europe as well.

    Think thats it for now.

    Thank you.

    Jessica

  8. Any word on the Rick Steves Travel Soap yet? You mentioned it a while back, that you had never tried it…so what’s the verdict?

  9. I wish you would be more specific about why you deleted la Scaletta from your guidebooks in future. Bad management manifested how? Would like to be forewarned.

  10. I like your thoughts on the airline industry. Travelling frequently, you are bound to run into a problem or two, but being prepared and having a little flexibility goes a long way. It has been the difference between a new experience and a ruined vacation.

  11. As a likeable Republican and a Catholic, not a priest but I do have a minor in theology, I am insulted!!!!!!! But I still like your TV shows and web site. I guess there must be some likeable Democrats and non-Catholics out there. Perhaps you can come up with a guidebook on where to find them.

  12. Hi Rick, We too like to “collect” interesting people. Presently spending a month in Germany we just spent four days in a small alpine village (Maria Gern) near Salzberg. The other couple in the two room B&B were from the former E. Germany. They knew little English but some Russian. We got by with our limited German. Both his and my birthdays were on the last day of our stays there. I am convienced that those kind of experiences are only availble to untimid, RS indoctrinated travelers.

  13. Thanks for you helpful blog. do you have the email address for the Istituto Oblate dell’Assunzione in Florence ? I ‘d like to stay there and do not have a way to check availability.

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