I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since Baby and I returned from Italy and I haven’t written about the trip yet! Actually, I can. That’s what happen when you return from a trip to Europe to an impending move to Japan. More details to come on that adventure later. I must hurry and record something of Elisabeth’s first trip abroad before I forget it all in my unremitting sleep-deprived, stressed-out haze.
So you don’t think I’m totally crazy, I did not just one day wake up and think to myself, “You know what’s a good idea? Taking a four-month old to Italy!” Some background: My youngest brother Jamie is studying abroad in Florence, and my mom was planning on visiting Jamie by herself. I decided to tag along to keep my mother from getting lonely on her brief sojourn to Italy. It was a selfless act on my part, really. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Florence is one of my favorite cities in the world, that my husband was going to be out to sea for the better part of March, and that my house was half-empty with all our most important goods already packed and (hopefully) shipped to Japan.
Okay, maybe it had something to do with those things. Who wants to be husbandless with a baby in a half-empty house when you can go to Italy with the doting grandmother who will take care of the baby in the middle of the night?
Still think I’m crazy for willingly packing up and traveling with Baby to Europe? Fine, maybe I am a little crazy. But it was totally worth it.
Did you know that Italians love babies? No, really. They love babies. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I found out quickly. Apparently it means that extreme displays of affection that would get someone arrested in the United States are totally acceptable – expected even – when it comes to the Italians.
It was but minutes after arriving in Florence that I had my first “Italians love babies” experience. My mom and I were loading our luggage into a cab. I took Baby out of the her infant seat and handed her to my mom in order to
battle with fold up the stroller. I turned around to take her back, and much to my surprise, found my mother empty-handed. Hmmm, that’s odd. I thought to myself, trying to calm my momentary panic. I’m pretty sure I just gave Elisabeth to my mom. What could have possibly happened to her in the last 10 seconds? Turns out, the cab driver happened to her. After I passed the baby to my mom, the lady cab driver promptly lifted Elisabeth out of my mom’s arms. Just straight up took the baby. I quickly turned from my mom to the cab driver and was shocked to find her holding Elisabeth above her head, laughing and cooing and talking Italian baby-talk.
Note to self: In Italy, strangers will steal your baby. But that’s okay; they give them back.
Upon arriving at our hotel in Florence, what seemed like the entire hotel staff abandoned their duties and congregated around Elisabeth while we checked in. “I had to go get everyone to see the baby!” one concierge exclaimed, as around 10 people peered into Elisabeth’s car seat. It was unreal. When we arrived at our hotel in Venice, that concierge was more excited about the baby checking in to his hotel than I think my husband was when she was born. He animatedly talked about how lucky we were and how beautiful she was and on and on and on – I didn’t quite understand everything he said, but I caught something about “big blue eyes” and creating a “large portrait” of her. Whether he wanted this portrait for himself, or was just suggesting it for my own benefit, I have no idea. At some point he became so overwhelmed with happiness at this baby that he abruptly stopped talking to us (I assume because we already knew how lucky we are and how beautiful she is) and walked to a back room to describe the glory of Elisabeth to another staff member.
Note to self: In Italy, it will take abnormally long to check in to your hotel because the staff will be too busy admiring your baby to deal with things like key cards and check-out dates. But that’s okay; you secretly love when people admire your baby. And come to think of it, a large portrait of her beautiful blue eyes is a damn fine idea.
At the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the security guard let us completely bypass the metal detectors, and thus, the annoyingly large tourist groups that had been in line in front of us. Score! Not only did we get to skip security, but we got to hold onto our water bottles that would have been otherwise confiscated. Double score! But not before complementing Elisabeth on her “beautiful blue eyes, just like her mother’s.” Funny, he said that to her brown-eyed grandmother who was holding Elisabeth while I picked up the tickets. Those sly Italian men.
Note to self: In Italy, people become so elated by babies that they will completely disregard normal security procedures. But that’s okay; you can bring in all the food and drink you want hidden in the stroller!
While leaving our hotel in Florence, the doormen complemented Elisabeth’s “big blue eyes”. (This was a common theme). “Isn’t she beautiful?” he asked his fellow doorman. “Ah yes!” he replied. Then turning to me said, “Though I did not know if he was talking about the baby or her mother!”
Note to self: In Italy, the Italian men will still shamelessly hit on a tired, crazed, married mother. Or grandmother. (See: Uffizi Security Guard.) But that’s okay; you could use the ego boost.
These sorts of encounters happened every day. In restaurants, on trains, in elevators, on the street people would – without asking – lift the shade of Elisabeth’s seat to get a glimpse of her. They’d stop to grab her feet and touch her hands. “Bambina Bellissima!” they’d all exclaim. If after a few minutes after venturing out no one had adequately fawned over her, my mother and I would turn to each other, confused. “Why has nobody complemented her yet? Is something wrong?” It was never long before our concerns vanished as someone would intrusively, but lovingly, get all up in Elisabeth’s face. “Bambina Bellissima!”
Perhaps Italians are so enamored by babies because their birth rate is so low. Perhaps their birth rate is so low because their streets are so stroller-unfriendly. Either way, if you are planning a European vacation with your little one, know that Italy will be a challenge, but you will be well-loved once you get there. Elisabeth sure was!