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.”
This summer is the first time we have brought our dog on all our vacations and he certainly makes matters more complicated.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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 is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.