Je m’en fiche 04


Grrr. When we arrived in France I got a text from Verizon offering me no hassle internet connectivity in the EU for $10/day. Tempting, but that would cost $350 by trips end, and I had already purchased a $40 sim card for my Huawei mobile wifi hotspot. It had worked flawlessly in years past, although the SIM chip provider (not Huawei; they just made the mobile hotspot) had a new type of chip now. I thought I was set. (“Flawlessly” isn’t quite right. Last year it didn’t work in Milan at all. Ok, so I was an idiot.)

Long story short: I wasn’t set. The hotspot never worked in Paris … flickers of life, but “No Internet Connection” the norm. Bloomberg said that France was phasing out Huawei 5G. Was that the problem?

I bought a TP-Link hotspot and transferred the SIM. Pfft. Still, until we got a rental and needed accurate navigation data, we could survive.

I decided I may as well accept Verizon’s $10/day plan, but it was a few days after the initial text, and although I was assured I was connected, it didn’t work. Hours chatting with Verizon tech drones online resulted in me accepting the cheaper International Plan. Didn’t work. Worked fine for a friend with same phone, but she got it going before she left the USA. Every new tech drone I “chatted” with told me to try the same things. That got tired quickly.

The rental car now acquired, its navigation map got us to Chamonix. As mentioned, it wasn’t flawless, its knowledge of the intricacies of Chamonix itself dismal at best.

Curiously, the hotspot worked flawlessly above 9000 feet. Interesting, but not useful. We didn’t take the car that high. But it did prove that the fault lay in the chip, not some configuration settings.

Ok, later, we’re through the tunnel and into Italy, and Francesca gets a text from Verizon offering $10/day international thing. She accepts, and it almost immediately works flawlessly. FYI: if it’s offered, and you want it, accept quickly.

Meanwhile my sim card providers are sending me periodic emails with suggestions that might make it work. But it did work high in the Alps, so I’m not optimistic about their suggestions, and eventually lose interest. Most of their suggestions are things I’ve already tried multiple times at their suggestion. That also got tired quickly.

Still, Francesca’s phone is now able to give us accurate navigation, including over the new bridge in Genoa, the rental navigation map having assumed we were flying.

Day 2 in Santa Margherita we are moseying about the city, away from the coast. I’m on a hunt. I want tech stores at which I can buy a prepaid sim card for the hotspot. And then, there it is, tech heaven: half a dozen tech stores. An hour later I have my sim card, and the slow, but helpful, girl we’re dealing with walks us up to another store where some guy performs some magic to charge it up. Total cost: 25€. (My American sim provider has now definitely lost my business.) We take it home, install it, and voila. I mean, shit, perfect mobile wifi.

The next day the hotspot is off, we’re out doing something, I check something on my phone, and it connects to the internet without trouble. The Verizon International Plan ($100) is now working. We now have triple connectivity. Sigh.

[Postscript: when the International Plan first failed to work the chat guy agreed, at my request, to cancel it. He assured me this would be done. So it was a bit of a surprise when it started working in Italy. Well, ok, I thought. But not ok. Whoever at Verizon got it going did so in a way that was open-ended. I would pay $100/month for the rest of my life. I’m still trying to deal with that debacle. Verizon assurances that this is being dealt with do not assuage my growing unease. I mean, the implications are mind-boggling. Could corporations be more interested in profits than customers?]

[Post postscript: It’s the end of August; the issue is still unresolved.]

[Post post postscript: It’s mid-October. Issue resolved. Reimbursements received.]

Santa Margherita

Our routine here is this: Francesca puts together a light breakfast; I take one pill for the cancer, and a slew of vitamins and supplements; 2 hours pass with no food, some Avatar, the Last Airbender, maybe a nap, then my major testosterone crushing cancer meds; an additional hour must pass before further food, at which time we are at a cafe frequented by wealthy boat owners. It’s in shade, and we get cappuccinos and orange juice; an hour (minimum) later we mosey further down the jetty, back, mosey slowly home, refresh ourselves, and go to lunch, usually at Rêve, our favorite, and where we are well known by the owner (see last 3 travelogues; shortly after we arrived in Santa Margherita he’d seen us walk by and was pretty sure it was us; he was correct).

It’s now siesta time. Many shops are closed until 4pm. Home for more Avatar and naps. Soon after 4 we rouse ourselves and go to another cafe near the church. (Well, a church. This is, after all, Italy. Italy has more than one church.) Between 6 and 6:30 we go acquire comestibles with which to make dinner, and go to prepare foodstuffs and eat same. Soon after dark we join loads of locals in a cool evening passeggiata. There are occasional variations to this routine, some of which I will now outline.

