Picture a 15-year old girl, half sulking on board an Alitalia jet as it lands on the cracked runway of Rome’s Fiumicino airport on a sun-baked July day. She looks at the surrounding hills that were supposed to be “mountains”, burnt and dry from an already lengthy summer season, and sighs in a way only teenagers are capable of.
“Mom,” she says with just enough attitude to make her mother automatically shoot her a warning glance, “you took me away from my friends for this?!” She gestures wildly towards the plane’s oval, double-paned windows at the scene before her. The only lush vegetation are the weeds growing between the cracks on the runway, and the pilot had just announced that they would have to exit the plane directly onto the tarmac and wait for a shuttle bus, in this heat.
“Keep an open mind,” is all her mother says before she motions for the girl to move into the aisle and get her butt off the plane.
It only gets better from there. Once in the little shuttle bus, crammed so close to the other passengers that even sweating is a task, they are informed that they will be taken to the back entrance of the terminal and quarantined until all of their temperatures had been taken by airport health officials. (I mentioned it was July. What I forgot to say was that it was 2003. The plane had come from Toronto. Where there had been an outbreak of SARS not long before. Perfect.)
It takes three hours of standing before the passengers are deemed SARS-free and can exit the terminal like normal human beings. The girl is infuriated. This is Italy? The country her parents and grandparents had raved about? Where were the rolling hills, gondolas, meatballs and soccer players?! Incredulity. Anger. Disappointment.
Fast-forward 8 years, another trip to Italy, and a new blog. In 46 days the girl will be going back to Italy to stay for quite awhile. Why? She loves it there. ‘Cause she decided to look past her first impression.