Over the years, I have come to the realisation that I have an uncanny ability to lose important items at very inopportune moments. I say this as a seasoned traveller, having visited countries, some of which might be considered to be “off the beaten track”. Such incidents include leaving my wallet with 500 Euros in cash on the plane during a stopover at Baku International Airport while en route to Tehran, leaving my wallet on the bus upon arrival in Dublin, leaving my backpack with all my travel belongings on the bus upon arriving in Croatia – this particular event was the beginning of a month long trip in the Balkans; you get the idea.
So when I arrived at Verona, Italy, last April, I merrily grabbed my suitcase off the conveyer belt and made my way towards the exit with an air of anticipation. This was in part due to the fact that I was about to meet an Italian friend, Camilla, whom I had not seen in seven years. It was also due to the fact that customs officials have a habit of stopping me; I had 3 litres of vodka, more than the permitted amount, in my bag as gifts and I did not want to have to hand them over. Sure enough, a uniformed guard asked that I place the suitcase in the x-ray machine.
“Where are you flying from?” he asked.
“Moscow,” I said.
“And what brings you here?”
“VinItaly,” I said. VinItaly is an annual wine festival, the largest in the country, and Camilla had been inviting me almost every year.
“Ah, VinItaly! Okay, go on,” said the guard.
There didn’t appear to be a problem with the suitcase contents, so off I went.
I should probably give a little background as to how Camilla and I got to know each other. We met in 2011 in Israel and quickly realised that we shared in common at least a very similar sense of humour, so we stayed in touch; I even visited Verona that same year a few months after our first encounter. She’d been living in Olomouc, Czech Republic on an exchange program. To give some sense of Camilla’s humour, I have attached a couple of snippets below:
The first time I visited Verona, I didn’t lose any of my belongings, but I did not sleep for approximately 43 hours straight at the start of the trip. This was because the night before the flight to Bergamo, I had stayed up finishing end-of-term assignments and then packing my things to catch an early flight.
Camilla likewise had also been in a rush, as can be seen from this Google chat:
camilla: i ll check in thursday night and runn aroud to find a printer. Of course i ll finish everything thursday night, wake up to take the train at 4.30 in the morning, smocke a strong joint in train station and sleep be stoned all the way till the gate 🙂
When I arrived, she texted from the Czech Republic, saying that her flight was delayed for four hours because of a storm, so I went to find somewhere to sit for the afternoon.
‘Go and see what time the trains are running,’ she said.
I went to the station and was told by a security guard that there was a train strike.
When I sent her the news, Camilla replied, ‘Fucking typical. -.-‘
I went to a cafe, fully intending to sit there for the afternoon with my book, but I had barely sat for five minutes when the waitress came up and said that they were closing. I looked at my watch.
‘But… it’s only one o’clock,’ I said, haltingly.
‘Yes, we’re closing for lunch, we open again at five,’ she said with a mildly amused expression.
I got up and left and walked up Bergamo’s main street. Everywhere was closed or closing. Everywhere except for an Irish pub. “Typical,” I thought. I hadn’t slept for over 30 hours by that point, so everything was a haze. I went to the bar and ordered a Guinness and sat sipping it and trying to focus on my book.
After what seemed like an eternity, I went back to meet Camilla at the airport and her dad collected us and drove us to Verona, where we left our stuff at the house and went to town to go drinking with her friends.
‘I brought a bottle of Bekherovka,’ she said, gleefully. (Bekherovka is a 38% proof Czech drink.)
In the end, we found ourselves at 3am having a brief and rather clumsy frollick in the apartment stairwell. I say brief, because after nearly two days without sleep I was in no state for anything and dozed off in the middle of it all only to be woken up by a couple of slaps to the face and a rather disgruntled, “Wake up, man! That was terrible.”
I don’t think I have ever slept so heavily. The following morning, Camilla held my eyelids open and shone a powerful torch into my pupils, turning it on and off all the while. Apparently, I didn’t budge.
“I’m laaaate, ten minutes!!!” she said down the phone, the strong Italian accent ever present and unchanged.
