THE NORTH ATLANTIC — On one of our across-the-Atlantic flights to visit our son Stan, his wife and children, we noticed several passengers who had positioned themselves in the middle seat of the middle row. My wife and I had been content with our seat assignment, a window seat and the one next to it.
The motives of these middle-of-the-roaders soon became clear: As soon as we were airborne, they’d simply raise the armrest between the seats, stretch out and snooze all the way to Copenhagen. On a later, less crowded flight, I claimed one such arrangement, told Bonnie about it, agreed to let her use it, “just for a half hour,” and ended up in my cramped single seat, next to a large man who had claimed Bonnie’s seat, and who apparently had been eating garlic-and-onion sandwiches.
On this flight, I spotted a row of three unclaimed seats, ran for them as soon as the pilot turned off the seatbelts sign — and discovered that the armrests do not come up. For some reason Bonnie wasn’t interested in commandeering that row from me.
That was just Phase 1 of our trip overseas, where we stopped first in Denmark, then hopped the Costa Luminosa, to see the fjords in Norway. The cruise liner, by the way, belongs to the same line that owns the recently wrecked Costa Concordia, whose captain notoriously left the ship early after “falling” into a rescue craft.
The sister ship’s misfortune no doubt provided the impetus for an extremely long training session on the day of embarkment. All 3,000 of us stood five-deep, clad in lifejackets, as we listened to instructions on how to board the lifeboats.
That information would have been fine, and useful, had the crew not simply assumed each of us understands Italian. We listened to long announcements — delivered through faulty speakers — in most of the world’s extant languages: “After we give the passengers a few verses in Italiano, let’s try Turkish, then Swahili, Tewa, Sanskrit, and we’ll close with English, and one final round of Italian.” Or at least that’s what I assume they said — I don’t understand Italian.
Italians made up about 40 percent of the travelers, but there were a large number from Germany, many from France, a sprinkling of Spaniards and an American or two. The frequent announcements that came over the P.A. System usually were in Italian. Once, a message came through with considerable urgency — in Italian. We rushed downstairs, and as I was about to do my “no comprendi” routine, the clerk said, “Oh. That was nothing.”
Nothing? We went down from the 11th floor to hear nothing.
And we discovered that folks from Italy either don’t appreciate my stabs at humor, or don’t understand them. I saw a man with a nametag, Vito. He had his hand on the elevator door in a way that made it seem as if he wanted the car to move but didn’t realize that his hand was preventing the door from closing.
I offered help, gesturing for him to put his arm down. When we made eye contact, he said, “My wife.” I now surmise he was telling me he was holding up the elevator until his wife arrived. My only reply had to be, “I’m sure you’re very nice, but I hardly know you.” And that did not go over well with this amico mio.
Finally, we discovered that on an ocean voyage with countless others — on a ship that houses 13 dining rooms and 11 stories — lines don’t necessarily form at the rear. For example, being close to the front means nothing if the person in front of you has a large family, all of them able to squeeze in line because, well, because they’re family — someone else’s.
On the last day on board, when it was time to clean out the cabins, we noticed a strong scent wafting through the hallways. It delighted most of the voyagers. The name of this fragrance spray: Arrivederci Aroma, of course.