This morning, I accompanied my 78-year old mother to Leonardo da Vinci International Airport and put her on a plane back to America. Actually, what I did was hand over my mother to the Alitalia representative assigned to porter her via wheelchair to the gate. Despite the fact that I made it clear that his passenger was my mother --- in other words, special --- said airline representative seemed spectacularly uninterested in verifying any kind of passenger information with me; he waved aside my concerns about such seemingly trivial details as flight number and destination airport.

„Non e importante, non e importante, he declared, „Gate-uh numero 17 A. I know, I know. With that, the man gave the wheelchair a kickstart and had my mother flying towards Departures at Mach I.

„New York! JFK! I called after them.

„Si, si, the man called back over his right shoulder. „GATE-UH SEVENTEEN A.

I stood there for a while, my heart strings plucked and a lump in my throat --- anyone ever experience that sensation of being ready to murder their parent until it's time to say goodbye and then all you want to do is move home and be 14 years old again --- telling myself it would all be fine. That my mother would indeed be delivered to the gate and, perhaps more to the point, so would her ceramics, balsamic vinegar and bottles of truffle oil. (I mean, who cares if you skin your knee in the process? But if your dried porcini mushrooms from Umbria get broken you'd better up your dose of Prozac to counter the grief.)

Then, after my innocent mother had nearly disappeared from view and was whirring past AIRPORT SECURITY (now THERE'S a loose concept --- three exceptionally good looking men reading magazines and comparing mobile phones whilst someone carrying a harpoon sails through unquestioned), I noticed that Alitalia was also offering a 13:20 p.m. flight to Damascus&Mac183;from GATE-UH SEVENTEEN B.

Less than fifteen feet would therefore separate my mother from a springtime trip to Syria. Without a visa. On Passover.

The thought struck like a thunderbolt: one false move and my mother would be winging her way NOT towards a seder with Lois and Alvin Reiner but towards a Mideast summit on, say, the Intifada. I could hear it play out before me&Mac183; „Look, do you people have ANY idea how ridiculous you look? I can't POSSIBLY take these demands seriously if you're going to insist on wearing those dish towels on your heads&Mac183; )

Still, when living in Italy and relying on Alitalia, one must surrender one's fate (or one's mother's fate) to the gods. And to the Communists who run the unions. So I took one more deep breath, turned myself around and walked slowly from the airport to the waiting Roman sunshine. Eventually, I made my way to the taxi rank and headed home.

As the sights and sounds of Rome whizzed by, I thought back over the past twelve days and the time with my mother. And I wondered, somewhat idly, what her observations about Italy might include. I decided that, sure, sure, she'd talk about the Roman Forum and the Sistine Chapel and the Via Condotti. She'd mention the incredible meals we ate and how much she enjoyed the gelato once she got past the fact that you had to master the word „stracchiatella if you wanted Chocolate Chip.

(I'm especially proud of the fact that I finally managed to convince my mother of the veracity of the following statement: Italian is not only a legitimate language, it's also the one the Italians prefer speaking.)

For my mother, I believe there will be many comparisons between life here in Rome and life back in West Hartford, Connecticut. And so, with a slight tilt of the chapeau in the direction of poetic license, I imagine the following travel piece in, say, The West Hartford News.

ARTICLE: "West Hartford, Connecticut: Everything Rome Has To Offer and MORE

First off, let me state for the record that both destinations have their plusses. West Hartford, a sleepy suburb of the world's most boring capital city, is home to not one but two public libraries (each stocked with photocopying equipment) as well as a considerable array of shopping opportunities guaranteed to ensure that you emerge looking like everyone else. There is miniature golf and also bowling available for sports enthusiasts. The native language is English.

Rome is nice, too.

Lest you think the comparisons stop there, consider the following three facts. (NB: THESE ARE ALL TRUE.)

1. Like Rome, West Hartford has its colourful characters.

Just last week, for example, a certain Mrs. G was arrested in connection with an illegal prostitution ring. In order to keep her profits hidden, this West Hartford native arranged to deposit millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. She then placed cash payments various mailing containers and mailed them to co-conspirators throughout the US, thereby evading customs and taxes.

Now, in and of itself, this story's a good one and it obviously adds some cache to the happy hamlet of West Hartford as a holiday destination. But there's more here than meets the eye. For this Mrs. G also has a personal connection to former BBC head of rights, Amy Selwyn. (THIS IS TRUE.) Not only did she live next door to the Selwyn family when she was a younger girl (she was Miss P back in those days), but she was also hired by Mr. and Mrs. Selwyn to babysit their three precious daughters! (Miss P later married a bad man named Mr. G, who gambled, got into big trouble and, so the story goes, was later found in a pair of cement shoes at the bottom of a local river. NO KIDDING.)

2. West Hartford is a romance capital.

According to Carol Selwyn, a recent visitor to Rome and nearly a lifetime resident of West Hartford, sex is THE THING in West Hartford. Seems everyone is doing it with everyone else. For example, it recently emerged that a prominent attorney in town was not only doin' the deed with his girlfriend of long-standing but with her brother-in-law, as well! „I've been saying it for years, Mrs. Selwyn was recently quoted. „I always knew X was AMBIDEXTROUS. (And that's a direct quote.)

Not only that but also this: It can finally be told that a certain hairdresser, a man with silver hair and a heart-shaped ass in black silk trousers, gave new meaning to the idea of the „shag when he bedded no fewer than six of his devoted customers. Okay, not at the same time, but STILL&Mac183;.

So you heard it here first: West Hartford is clearly a Lovers' Paradise.

3. Gourmands needn't fear a trip to West Hartford.

A lot gets written about the sophistication of the Italian palate. We know from our dear friends and correspondents, Diane and Stu, however, that all's not necessarily well that ends well, so to speak, for Stu (as of our last writing) is now counting Acid Reflux among his latest ailments (this gem was shared during the lecture on Giotto and, ovviamente, added much to my overall understanding and appreciation of the Basilica at Assisi).

West Hartford, on the other hand, offers something for everyone, including those who must eat their meals either while in motion or within a set window of opportunity generally ranging from 1 to 3 minutes in duration. For those who wish to reduce cubic volume, it is also possible to get fat-free EVERYTHING, including bleu cheese salad dressing made without a single natural ingredient, as well as breads without carbohydrate made from wood pulp and oxydized carbon. Perfect for the Atkins Diet.

Again, let me state the obvious: West Hartford is really West Italia!"


Assuming that my mother does, in fact, land in New York and not Syria later this evening, I am certain that some of these comparisons will find their way into the discussion at the weekly canasta game. And, truth be told, I'm delighted.

All joking aside, it is a gift and a pleasure to be able to introduce your mother to something as wonderful as Italy. By the time we got to Umbria (midway through her stay here), my mother was ogling the Italian men and considering the merits of a younger boyfriend&Mac183;She set her sights on a 28-year ragazzo from Orvieto&Mac183;

Viva Italia! It makes you fall in love with life on a daily basis. And reminds me, at least, that the best life can give us is people to love and cherish. (And, yes, sometimes send zooming off to Departures after twelve days, too.)


X A.


© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004