Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Loading a Ship with Food at Civitavecchia, Italy

When the thrusters on the boat had quieted down this morning, and I was finally awake, I slipped out in the dark of the balcony to see what the port looked like.  Below me was a white van, the back of it already open and a dog was tied up to a fence nearby.  A local food vendor, I thought, getting the back and side of his van ready for a local snack to entice the first passengers who would disembark before they had breakfast onboard.  

I left and went up to deck 12, the walking track, and did my first mile and half of the week, since I haven’t been feeling that well this whole trip.  Five laps are a mile.  I walked eight and then checked out the hot tub, which I haven’t done yet either, finding out how to get a towel and which tubs were the jacuzzis and which, just hot tubs.  I had to sort out where the showers were, where to put my clothes – all of that--  kind of hard work for a newbie.  I picked up some fruit on the way past the restaurant to bring back to our new home away from home, and I wondered if I would run into Greg and Wyona before they left for Rome.  She was in the room and we chatted for a while, until I finally asked why Greg was taking so long in the shower. 

“He has gone into Rome without me.  I am just going to make my way to Civitavecchia on the shuttle for a few hours.  Want to come?”
... the police dog tied to the fence ...

Now this would be my first outing since in London.  I thought we would get out of the room faster, but Wyona had been leaning over the balcony as well this morning, longer than I and with a brighter mind.  She had figured out that the white van I had spotted earlier had nothing to do with food at all, but was really a police van; the dog, one that sniffs for drugs.  

By now I, too, had noticed that the 18 wheelers that were lined up by the ship, sometimes six deep, had to be unloaded and each palette sniffed by the dog.  

The policeman would slit the plastic wrapping with a knife.  The dog would run around the palette sniffing through the cut in the plastic, and when the policeman was satisfied with the cargo, he would slap a sticker on the unsplit side of the palette and another forklift would move it to the cargo doors of the ship.

...18 wheelers, fork lifts, ...
... lugs of food to split and check for contraband ...
... police dogs ...
... fork lifts at the 18 wheelers ...
... forklifts after the 18 wheelers ...
... fork lifts inside the ship ...
... passengers on deck 4, also watching ...
I have never seen so much food moved.  

I had to do the math again, since this was our first major loading of food since we left London.  

Three meals a day for passengers and crew – 3,800 passengers and 1,385 crew. 

No one was working harder than the policeman except maybe the dog.  Together they were at work with every load until 5:30 pm when the last 18-wheeler drove away.

This is the second time on this trip when Wyona and I have been near Rome on a Sunday, -- the day that the shops are closed down.  Three travel hours is a long way to go for the tourist sites, when we already spent 7 days, 12 hours a day at them last year.  A little shopping might have taken us there – but the Italians love their Sundays and close their smaller shop doors. And it is those smaller shop doors we like to enter.

The same is true of the street vendors in Civitavecchia, but the walk through these streets was only a 20 minute shuttle away.  Wyona and I strolled by old city walls, moseyed up the deserted main street, made our way up and down the aisles of an old five and dime store that held the cheapest line of every product possible, and where we could not find one thing to buy.  Oh, she ran into some baby-sized clothes pins, only good for a doll house and I saw a Pinocchio key chain, but both of us asked, “Do you really need either of these things?”
The best thing to be said about the store is that I watched a nanny with a crying five year old in her arms, bring her charge into that shop, put her on the floor and let her play with the merchandise in the shelves, which made the child stop crying.  Probably not that good for the merchant, but what a way to tend a baby!

