The Titanic Vacation

Titanic prow scene with Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet.

Titanic prow scene with Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet.

I could make a  series of movies titled “Titanic Vacations with my Family” staring my husband, of course, the frustrated, middle-aged man secretly in love with that rather mechanical woman inside his car navigator who occasionally re-routes but never talks back and he can always turn off during moments of tension.

That navigatrice is in sharp contrast with the best unsupporting actress played by me, the irritating, middle-aged wife who is always convinced she is right, and won’t re-route or be turned off.

(In case you missed my last vacation post, here it is: Family Road Trip with 3 Teens – Recipe for Disaster) Perhaps this summer’s film could be called “Seeing Red.”

This year we did a beach vacation in Sardinia followed by a mountain vacation in the Italian Alps. Fabulous locations and we did have some delightful moments, so I shouldn’t complain. But for the sake of the blog, I will share a few dramatic details.

The day before we left for the beach, I stopped by the coffee bar near my office. I told the barista (the coffee-bar tender) that I would be catching the overnight ferry to Sardinia for a week’s vacation at the beach with my family.

“Oh, that is soooo romantic,” he declared.

“Romantic???” I replied, “I don’t see anything romantic about a middle-aged couple and their teenagers and dog in a packed station wagon catching the overnight ferry to Sardinia.

“Oh, come on,” he insisted, displaying an Italian flair for drama and romance, “I can just see you and your husband standing on the prow of the ship, him holding on to you just like that guy does with the woman in Titanic.”

“Yeah, right,” I laughed, “if my husband ever managed to get me in that position, he would be tempted to give me a quick shove and dump me into the deep.”

The barista gasped in horror, but I could see he was secretly enjoying my tragic tale.

“As a matter of fact, if my husband were likely to be holding any creature on the prow in the middle of the night it would probably be our cocker spaniel Set hoping that he will do his business off-deck.”

 

Our dog Set doing his best to fit in with the jet-set on the beach on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. August 2015

Our dog Set doing his best to fit in with the jet-set on the beach on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. August 2015

This summer is the first time we have brought our dog on all our vacations and he certainly makes matters more complicated.

Set trying to be a cool mountain dog in the Dolomites, the Italian Alps. August 2015

Set trying to be a cool mountain dog in the Dolomites, the Italian Alps. August 2015

What my barista buddy didn’t realize is that our marital bickering usually begins before we even leave. As with most men, my husband has this hang-up about being the only one who can pack the car properly.

“If you just switched around those two suitcases and slid that box to the back then I am sure it would all fit,” said the un-supporting actress (me) as the film’s hero (my husband) was shoving the last few items in the back of the station wagon.

Instead of listening to the un-supporting actress’ suggestion the hero took out the box and told his wife she could hold it on her lap. So with dog at her feet, and box in her lap, the un-supporting actress began her journey to Sardinia already ticked off and uncomfortable.

Then there was the question of how 2 teenage girls pack for the beach. Here is more or less what they bring: 5 bathing suits, 20 colors of nail polish, nail polish remover, cell phones, chargers, and an Ipad. They forget their toothbrushes and flip-flops. The 20-something son avoids the vacation with his family at all costs, but eventually when he shows up for a few days, this is what he has in his knapsack: his cellphone (forgets the charger), the pair of jeans, t-shirt, and the sneakers he is wearing and, of course, an empty wallet. No need for anything else (mooches cellphone charger and money off sisters and parents).

The “romantic” ferry trip over to Sardinia consisted of huddling on armchairs shivering and freezing in the air-conditioning all night while taking turns with the dog on deck. As the unsupporting actress shivered, she listened to the chorus of snorers all around her. Around 3am the snoring of one man crashed out on a couch nearby became so vociferous that the unsupporting actress and her daughter burst into an hysterical, uncontrollable bout of the giggles as they contemplated the best way to silence him.

