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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 7 - 13, 2001

  Opinion Columns

How much the same?

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

I might as well have been on the Hollywood Freeway with any one of the men in my life who took a wrong turn. I certainly remembered similar reactions then when I even suggested an alternate route, much less gave a tricky one.

Certain things are the same wherever one is. Put a family with kids on the road, whether it be in Nevada or Napoli, keep the young ones contained for a sufficient time and expect the brew to bubble. Some friends and I joke that before people decide to get married, they ought to borrow someone else’s brood and take a long road trip, preferably with little room to wiggle. If all parties survive this test, then marriage may follow. If not, certain character defects will have impishly surfaced that one might reconsider one’s mate possessing.

Yesterday, on a beautiful and sunny fall day in Italy, I was part of a family outing. The destination was the beach resort town of Rimini, on the Adriatic Sea, a couple of hundred kilometers from my village, Villastrada, which is approximately on the patella of the knee in the Italian boot, not far from Perugia and equidistant between east and west. In short, we left the center of the lush rural landscape of Umbria for the glories of the sea.

I felt quite fortunate to be included in the family venture, one the Donatis emulate to different locations almost every Sunday, as I had only been in my apartment for a few days. But Italian hospitality had ensured that I be taken out to dinner my first night here, however jet-lagged I was, given a choice of three beautiful rooms, all more than I need but offered at the same promised price, and driven daily to outdoor markets or Perugia or an exquisite hilltown where I met a potential language tutor. I was even schlepped on errands whenever I wished, accorded an e-mail account that unfortunately failed and loaded with extra things to ease my stay, such as a bicycle now parked on my terrazzo. I should have known that my hosts would continue to be as gracious as they are.

At any rate, I joined my landlady, Rossella, in the front seat of a large Ford van (her father is a Ford dealer in Chiusi, the nearest large town), her handsome and quite charming husband Alessandro driving. In the next row were their two mothers and her father, and in the last row sat the elegant grandfather and Rossella’s two lively sons, Bernardo, 12, and Filippo, 9. Many "buongiornos" later, the nine of us set off for a spectacular drive through winding hills and higher mountain passes dotted with beautiful castles, churches, villages and livestock. It was when we took Rossella’s suggestion for a short cut to the coast that I realized domesticity has certain universal components.

Alessandro wasn’t thrilled at the suggestion. Even I could tell, with my paltry Italian language skills, that he thought it was wrong. To please Rossella, and in a hurry to get to Rimini, he chose to take her route. Sure enough, as we rose higher and higher and came upon more and more treacherous passes and processions of cars for particular festivals jamming the narrow passages, Allesandro got more and more angry and the Italian got more and more heated. The Rs positively rolled as he told Rossella how poor a guide she was. At one point he threatened to turn the car around and go back to the turn off, some 60 or 70 kilometers back.

I might as well have been on the Hollywood Freeway with any one of the men in my life who took a wrong turn. I certainly remembered similar reactions then when I even suggested an alternate route, much less gave a tricky one. I love men and want to avoid generalizing, but anyone who has sensed the male penchant for cherishing his autonomy at the wheel can check out humorist Dave Barry’s fix on the subject. (Look at his book about guys). I’m not the only one who has observed and recorded this quality. Fortunately, we all laughed later, as Alessandro and Rossella do share, along with quick tongues, a good connection, a sense of humor, and forgiving natures.

But we still had the ride home, after several hours of strolling and eating and playing. The two boys, who had evidenced some getting on each other’s nerves near the end of the first leg of the journey, now began to fight, punch, cry and pull hair. There was no USA in-car video to calm them down, just the repeated threats of both parents, mostly delivered by Rossella, to whom—in this instance—Alessandro readily acceded authority. Their complaints had a ring of familiarity for me, from all the times I took my family on road trips.

Usually well-behaved, my daughters found the pressure cooker of the shell of the car too much at times, and I can well remember being enraged at the wiggles and tickles and arguments emanating from the back seat.

So, while the world is in turmoil and little frustrations seem insignificant, it is nonetheless somehow reassuring to see man’s commonality, if even in an instance like this one. Rossella and I were able to exchange subtle glances about the behaviors of her men folk, but we did so in a loving way. I know she appreciates the male of the species as I do. But, "Ah," we thought, "Men! Kids! Love!"

Oh, the blessings and the challenges of family, wherever it is.



The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.