Preparing to travel to Italy to chase the Shelleys some more ...
I was a little worried about traveling alone in Italy—much more so than the other European countries I would visit. I, of course, speak English and thus not worried about England (although I would have some problems with the slang and accent). And I knew that my high school and college German would help me find train stations and restaurants and restrooms in Germany and Switzerland. I was going to travel across France, via train, and was not worried about my ignorance of French, save oui and French fries. I would not get off the train at all. But, of course, I got lost in a Paris train station and had a devil of a time finding out where I was supposed to go. The French whom I stopped for help regarded me as an Idiot. (Which I was/am.)
But Italy? I was going to be there for a week or so, and I knew no Italian (other than words for popular Italian food and a few swear words I’d picked up by watching Mafia films). So I decided I’d take the introductory Italian course at the University of Akron. I’d first checked Kent State University (closer to our home in Hudson), but I figured it was going to cost me about $1000—not good, especially since I was now living on my pension from the State Teachers Retirement System (adequate but not bountiful). Akron was more reasonable. So I registered.
Early in August 1998, I went to the Border’s (remember them?) out near the Chapel Hill area north of Akron and bought an Italian dictionary. First things first! And I bought online an Italian visual dictionary, too. (Just in case!) And on August 31 I drove down to Akron for my first Italian class at the University of Akron.
But I was late to class—a traffic jam on Route 8 (the main north-south freeway through Akron). I was the last one to enter the room, where class had started about five minutes earlier— did I deserve a detention?—and where everyone else in the room looked fourteen years old. (I was fifty-three.)
I didn’t miss much: Here’s what my journal says— little lecture from prof to class on neatness, effort, etc.; filled out form & told her I was retired & a freelance writer—hope that’s enough. I was, you see, trying to stay anonymous—another reason (besides the financial one) that I’d picked Akron (some people at KSU knew me). I didn’t want it known I’d been a teacher—one with a Ph.D. I just wanted to be some other student—perhaps an interesting Old Guy who could tell stories about the 1950s. You know, Davy Crockett and Elvis.
The next morning I woke up with a firm conviction: I was going to drop the class. The teacher had spent the entire period the day before showing us how to organize a notebook and talking to us as if we were … fourteen. Or four. So I whizzed down to Akron, paid a $20 drop fee, and headed home. I figured I’d just study on my own. I would teach myself. Hell, Mom had taught herself Greek before going to Greece. Surely I …?
Couldn’t do it.
I just didn’t ever get around to it.
And the next thing I knew I was flying through France on a high-speed train, heading for the Alps. For Italy. Where would be confirmed my worst fears.