Friday, May 6, 2011

Passeggiatas, panoramas and prizes

Saturday, April 30
In the winter of 2002, Lucy, Lindsey and I participated in a memorable half marathon/passeggiata near Asiago in the Veneto with the Bertrand Russell language school that Lucy and Lindsey were attending. While some people actually ran, most of us just walked through the rolling scenic hills and admired the beauty of the vineyards and olive groves.

Shortly after we hit the trail, we reached a fork where we had to choose the six-kilometer route or the nine-kilometer trail. Lindsey had been walking slightly ahead of us and came upon it first, and she harkened unto the famous words of Yogi Berra, who advised: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Actually, she didn’t even look up and notice there was a fork. She just followed the people walking ahead of her and ended up taking the long route. The rest of our group came to the fork and reached an agreement to take the shorter route, and we could only hope that Lindsey had chosen it as well and would eventually stop to wait for us. She did stop later to wait for us, but of course we never came, leaving her wondering if we had somehow passed her without her noticing. Then she spent the rest of the time trying to catch up to us. We didn’t see her again until a good half hour after we had finished the course, and naturally we tease her about her solo passeggiata every time the opportunity presents itself.

Everyone paid something like 10 euros to enter, but we also received prizes at the end that were more than worth the entry fee. I can’t remember everything we won, but Lucy says we were given some high quality beach towels that we are still using, and I remember getting a bottle of wine or vin santo, along with a lunch and assorted snacks. As we walked down the hill into the city, our group decided to stop for gelato. I was given the job of watching prizes while everyone else went inside the gelateria. There were about a dozen prize bundles around my feet when a group of Italian men walked by and started picking them up and walking off with about half the prizes. They said something about that being too many prizes for one person, and they would help me out by taking some off my hands. They were smiling and looking back over their shoulders, waiting for me to make some clever reply or plea, but I couldn’t even think of something clever to say in English. So I just stood there with a foolish grin on my face, trying to look tolerant yet a little bit impatient for them to finish their amusing game. What if they take my smile for acceptance and they keep on walking? I can’t leave the other half of the prizes on the street to follow these thieves, and I have no idea what to say, so I remain standing and smiling, trying to look confident in the knowledge that this is just a joke and they will return the prizes any second now. Luckily for me, they did return the prizes, though to this day I still feel foolish for not being able to say anything more than “Grazie.”

In spite of this incident, we came back with great memories and some of the best scenic photos of our ten months in the Veneto, and now we want to reprise some of those memories by entering a non-competitive mezzo maratona in Montemagno, a small town in the Versilia hills near the Tuscan coast. The entry fee is only 2.50 euro, and rewards are promised for the largest groups to enter. We are a group of six, with Micah included, so we have little hope of prizes, but we have come for the experience of joining a truly Italian outing through six kilometers (yes, we took the short course again) of hillside chestnut forests, vineyards and olive groves.

Once again, Micah is a big hit with the Italians, who stop to admire his beautiful eyes or say a few words of Italian or baby talk. Randy takes him in the baby carrier for most of the trip, but he occasionally gets to walk with some strong-armed support. When we reach the finish line, we each get a coffee mug and package of cookies to take home, and drinks and snacks await us. We also find that we have the 35th largest group and are eligible for a prize, a stuffed bear, which we give to our youngest team member. Nobody tries to take it from him.

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