On our first evening passeggiata I spotted 3 young guys throwing a frisbee, mostly backhand, an occasional sidearm, and pretty good. (Spoiler alert: I am a competition-level frisbee thrower.) I approached. I put my hands forward to indicate I’d like a go. The guy with the frisbee leaned forward a bit and carefully threw it to me. Unlike that Swiss woman, these kids evidently considered me a potentially frail geezer and were anxious not to break me. I caught it, and to this point I’d given no indication that I knew anything about the sport. But that was about to change. I flipped the frisbee over, put my right thumb inside the lip, turned quickly around, and simultaneously executed a flawless blind reverse over the shoulder throw to another of the guys. Pandemonium ensued. Holy fuchsia, WTF did that guy just do?

A few more trick throws later, some stories about me playing ultimate, and competing in individual events in Belgium in the 1980s, and we were now best friends. I gave them my email, but don’t expect to hear from them. Great guys, and super enthusiastic.

There were a couple of fireworks displays, in part to celebrate the day they became a republic in 1946, and another short but incredibly loud one on the docks outside our windows. This occurred precisely at 4pm, the official end of siesta. Initially alarmed – I mean, who does big bang fireworks in the middle of the day – I jumped to the window and saw the puffs of smoke that resulted from the explosive bursts. Weird. All over in 2 minutes.

One evening a really good band (featured in a major Italian newspaper a couple days later) did an evening of Pink Floyd in the park in front of our place. And by “evening”, I mean Italian evening, which ends somewhere between midnight and dawn. For a while we sat on the stone seats in front of the bandstand to watch the light show, and be reminded by the band that some teachers are bad and should “leave those kids alone”. A lady with a bored german shepherd sat nearby. The shepherd would wander about as far as the leash permitted, which included my position. Naturally I patted and scratched the beast. This did little to alleviate his boredom, and he grew playful. For the next few minutes he held my hand in his mouth while I pretended to tussle. Then he was taken away when the tussling grew more tussle-like. Good dog.

Our stay in Santa Margherita intersected with one Friday. OMG, party time. Middle school kids had music (deafening) on the beach that, I suppose, they were intended to dance to. They appeared to be immune to the relentless beat, and I have to say, in my experience Italians do not dance much. At all? I’m unsure.

Everyone 16 or over was in a cafe or bar, and what they lack on the dance floor they more than make up for in boisterous dolce vita. It is highly infectious. And in truly Italian form, age is no barrier to participation. At one point we found a table and two chairs in the heart of a large cafe. A large table of rowdy 20 something guys celebrating the birthday of one of their members was right next to us. In the USA there would be an expectation of simmering aggression with such an ensemble – exclusionary testosterone-fueled pack behavior. Not here. At one point a matronly woman walked over and congratulated the birthday boy. Everyone at their table was delighted. I’m now going to put in a chart that will explain much about why Italy is the way it is, and different from the rest of Europe., and WAY different from America. Order of the White Lotus initiates will understand.

Italy is unique. This also explains why many Italian men over 40 often appear to be grumpy. They are no longer under the wing of la mama, and their wives refuse to fill that role, likely having their own bambini to whom to be la mama.

We ordered drinks. We bathed in a kind of cultural enthusiasm that does not exist in most places outside of Italy, and the USA is way the fuck outside. In the first 2 weeks of our EU holiday there were 3 mass shootings in my native country, albeit not in New England, where we live. Were it not for my cancer, and my need for MGH, we’d likely start thinking of ways to move across the pond for good. Sigh.

Meanwhile, during our stay, and especially during festive times, young girls, maybe 16 to 18, roved about in packs, many sporting short shorts exposing acres of butt cheek, and held together at the base by a number of threads that could be counted by the fingers of one hand … or so I theorize. If you think you understand this behavior, you are probably wrong, unless you are really familiar with Italian culture. In Matera, some years ago, such young girls, provocatively attired, were accompanied by their mothers. It would not have surprised me at all had the mothers of these young provocateurs been hovering nearby … unless, of course, the girls were foreign.

Francesca loves being on boats. On a previous trip to Santa Margherita we got ourselves on a Cinque Terre day cruise. Cinque Terre is a Unesco Heritage Site, but it’s too small to be labeled such. It’s still pretty, mind, from a boat, but up close it’s kitsch. I don’t need anymore t-shirts or scarves. We stayed on the boat for the third cluster of quaint buildings.

This time, 2022, Francesca did her homework, and on our last day in SM she booked us a small boat just for us. The captain would take us out to sea for 3 hours, tootle around, let us see some sites from the water, then bring us home. Our 5 previous full days in Santa Margherita had been clement, so we had no worries.

Two hours before our 3 hour cruise (and if you’re not thinking of Galaxy Quest, and termites, right now, well, shame on you) the wind picked up, and it conspired with the sea to produce conditions unsuitable for any but the biggest boats. Ours was one of the smallest. Trip canceled. Two hours after we were slated to return the seas relented, but too late. This is why I’m a polytheistic agnostic. I mean, think about it. If there are gods, there’d have to be many of them to see to all this minutiae, like fucking up our three hour boat tour. This is small time smiting.

Oh, there was one other aspect of Italian social life I’ve always found enchanting: groups of old guys, or old women – never a mix – sitting on park benches in the evening chatting about stuff. There was one bench visible from our apartment that never failed to attract its complement of graybeards every evening.