My Olympic Story

Disclaimer: The following story has nothing to do with parenting. It has to do with a particular day that happened oh so long ago, in the days before parenting (BP?). I’m sharing it to try to get into the Olympic spirit–difficult to do when our TV has zero reception so we can’t see NBC. 

It’s a little bit about the Olympics, but more importantly, it’s about traffic in Rome. 

We were living in Rome in 2004, the year the Summer Olympics were held in Athens. At the time, I was finishing up school and working on the side as a translator. A friend of mine, a fellow ex-pat (and avid runner), was working for the Rome Marathon organization. It turned out that people from the Rome Marathon were going to help the International Olympic Committee to welcome the Olympic flame as it touched down in Rome and started winding its way to Athens. 

And they needed an Italian/English translator to facilitate communications between the international crew bringing the flame to Rome and the Roman crew that was on the ground receiving the flame. 

For some reason, my friend had a previous engagement and couldn’t take part as the translator/facilitator–so I was the lucky recipient of the coveted temporary post. 

And that is how I found myself waiting on a street corner at 6 a.m. one morning, wearing semi-formal work clothes (I believe I was wearing a skirt), waiting for a car to pick me up and whisk me off to the airport to wait for the arrival of the Olympic flame. The other three were wearing sporty Rome Marathon shirts and comfortable shoes. I felt a bit out of place.

I got in with three Marathon staff and started speeding towards Rome’s smaller airport, Ciampino (used for European and internal Italian flights). Traffic going out of town wasn’t horrible, but all four of us were groaning at the prospect of taking the flame back to the city center later that morning. Traffic going into town was, as usual, horrid. 

We got to the tarmac and a few minutes later the plane landed. The mayor gave a rousing speech, and the Olympic flame made its way down to a waiting vehicle. Final destination: Stadio Olimpico, where the first runner was going to carry it through the city. 

My job was pretty easy…told some people to place boxes here and there, and was free to observe the rest of the time. 

Then it was time to accompany the flame downtown. My coworkers and I were grumbling about having to face the traffic when we saw the first motorcycle cops. Who were followed by a litany of other motorcycle cops. It was a motorcade for the Olympic flame.

And it turned out we were the first car in the motorcade. 

Stunned silence descended on the four of us. Which quickly led to hysterical giggling. 

Anyone who has lived in (or even visited) Rome, has seen the daily motorcades that accompany visiting dignitaries and Italian government officials. It soon becomes the most irritating thing to watch yet another motorcade of 30 cars zoom by, stopping traffic and generally being a pain in the arse. 

Those annoyances vanish when you are the one in the motorcade. 

We started out of the airport and met with very little traffic. The cops were waving us along, and there we were in our little FIAT, wide eyed and in thrall of the powerful feeling of police accompaniment. 

When we hit the actual city limits, the feeling was even more pronounced. A trip that normally would have taken an hour was coming to an end in about 20 minutes. It was like Moses parting the seas…the cops had their drill down, stopping, waving us through, angering the general public, and rushing  back to the front to repeat. 

The giggling in the car never stopped, and we had a profound sense of sadness once we actually reached our destination. Who knew if any of us would ever actually experience that again? 

Our work done for the day, we parted and went our separate ways. I had to take public transport to get back home (gasp!). It was quite a shock to the system after having traveled in style. 

Moral of the story? Even if a job is going to net you 40 euros, take it. Because you may end up in a motorcade with the Olympic flame, which will definitely be one of those stories I’ll tell my grand kids. 

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I’ll Put it on My Eyes

My family had been living in the U.S. for just over a year when we moved into an incredibly cute duplex in a working class town 20 miles south of San Francisco. The house had a front yard filled with wood chips, a sunny eat-in kitchen, and hardwood floors throughout.

We had moved to Northern California from Irving, Texas, not too long before. In Texas, we first lived at my aunt’s house (for…two months? Three? The details are fuzzy) and then a hopelessly depressing apartment.

So the duplex in San Leandro was definitely a step up. And we had an awesome view: the house across the street. It was one of those beautifully refined Craftsman-style houses–incredibly well-kept and sporting a fantastic yard.

The man who lived there was, in every sense, quite neighborly. He was always out in his yard with a huge sun-hat, perfecting the garden, waving hello as we walked or drove by.

We hadn’t been there very long when he knocked on the door one day, presenting my dad with a huge basket of vegetable-garden bounty. I remember there were zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

My father, already an emotional man, was over the moon. He started praising the vegetables, our neighbor, America in general, and ended with “Thank you so much. I’ll put them on my eyes.”

Our neighbor wasn’t really sure what to make of this, and said something to the effect of, well, I guess you can do that, but it’s probably better if you eat them.

You see, my dad was literally translating a common saying in Farsi. The phrase, which is said when one person gives another something of value, literally means “I’ll put the [insert gift here] on my eyes.” But the real meaning is that the gift is so precious that I’ll put them on my most precious possession, my eyes (well, something to that effect anyway). It’s just a very flowery way of saying thank you.

That little sentence has fueled my love for all things involving literal translations. They are a fantastic, albeit nerdy, source of amusement.

Fast-forward 20 years, as I try valiantly (and often fail) to sing P lullabies that are actually lullabies, and not Tori Amos or Simon & Garfunkel songs. This is how bad I am–until recently, I would finish “Hush Little Baby” in this way:

If that looking glass don’t shine
Mama’s gonna buy you a concubine.

Every night I would think, what if she asks me what a concubine is tonight? So when I remembered, I would use “porcupine” instead. I pretty much learned how to correctly end that song while watching Skylar singing it to her newborn baby on Breaking Bad. (Ohhhhhhhhh Daddy loves you and so do I!)

So when an Italian friend and his American wife, back from a trip to the Ye Olde Country, gave us a book of traditional Italian nursery rhymes and lullabies, I was super excited. If I can’t teach P all the right American songs, at least A can teach her Italian ones.

And then I saw the songs and rhymes.

And they are ripe for a literal translation.

Here’s the first (please excuse my shoddy translations and lack of rhyming. It’s been a while):

Under the Baracca Bridge,

Little Gigin is pooping.

His poop is really, really hard,

So a doctor came to measure it.

He measured thirty-three,

Now it’s your time to count!

It needs to be said: wha? A nursery rhyme about pooping? Really hard, worrisome poop that needs doctor intervention? This may be the best nursery rhyme ever!

Well, that’s what I thought until I read this next one:

Bam-bada-dam-badam-badam

Three little owls on the dresser

Were making love to the doctor’s daughter

The doctor got really really mad

Bam-bada-dam-badam-badam.

OK. WHAT? This is a nursery rhyme? About three owls having sex with the doc’s daughter? Who, rightfully so, gets mad? I mean, wouldn’t you if three owls were having sex with your daughter? All I can say is, leave it to the Italians to come up with a nursery rhyme that involves sex.

A laughed hysterically when he saw these rhymes in the book. I guess it’s one thing to hear them said over and over again, and it’s completely different to see them written on paper.

Well, K and M, friends who brought back the book from Italy: I love it. I’ll put it on my eyes.