Wyona and I had done a cost analysis on the gelato we wanted to buy in Rome.  Had we gone with Greg, who did take the trip, and made our way to our favourite gelato store by the Termini Metro Station, the cost of the gelato would have had to include the 2-way price of the three hour train ticket to go in and out of Rome, more than we wanted to pay for a cone – even if we have declared it Italy’s best gelato restaurant.  This idea of what the Rome gelato would have really cost us, freed us to stop at every gelato shop along the way in Civitavecchia, no matter what they charged, which was still cheaper than any touristic shop we might have stopped in, had we been in Rome.  I tried lemon and cherry but I am staying with pistachio as the most divine flavour. Wyona was looking for Amarino, of which there was none, but she tried a large scoop of darkest purple grape flavour I have ever seen.  About half way through the cone she stopped me on the street to show me that every small mouthful ended with ten to fifteen tiny seeds on her tongue which she had to get rid of.
“Aren’t you supposed to swallow those,” Greg asked her later.  I think the answer is, if you are running your tongue over the smoothness of the gelato, you are going to have a collection of them in your mouth whether you choose to swallow them or not.

The beach was full of families at play on the sand. Multiples of children were riding the two pink merry-go-rounds or getting their pictures taken by the two-story figure of a marine kissing a nurse.  There were no street merchants as far as we could see down the beach so we walked north along the deserted main street.  I lagged behind Wyona, studying the ironwork on the balconies and watching the different configurations of families out for an afternoon stroll.  We window shopped, paused by a store showing a set of men’s underwear decorated as though he was going to a formal tux  and this would be all he was wearing.  I was wondering, is this purely Italian or a gimmick to get some crazy spender into the store.
On the return to the ship, the same deserted street we had first seen along the beach was now full of vendors – the ones who display their goods on a large sheet on the ground. To describe this scene more fully for just a minute, the sheet is about three feet by four feet, and the four corners of the sheet can be easily gathered together, the rolled goods can now be put the vendors arm so that he can stroll past the police down the street.

So here were the vendors out now – about a street length and a half of them.  No one was shopping or looking at their stuff.  Wyona and I have a lot of experience with this next act.  If one or the other of us takes a closer look at the scarves – a look really in earnest, having the vendors take them out of the plastic packages for us, other women gather around us.
“We have enough scarves already,” said one of two women, gathering in very close to us, and somewhat dissing us.  “Same with us, enough scarves for a lifetime, but that is not stopping us from buying these today,” said Wyona. 

“The same with us,” laughed the other woman.  “We are scarfaholics, as well.  Our kids don’t want us to buy anything for them, not scarves, not anything, but they tell us to buy ourselves into oblivion.  So we aren’t buying these for anyone – just for ourselves.”

“Are you on the cruise ship, as well,”  I asked, continuing, “what was the price they were selling these murano glass necklaces in the jewellery shop on board?  Did you notice?”
“They are a lot cheaper here on the street,” said the one woman, identifying herself now as coming from the Italian Costa Cruise Line, not the boat we are travelling on.

We laugh and walk on, leaving 10 women now, all of whom have stopped and asked us (instead of the merchant) if the prices were good.  The women were now surrounding that merchant, all of them scarves in their hands, and no longer wondering if they should buy, but ... how many they should buy.  That was too much scarf activity around a sheet laid out on the ground for us. 

We strolled on.

“Wyona, when we stop at the next merchant let us make him an offer.  Ask him how large a discount he will give us on the scarves we buy, if we bring a crowd of women in for him.  It seems all we have to do is examine a few of the patterns carefully, throw a some nice coloured wraps over our arms like we are going to buy them, and soon we get squeezed out of our front line positions and have to move on.”

But none of the above is what I wanted to tell you when I started typing this.
As we were strolling back down the same avenue, this time, looking at the Murano Glass instead of the scarves – all pieces being sold at 2 euros a piece (or 3 for 5), we saw the lay-your-sheet-on-the-ground vendors packing up to go, all at exactly the same moment.
“Police?”, we ask the man in whose wares we are examining.  “No, we just close down at 3 pm.”

“Wyona, we have just been told a lie,” I whispered to her. “Vendors just don’t close up when it is 3 pm and they are surrounded with customers.  Ask the next merchant the same question -- what is going on.”

“OK,” he said. “The police only allow us to come out between 1 and 3.  Then we have to go home.  We can’t come out in the morning.   We can come back until 8 pm.”

All I could think of is that the cruise ships would all be gone by 8 pm.  A weird way for the police to patrol the streets. 

Anything goes during the community nap time ... something every tourist should know.

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