Remember when I said I was considering a career change into stand-up comedy after I told a number of people about how I got lost in Italy? It’s all right if you don’t, I just said it again. Only stand-up is not an option because I don’t have a stage to stand up on, so I’ll be doing it sitting down, in writing.
As a way of stage-setting (hah) let me say that I’m very good at getting lost without even trying. I’ve surprised myself by getting lost in otherwise familiar surroundings such as my own neighbourhood and I’ve surprised myself even more by not getting lost in unfamiliar surroundings such as London. I’ve no idea how that happened but it’s true. Anyway. This time I got lost looking for a tunnel.
if this was a fictional story, I’d name it The Disappearing Tunnel and make it about some space-time tunnel that flicks in and out of existence at random, sometimes taking people with it. But since it is not a fictional story let’s call it “How I got lost at the Bergamo airport mall” because I forgot something everyone who’s not brain dead knows.
At the end of my Italian adventure I left my luggage at the bed and breakfast where I would spend my last night before flying home and set out to find food and beer. The mall opposite the airport had everything, the owner of the B&B said. Good, I said, off to the mall it is. The road from the B&B to the airport was easy enough for me to navigate since it was just one long stretch of pavement winding along with the street.
To reach the mall, however, I had to cross the road (my nickname at school was Chicken for reasons relating to size and general appearance, I suppose). I am good at road crossing. Now, I don’t know how you navigate space but I’ve found it easiest to commit certain landmarks to memory. This is what I did: the mountain range behind the bell tower over the B&B was one; the airport was another. And then there was the pedestrian tunnel that led me up straight to the front of the mall. Easy, right? Right.
Instead of entering the mall from the front entrance I decided, for some unfathomable reason, to follow a lady who looked like she knew where she was going and where she was going was the parking lot, to the right of the tunnel. She definitely knew where she was going because there was a handy entrance to the mall in the parking lot. I found my way to the first floor, past some perfumery stand and into a lovely and — more importantly — huge, supermarket. Two generous slices of pizza and a three-pack of Dab later I was ready to embark on the return journey. Which is how I entered Hell.
I retraced my steps down the escalator and through the parking lot until I found myself outside, giddy with pride. I had not got lost at the mall. I cheerfully started walking left, following the signs that said Uscita, which I knew to mean Exit because I’d seen the word in the company of Exit. After about a hundred meters I began suspecting this was not the right direction because there was no tunnel in sight.
I went back to the entry to the parking lot. Looked around. No tunnel. I started off to the left again, following the Uscita signs. No tunnel. Went back. Looked around. No tunnel. This is where I started panicking, which is the only explanation for diving deeper into stupidity and starting to the left yet again. When my third stroll in the same direction failed to yield a tunnel the panic got the better of me.
The only reason I didn’t burst into tears was the superstrong wind blowing in my face when I set off back to the mall for the fourth time, convinced I will never ever see my family again because I’ll have to spend the rest of my life at the bloody mall. I shared a cigarette with the wind. I remembered I had money in my wallet. I decided to seek out the first mall employee I saw and plead with them to lead me to the tunnel in exchange for 200 euro. And then I saw an angel.
The angel was a twentysomething man who was clearly coming from the mall and clearly not going into the parking lot to get in his car and drive off. I pounced and asked him if he spoke English. Of course, he didn’t but he was ready to help when I told him I wanted to go to Bergamo. Airport or city, he asked. City, I said. City. I want to go from here — I gestured — to there — I gestured a jump over the road. Follow me, the angel said and started walking… left. I followed him happily until I noticed my first landmark, the mountain range above the bell tower, was moving away from me instead of closer.
I stopped the angel. I told him I wanted to go to the airport. The angel grinned, turned and started walking in a direction whose existence I had completely forgotten: right. Sure enough, the moment we passed the parking lot there was the tunnel, to the left, mouth gaping welcomingly and I don’t care welcomingly is not a real word.
I thanked the angel profusely. I used my hands to express my gratitude, which I had never done before (clapped for prayer, shaken up and down while mouth repeats thankyouthankyouthankyou). I was about to hug him but he left before I could, smiling shyly and repeating niente, niente. Well, it was not niente, my friend, it was tutto. I was going to see my family again! And cheer for Italy the next European Cup. Or was it the World Cup? Never mind, I’m cheering for them and let me tell you this says a lot. I have enjoyed hating the guts of the Squadra Azzura for decades.
After I blogged about this nightmare I discovered I knew people who could not get lost. They wished they could but they simply couldn’t. I was flabbergasted. I can’t begin to imagine how it is possible to have such an accurate sense of spatial orientation without a university degree. Me? Tell me “Go east” and watch me grab for your throat out of sheer frustration. To me, the four cardinal points are just words except at sunrise and sunset. Then I know which way east is, along with the rest of them. But at any other time of day? Forget it. Night? Stars? Watch that throat of yours.
So, I’m hopeless with directions and stars but I thought I was safe enough with left and right, like a lot of other people, although I do have a friend who doesn’t trust her left and right, either. She prefers people pointing in the direction they mean. I thought this was too much. But now, after I proved capable of forgetting right existed, I think she’s got it right. From now on, I will point and expect to be pointed to.
The silver lining: when I got back to the B&B with bleeding feet I unloaded my cargo, took one of the beers and went downstairs into the garden to drink it and calm down. I had no bottle opener but I found one in the dining section of the B&B, complete with a really sweet message that you can see below.The garden was a revelation. It was a piece of paradise I instantly fell in love with. We’re going back to Italy next year and we’re staying at this B&B for at least two days.
After the worst of the shock passed I realised several things, besides the fact that there is left and right. I realised the B&B was not in Bergamo. It was in a village called Orio al Serio, after which the airport is named. It may be commonly known as Milano Bergamo. Its airport code may be BGY. Yet its actual name is Orio al Serio airport Il Caravaggio. Bergamo was the town to the left. And I could survive getting lost.
Before I left the next morning, I thanked Guido, the owner of the B&B, for everything. And I told him I’ll blog about the place. This is hardly the blog he would be expecting but it’s the best I can do. I went to Florence but fell in love with Orio al Serio. The B&B’s name is Stile Libero. If you happen to travel to northern Italy (after this stupid coronavirus affair ends), and if you’re not singularly interested in the marvels of the big city, consider dropping by. You might fall in love. Getting lost was worth it.