Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Platoon

At the Forum
Even though the title seems to indicate otherwise, this is the third in a series of posts regarding our trip to Italy. Last time I talked about the actual trip to Italy. We left off with a small subset of our tour group on board the bus at the airport, awaiting transport to the Hotel Cicerone in Rome.

I think there were four couples on board that bus, apparently the entire group would be landing in Rome in small parties throughout the day. Eventually the entire group would be assembled that evening. At that point in time I did wonder just how big our group was. But I didn't spend a lot of time wondering about it. Because the Missus and I were exhausted. Our only wish was to get to the hotel, wash up and perhaps catch an hour or so of rack time prior to the evening's planned festivities.

So to the hotel we went, met our guide Carmine, were checked in and bundled efficiently off to our respective rooms. The room was comfortable. As a matter of fact, at this point in time, a couple of air mattresses under a lean-to would've seemed comfortable. Wash up we did, sleep we did and semi-refreshed we arose to begin our exploration of Italy.

Our bus, now rather full, took us to this quiet little Italian restaurant where our group had an entire room to ourselves. It was to be, I heard in rather a panic, a "briefing" on the trip, to be followed by a meal. My panic was due to my association of the word "briefing" with the military's use of PowerPoint as a briefing tool. My company also uses PowerPoint as a briefing tool. There is a reason my Naval children refer to this as "death by PowerPoint". PowerPoint presentations are generally poorly put together and boring in the extreme. At least in my experience.

But my panic was unnecessary. Carmine simply told us what we'd be doing all week, told us about the optional aspects of the tour and told us that we would all briefly introduce ourselves. Now for many people, this "please tell us about yourself" is a cause for panic. Especially in a room with 44 people, most of whom are complete strangers at this point in time. I do not have this problem. I am a natural "ham" and enjoy the opportunity to get up and blabber about myself. Which I did, until the Missus gently yanked me back into my seat and softly told me to "stifle myself". I do tend to run on.

Introductions having been made and with food now being served I had the opportunity to ponder the situation. Now I tend to look at everything in military terms and the size of our group immediately led me to the idea that we were the size of a platoon. Now according to Wikipedia: "platoon is a military unit typically composed of two - four sections or squads and containing 26 to 50 soldiers." Now obviously we were not composed of two to four sections or squads, we were most definitely not soldiers, but we did fit the 26 to 50 criteria. So in my mind, we were platoon-sized. Carmine was our platoon leader. Unfortunately we had no platoon sergeant, no squad leaders or really any sort of cohesive organization. That would, however, develop over the next couple of days. (The leading photo is part of the platoon, in the Roman Forum, with our platoon sergeant local tour guide.)

Seated with us were a couple from Long Island. I'll call them Steve and Theresa. Primarily because those are their real names. He was my age, she was somewhat younger. They were a most enjoyable couple to hang out with. We got along great from the moment we started chatting with them and shared many a great time with over the course of the week. So part of our platoon had already coalesced into a smaller sub-group, or section if you will.

The next couple to join our section we met the next day. They were a fun-loving couple from outside Atlanta, Karen and Dwayne. For the rest of the week, our little section of six was virtually inseparable. We all shared a love of humorous repartee, good fine and fine wine. Particularly the humor and the wine. It's been a week since I've seen them and already miss them terribly. They were that much fun to be around.

Now the rest of the platoon were also combining and morphing into sub-groups. Some of them came to the trip already grouped, though it took a few days for me to notice that. Jet lag, exhaustion and the consumption of quantities of fine wine tend to slow my cognitive abilities. There was a rather large family group on the tour who, if I recall correctly, numbered around ten. There were in-laws and cousins and sisters and such. I never did get them all straight in my mind. Just that there were a lot of them and they were all enjoying themselves.

We also had a group of four Canadian ladies from British Columbia who were traveling without their husbands. They, in particular, were having a supreme good time. And they were a riot to be around. I've always had a soft spot for Canadians, particularly as my great-grandfather was born and raised in Canada, Quebec to be specific. But I also served with members of the Canadian Forces while assigned to NATO, and found them to be excellent folk.

We also had three Australians with our group. A husband/wife plus the husband's Dad. I've always found the Aussies to be an outgoing people, though this trio tended to stick together and generally avoid us noisy North Americans. Apparently they are also a people of no small amount of common sense. Then again all of my previous experiences with Aussies were with men of military age. Never had met a middle-aged and up family grouping, perhaps that was the difference.

The rest of the group tended to be couples of one sort or another, mostly husbands and wives though there was a mother/daughter couple. All of them tended to move easily from one group to another depending on seating arrangements on the bus, in the restaurants etc. There was only one couple in the group which everyone else seemed to avoid, if not outright shun.

They were a rather large pair. Not tallish mind you but broad in the beam. I had really not noticed them until the day at dinner when Theresa announced that she was furious. Of course, we all wondered why. 'Twas then she announced that the male of the broad-in-the-beam couple had destroyed her camera. Eyebrow up, I queried her as to the circumstances. Theresa, in her fury, described how she had asked the guy to take a picture of her and Steve in front of some Roman landmark. He agreed and as he went to take the camera, promptly dropped it. Then had the unmitigated gall to blame her, claiming that the camera strap was still attached to her wrist, causing him to fumble said camera.

Whoa, says I. "Who was it?" Theresa nodded in a particular direction, pointing out that the culprit was wearing an aquamarine colored t-shirt. My gaze settled on the male of the two leviathans, and being who I am, asked "Who, you mean Aquaman?" For a brief moment all I received was puzzled stares, then the t-shirt color, along with their knowledge of my goofball sense of rumor made the pieces fit. So from that day forth, the male leviathan was known to our little group as "Aquaman". The female leviathan never really had a nickname, we may have referred to her once in passing as "Mrs Aquaman". But we avoided them like the plague. Primarily because at one meal, Theresa vowed to disembowel them if she had to sit at the same table with them. Fortunately for all concerned, that never came to pass.

So we're in Italy, the stage has been set, the players have been introduced. All that remains is to describe the various facets of the trip itself. Which I shall do, in good time, in good time. After all, I intend to milk this vacation for a good 6 to 7 posts. But I will leave you with a photo of the "Bridge of Sighs" (Ponte dei Sospiriin Venice.

Ciao. Stay thirsty my friends...

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