In the first moment of high tension in the film, the family discovered there was no wifi at the beach residence they rented. This leads to much anguish. When our hero insists that the teenagers read the books that he has conveniently brought along – Stendhal’s “The RED and the Black”, Balzac’s “Lost Illusions” and a few others – there is near mutiny. (Note: I did not make those titles up to go with my post — he really did bring them — just ask my daughter Chiara)

laferrari

DRIVING. Our Italian hero drives the full station wagon with teenagers, dog and best-unsupporting actress as though he were at the wheel of a red Ferrari on a racecar circuit. This is particularly aggravating for the unsupporting actress who nags and scolds and nearly pulls out her hair, particularly when the hero passes campers on hair-pin turns in the Italian alps while talking on his cell phone.   After some nasty spats and close calls, the unsupporting actress insists that she will drive which causes some existential difficulties for our hero who clearly feels emasculated, but who overcomes this turn of events by making 100 urgent work phone calls from the car, mostly bossing his poor secretary around.

The unsupporting actress feels a little sorry for the secretary but then realizes the secretary is not on vacation with the hero so she can hang up and ignore.

If the station wagon only had a James Bond eject seat, it would have been the perfect vacation. Our hero – complete with cell phone and secretary on the other end – would have been ejected from the car and burst out over the Italian Alps. With his cell phone in hand, his red parachute would open as he calmly finished his chat and floated down the valley into the alpine village.

Hello Jennifer

Once back in Rome, the best unsupporting actress decides to add one last challenge to her August by helping out her son prepare for his driver’s test which he has conveniently scheduled for the end of the summer. She figures her old, wrecked Fiat Punto can handle the ravages of a driver who really doesn’t know how to use the clutch yet. (For American readers, all Italian cars have clutches and gears which require a little more training to learn how to drive). In one of the most dramatic, hair-raising scenes of this film mother and son set out in the empty city of Rome on a hot end-of-August day.

They jolt along as son speeds up to get into third gear, only to jolt and jump back down to second gear to get to the next stop sign. At the first red light they sit calmly waiting for it to turn green. By the time it turns green, there are three or four cars waiting behind the Fiat, which creates a bit of anxiety in the young driver. He is ready – car in gear, left foot on the clutch, right foot on the accelerator. Green!! KABAMMM—We jolt forward and stall out. Our young driver desperately turns the key over too far to re-start the car, tries the clutch and accelerator maneuver again and KABAMM—we stall again.

The cars behind start to honk. The un-supporting actress sticks her arm out the window to wave them around. Nico yells “MOM—YOU ARE MAKING ME NERVOUS!! IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT. THIS NEVER HAPPENS WITH ANYONE ELSE, THIS WOULDN’T HAPPEN IF YOU WEREN’T HERE!!!”

Three cars swerve around the tense sweaty pair, one yelling something rude out the window before zipping through the yellow light. The light has turned red again. We sit. Nico fumes.

He prepares again for the light to turn green anxiously making sure the car is in first gear, getting his foot on the clutch and the other hovering over the accelerator. The light turns green, KABAMM, we stall out again. He turns the key over, screeching the engine and tries again. KABAMM.

The unsupporting actress tries to breath deeply and stay calm.

A car pulls around the Fiat and then stops. A man gets out of his car and kindly asks if the Fiat needs a push. The frustrated driver and the unsupporting actress put on their sweetest fake smiles and say “No, Thank you, we are ok”.

Several green lights later, the Fiat Punto finally goes hiccupping through and charges forward racing up to third gear as son lets loose again –“YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING. DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING!!! YOU ARE NOT HELPING!!!”

The unsupporting actress holds her tongue, and her stomach, as they bounce around blocks and stop signs in a nearly empty neighborhood. The driver seems to hate first gear and will do anything to avoid it, whipping around corners in third to avoid switching down. The unsupporting actress makes a few suggestions on corners and gear changes, earning the wrath of the frustrated driver. He screeches to a stop and asks her to stand on a street corner while he goes around a few blocks to try to calm down.

In the shade of a tree on a street corner in the empty city of Rome, the unsupporting actress sends a text message to a friend, “I think I am going to kill my son. Teaching him how to drive is torture!”

