We visited salt pans near Trapani. Someone mentioned that flamingoes become pink when they eat tiny shrimp. Some skeptics did not buy this, but I had heard this explanation before on the Discovery or National Geographic Channel, and therefore felt it must be true. Even so, that evening I googled why flamingoes were pink; the shrimp explanation was given. That was the end of the exploration of that topic for me. Like many others I believe something on the internet when it confirms what I thought in the first place.

 

I asked the server in a Palermo restaurant how he had learned such excellent English. He responded that he had studied it in school but became more proficient because of American teammates on his professional football teams. He rattled off names as if I should recognize them. I was surprised that there were so many Americans playing professional soccer in Italy. Only as the conversation progressed did I realize that he was talking about American football. I had not known that there was American football in Italy, much less a professional variety. He had played for teams in several Italian cities and proudly reported that he had been on the Blue team, which is the national team. He did not look big enough to play professional football in America, and he said that his weight had dropped from 215 pounds to 170 since he stopped playing. (He did not use kilograms for his American football weight.) He said that he was not smart enough to play offense and asked me to guess what position he played. Thinking of professional football in America, I responded cornerback or perhaps safety, but he said that he had been an outside linebacker and was proud of his pass-rushing ability. I jokingly said that professional football must have made him wealthy. He laughed and said that he made more waiting on tables than in playing American football. He had made only $1,000 a month (he did not give his football salary in Euros), but went on to say that he also got his food, a place to live, and the use of a car. He no longer played football. He gave American football up after a number of surgeries. Now he was working on being a power lifter.

 

They say that travel gives new experiences and expands the mind. That was true for me. I did not expect when I went to Sicily that I would meet an Italian who played professional American football in Italy.

 

I don’t remember how it came up, but the Italian guide expressed her disgust that Americans put their feet on tables and desks, a practice she had seen in American movies, TV, and photographs. She could not imagine a civilized Italian ever doing such a thing. One of my fellow travelers chimed in with her displeasure with the practice and said that is why she had a hassock for every chair. I did not agree. I would not put my feet up on someone else’s table. I would not put my feet on a dining table. I would not put my shoes on my coffee table. However, I often put my stockinged feet without shoes on the table in front of my couch. I said, somewhat facetiously, to the feet-off-the-table duo that it was an efficient way to dust the surface, but somehow that did not convince them of the civility of the practice.

And I put my shod feet up on my desk. Why have a reclining desk chair if at least once in a while you don’t recline and put your feet up? And, of course, there are famous pictures of President Obama with his feet in shoes on the Oval Office desk. Conservatives cried out about Obama’s disrespect for the Oval Office, but then pictures of President Bush the Younger and President Ford surfaced with their feet on the same desk. What is there to say? American men put their feet on desks. Instead of being disgusted by this, I would say a man is not a real American if he does not do so.

 

In Sicily, I learned once again that even Italian men cannot pull off carrying a man purse.

 

The guide struggled for an English word, and someone told her that she was searching for “toothpick.” She thought that this was a funny word and said several times, always laughing. I thought that it was funny that she thought toothpick was funny.

(continued November 23)

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