Tuesday morning at my favorite gelateria, I confidently ordered two flavors: crema e pesce.
The 20-something dude holding the cone raised an eyebrow.
“Uhm …” Had I spoken too quickly? Was my accent a mess? The shop was packed with teenagers on lunch break — maybe it was too loud? I tried again. “Crema e pesce?”
He kept staring. I tried to point across the counter, but people were in the way. I was about to pointlessly attempt again when a girl standing behind me shouted “PESCA!” and the dude started scooping.
See, pesca (pay-scah) is peach. What I was saying, pesce (pay-sheh), is fish.
It was ridiculously good peach gelato, which cooled off my embarrassment enough for me to feel thankful for the teenager who couldn’t bear to let me keep floundering and helped me out.
I’ve always been a firm believer in admitting when I need help, but our time in Italy has driven that belief home. I rely on the kindness (or helpful impatience) of the people I meet every single day — even for things as simple as ordering my favorite food in the universe.
The boys and I had a lovely adventure today to Lake Bolsena, a gorgeous volcanic lake not far from our home in Viterbo — and we couldn’t have done it without the help of our Italian neighbors.
First, there was knowing where to go at all. Danny had been asking to play in the water, so I asked Luisa, one of the USAC staffers here, if she could tell me about nearby beaches. She not only told me about Lago di Bolsena, but also recommended a cute little lakeside town and told me how to use the regional bus system’s website to find a way there.
And then there was the bus. Coming from the vast empty rural landscape of Idaho, I have minimal public transportation skills. I didn’t ride a train or subway until I was in high school, and I’m pretty sure the first time I rode a city bus by myself was when I was 19 … and I got off on the wrong stop in middle of Phoenix.
Moscow has an awesome bus route, but it’s just two simple loops — and even then I’ve gotten on the wrong bus before.
So navigating a bus system in an area I’m almost completely unfamiliar with, in a language I barely speak? Yeah …
In Italy, tabbacherie and news stands sell bus and train tickets. I stopped at a stand and, thanks to some slowly spoken Italian and patient pantomiming from the owner, managed to get three all-day bus tickets and a warning to be sure I validated them on the bus. Step one, check.
We got lucky and found the correct bus at the bus station immediately. But we got on and the validation machine wasn’t working. “I don’t even know what to do,” I muttered to the dead and silent machine. A voice piped up from two rows back: “You speak English?”
A signora with sparkly shoes and fluffy red hair explained that all I needed to do was write the bus number and our departure time on the ticket — and loaned me her pen to do it.
(Side note: On the trip I listened to this same awesome lady have phone conversations in both Italian and German. I’m blown away at how common it is to learn multiple languages here. Also totally jealous/mildly ashamed of myself.)
We arrived in Capodimonte on the black-sand shores of Lake Bolsena and had a blast splashing in the water, playing on the playground, watching some cool lizards, wandering around a bit, and eating gelato (of course). When we stopped in a little shop to get some nectarines to snack on, I failed to weigh them correctly (the method is different between fruit stands and grocery stores), but no worries — the cheerful young cashier fixed my mistake and sent us off with a “Ciao, ragazzi!” (“Bye guys!”) and a cool-guy wave to Henry and Danny.
Before getting on bus home, I had no shame asking “Per Viterbo?” to the other people at the stop and to our bus driver. Why fret about getting on the wrong bus when everyone around me could help me get the right one?
It was a great day, and a great reminder that community is community, wherever you can find it. I’m sure I’ll keep struggling at times, but I’m grateful for the people who help me get by. (Just like I remain grateful that fish-flavored gelato is not actually a thing.)