The car comes rumbling back, driver seems calmer and the best unsupporting actress gets back in. The peace does not last for long – hiccupping, jolting with the driver yelling and the unsupporting actress trying to make suggestions and remain calm, they continue for another half an hour. The poor old Fiat has no air-conditioning and it is about 95 degrees in the car. The driver and the unsupporting actress are drenched in sweat.

red light in rome

Suddenly the unsupporting actress sees two traffic cops giving a ticket near a merge sign.

“STOP at the merge!!” she orders. “THERE ARE TRAFFIC COPS!!”

“I CAN’T STOP!!!” yells the driver, always terrified of slowing down and having to use first gear.

“STOP, I SAID STOPPPP!!!” yells the un-supporting actress. “CAN’T YOU SEE THERE ARE CARS COMING ON LUNGOTEVERE!!”

The car screeches to a halt. Miraculously the traffic cops are busy harassing someone else and don’t notice the drama going on nearby. A few cars pull up behind the Fiat adding to the tension. Thankfully the driver manages to move forward in first gear, hiccupping slightly, and merge onto Lungotevere without hitting another car. They pass the traffic cops before the driver launches into another tirade against the unsupporting actress.

“WHY? WHY? WHY? DO YOU DO THAT?? I WAS JUST FINE. I COULD HAVE HANDLED THAT AND YOU SCREWED ME UP!!”

He went on for a few minutes as the unsupporting actress stewed.   Sweat was running down her back. Three traffic lights later, she lost it. In the final scene of our vacation film “Seeing Red”, the best unsupporting actress told the driver (her son) in no uncertain terms that he would have to teach himself how to drive. She got out of the car and slammed the door.

“NO, YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HERE!” shouted the driver acting momentarily like a classic Italian son with his Mamma.

“YES I CAN!!” she yelled over her shoulder, acting finally acting like a typical American Mom, and started walking home.

The light turned green, the car lurched and lunged forward and then raced up to third gear.

And the film ends with the unsupporting actress, all alone, sweaty, but relieved and happy, walking through the empty streets of Rome.

POSTSCRIPT:

As the film credits roll past we can see the best unsupporting actress getting in her car the next morning to find – no gas, a nearly flat tire, and a parking ticket for 30 euros. But that is another story.

Ah, the office never looked so good.

woman hugging computerPOST-POST SCRIPT:

For my mother and any others who are watching my English for me, I do know that the correct adjective is “unsupportive”.  I am just playing off the Oscar Award “Best Supporting Actress”

POST-POST-POST SCRIPT:

NICO PASSED HIS DRIVER’S TEST. HALLELUJAH!!!

(now I just have to make sure he doesn’t get his hands on my car keys)

 

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

22 Comments

  1. Laurel Barton
    2015/08/30

    Ah, Roma lacks those American school parking lots where I taught my son to drive a stick shift! Those were the days! Hope the Dolomites were a better experience!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Hey Laurel — as you might notice from the cryptic comment above from my father — we were living in Nairobi, Kenya when I learned to drive. My parents let my sister and me learn to use a clutch on the dirt roads in the game parks in Kenya. We probably destroyed the clutch on our VW bus but we all remember it as a fun, rather than a traumatic experience. Except as my father points out, the lions were a bit traumatized. As you say the US has many, much bigger parking lots to make teaching kids to drive much easier.

      Reply
  2. Joan Schmelzle
    2015/08/30

    Gee! This is what I missed by being single?! Fun read since I know there are more good times in memories and ahead for you and family!
    Apresto,
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Thank you Joan. Yes, there are always plenty of good memories, but I get my laughs (and best blog posts) out of some of the more dramatic, tense ones.

      Reply
  3. Adri
    2015/08/30

    I do not know which one made me laugh more – the vacation or the driving test prep. There is never a dull moment in your home! Thanks for some Sunday morning amusement.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      You are right about that — there is never, ever a dull moment in this family. The only creature that might be a little bit boring is our Dog.

