Friday, June 22, 2007


Originally written: 6/15/07
Yesterday, the head of our program, Gianni, took four of us to the supermarket.

Gianni is exceptionally good-natured, talkative, and intelligent, but he is also occasionally and inexplicably blind to the basic facts of life in his country. And so it was that the five of us went on an impromtu trip to the Essalunga to shop for sunglasses.

I highly doubt there is one country in the world in which sunglasses can be purchased in a supermarket, but even if such a wonderful country does exist, it is not Italy, where people are virulently opposed to efficiency in shopping.

Just a few days ago, I went to a store in Montepulciano, looking for cheese and bread to make a sandwich. It was a Macelleria, a store that specializes in sandwich ingredients. I asked the woman behind the counter for a few slices of pecorino an then for some bread. She looked at me as if what had come out of my mouth was not so much a word, but a fly to be swatted.

"Bread?" she asked. "Here?"

So we all went to the grocery store knowing that we would not find sunglasses, but that the WOULD find the laundry soap we needed, as well as other great things like waterproof band-aids, cortisol cream and bargain-price Italian bubble gum.

Gianni is father to a 30-year-old son who very obviously stopped listening to his father about 18 years ago, so whenever he has us volunteers together in an area from which escape is impossible, he seizes upon the opportunity to share all his worldly knowledge.

As soon as the doors of his Alfa Romeo were locked, the day's lesson began. The topic: The Evils of the Modern Supermarket (related to an earlier topic: The Evils of Air Conditioning). A few years ago, Gianni had seen a Charleton Heston movie, which I think might be The Omega Man.

I was sitting in the backseat while Gianni broke the plot down for us over the course of a 10-minute car ride, during which he broke eye contact with me only twice, when he swerved to avoid 1) a pregnant pedestrian and 2) oncoming traffic.

The plot of the movie is this: A virus breaks out and turns everyone except for Charleton Heston into Zombies. The zombies then go to the supermarket. Ergo, Gianni now hates supermarkets, because the shoppers there remind him of the zombies in that movie.

We nodded and smiled, and when we got to the supermarket, we bought all the sundries we could find and Gianni bought a huge tub of bubble gum because, zombies or no, a bargain is a bargain.

Our group got to work a half and hour late, which meant we got last choice of the cars that would take us to the trails we had to clear that day. There were 9 volunteers all together, but the parking lot seemed to me only to contain 2 four-seater Jeeps and the corpse of the Panda.

The work coordinators were clustered around it and I got to eavesdrop on the highly entertaining story of how they pushed it out of the field in which we had left it by using a stronger, younger car. Presumably one with an engine bigger than that of a go-kart.

I was smirking to myself and imagining a leisurely ride to work in someone's Alfa Romeo when I heard the unthinkable: The sound of the Panda's engine turning over.


I looked accusingly at the work coordinaters, who were too busy slapping each other on the back to notice me.

How had they done it? WHY had they done it? There are some things that man wasn't meant to meddle in!

I tried to comfort myself with the idea that, in movies and stories, when someone sells their soul to the devil for eternal life, the life they're given is usually pretty cushy before it turns into a grotesque charicature of its former self.

Unfortunately, a quick jaunt in the Panda revealed that Zombie Panda was just as (un)reliable as its pre-death counterpart.

That day, we worked until exhaustion and in compensation, we were handed the car keys and set loose upon Asti in the evening. We drove the Panda into the ciy center, where we wandered aimlessly, too tired to think or to move without lurching.

When we returned, we found that the Panda had accumulated a 35 Euro parking ticket, the lesson there being that the reason real zombies frequent supermarkets is the free and plentiful parking.

When we got home, we were scolded about the ticket by one of the camp coordinaters.

"You're supposed to leave a note on your car saying what time you'll be back," she said. Of course! In Italy, where the voice of la mamma is second only to the voice of il Papa, everyone wants to know what time you'll be home.

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