      Reply
  4. John
    2015/08/30

    A truly wonderful post. I remember teaching my children to drive a standard transmission. The vehicle survived three youthful drivers and was rewarded with a new clutch.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Yikes, your car did pretty well. I am still on my first child learning to drive. I don’t think the clutch will survive through the next two!!

      Reply
  5. Mandy
    2015/08/30

    That was the best read I had all summer, you summed it up perfectly, found myself laughing out loud the whole way through …… Hope to see you soon.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      I am so glad you liked it Mandy. Obviously, I didn’t mention some of my highlights of the summer — like having an aperitivo with you at Piazza Navona. Hope to see you soon.

      Reply
  6. Sue
    2015/08/30

    Well, this is a classic, the funniest one ever. Could not stop laughing

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      I am so glad you liked it Sue!! I am laughing now, but I wasn’t during some of those moments this summer. Writing blog posts also helps be find the humor in things.

      Reply
  7. Cyndy
    2015/08/30

    On the bright side, Set had nice vacations :-)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Yes, Set had a blast. He was definitely in 7th heaven in the Italian Alps. It seemed cruel to bring him back.

      Reply
  8. Diane Dent
    2015/08/30

    thanks Trish for lightening my moments as you and Nico suffered a driving lesson. When my daughter learned manual gears from me she shouted she was not the Einstein of driving! and when I sold the car to a friend saying the clutch was practically new, my friend gently told me her mechanic claimed I must have been sold a secondhand clutch! With chagrin I realized the clutch was installed just before Kea began torturing my car!
    Always love your blog!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Yeah, I think my car will never be the same. But it is an old car that we got secondhand. I am glad to hear that your daughter was shouting to as she was trying to learn to drive. What a misery for parents!! Please tell me that Kea passed her driving test with flying colors. I am just hoping this torture will be worth it!

      Reply
  9. Nancy Rockwell
    2015/08/30

    This is simply hilarious, and should be published as an op-ed in Rome and in the US. A superb piece of writing. And a true tale, we all can recognize, a universal rite of passage in its painful glory. I remember seething at my parents, though I would never have protested aloud as Nico did, without severe consequences, but I felt all his rage, from the iimaginary brake my mother kept slamming with her foot on the passenger side, to the nicely worded suggestion my father made, all of which I heard as criticisms. But somehow I made it, and after five decades of driving, I have them to thank, that I have killed no one, have injured no one, have not had a moving violation ticket, and have made it this long and far with only a very few fender dents, almost all from parking lots. So hold on to that thought: you are preparing this unruly young man for a lifetime of safe driving. Parents deserve medals when the kids get licenses.
    The girls should be easier, the ego stuff is different around driving for girls. Gustavo should take you out for a nice dinner after each license is issued.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      It is funny that you say you would never have yelled at your parents. It would never have occurred to me either. Absolutely out of the question. It is definitely an Italian thing, and sometimes I think the Italian DNA dominates in my children. I am astonished at colleagues who can break out into screaming fights — something that I don’t think you would ever find in an American office and then get over it fairly quickly. The first few times I witnessed some of these fights, I had to leave the office. Even though I was not involved, it made me very uncomfortable. Needless to say, I am over that now.

      Reply
  10. Alan
    2015/08/31

    . . I really do know some guys from SE Turkey who can make ALL of your issues disappear – for a smaller fee (plus expenses) they will sit down and discuss possible future scenarios with recalcitrant teenagers and spouses. They have an excellent case clear-up record! :-)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Yikes!! I think there may be a few guys in Sicily or Calabria who can offer me the same service, with a slightly lower travel fee!

      Reply
  11. John
    2015/08/31

    Hilarious!!

    Can’t wait to hear how late teen son does on the actual test. I’ll resist saying anything about how unsupportive actress learned to drive a clutch shift car. All I will say is there are a couple of traumatized lions in Tsavo Park in Kenya,
    L/D

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/08/31

      Ha!! I will never forget learning how to drive in the Combi in game parks in Kenya! I may have traumatized some lions but I think Nico would have taken out some elephants for sure!!

      Reply

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