Upon seeing each other, we grinned, hugged, and while it felt slightly awkward at first, that soon passed. As we got into the car, my phone started to ring and looking at the screen, I saw that it was an Italian number.
“Ignore it if you don’t recognise it,” said Camilla.
Before long, we were speeding down the motorway catching up on all sorts of mundane things about our lives. I should mention that Camilla is a midwife and has been married two years to her boyfriend, Andrea, whom she met in 2006. We stopped for ice-cream on the way home – “This is the best ice-cream in Verona.” – and it was at that moment that she dropped a bombshell.
“So is Andrea at home?” I asked.
“I don’t think you’ll be meeting him, I’m afraid. He’s gone to stay at his parents’ place.”
“Oh, what’s happened?” I could already tell by the expression.
“I haven’t decided, but I think I know what is going to happen… But hey, at least divorce only costs 16 Euros, the problem is what to do with the house,” she said.
I won’t go into the reasons as to why this was happening, but I gathered that it had been building up for some time.
When we got to the house I thought it would be a good time to give her her gifts. I went to my bedroom to remove the protective clingfilm from the suitcase and it was then that I realised that something wasn’t right. The suitcase was the right shape, weight, and colour, but when I saw the logo I tried to remember if mine was a Samsonite. I didn’t think it was, so I valiantly tried to unzip it, only then noticing the lock. “Oh, shit,” I muttered to myself.
“Let’s have something to eat here and then go to town for drinks,” said Camilla.
“This isn’t my suitcase,” I said.
“Haha, yeah,” she said, absentmindedly. “My friend, Joanna, is around, so we can meet her. She’s really nice.”
“Camilla, I took the wrong bag,” I said.
It took several moments for her to process this new information. My mind flitted back to the missed calls and the pieces began to fall into place.
“The wrong bag…? Are you serious?”
“Yes,” I said, unsure as to what expression I ought to assume, while trying to repress a foolish grin.
“Oh my God, you retard, how did you take the wrong bag??!” She looked at me like I was a child that had done something thoroughly stupid.
“I dunno, it was the same colour,” I mumbled, shifting uncomfortably. “I think those missed calls might have been the airport,” I added.
“It’s the same colour. Only a man would say something like that. Shiiit, okay, I’ll call the lost & found. Probably the owners are staying in Verona for the festival, so it shouldn’t be a big deal,” she said.
Several minutes passed and I waited and listened expectantly, my concern evaporating when she gave the thumbs up. My case was still at the airport.
“Where are the people staying?” said Camilla in Italian. “Abano Terme….?” The only way to describe her reaction to this piece of news was:
“Where is Abano Terme?” I asked.
“It’s a shithole about a hundred kilometers away. I don’t know why you would fly so far to go to Abano Terme. It’s one of the worst places in all of Italy.”
“Ah,” I said.
The sum of it is that we went to the airport for my case, then to Abano Terme (there were no courier services).
The woman at the lost & found section was helpful and asked that I fill out a form after Camilla explained the situation. I could still understand a lot of Italian, although my speaking level was not great.
“Sign your name here, please,” she said.
“He’d be better off signing “ritardato””, said Camilla. The lady snorted. She gave us the number and hotel address of the couple whose suitcase I’d taken and it was my turn to make an embarrassing phone call. The avatar on the WhatsApp profile was a woman of over 50 at a guess. I rang.
A man’s voice echoed from the other end of the line.
“Em, I’m at Verona airport with your suitcase. I apologise for the inconvenience,” I said in Russian.
“That suitcase belongs to my wife, do you realise how long we waited at the airport? An hour and a half! We were going to call the police. You have deeply offended us!” said the man, all in one breath.
I was rather taken aback by his last point. It wasn’t as though I had done it on purpose and I was quick to voice this thought. I felt like adding that I was just as miffed, given that I had a suitcase full of clothing belonging to a 50+ year old woman, but I restrained myself.
“You know, our suitcases look very alike. This could happen to anybody. Anyway, you’ll have it back in a couple of hours,” I said, and he hung up.
“Abano fucking Terme,” said Camilla, as we left the airport once again. The drive passed uneventfully and we eventually reached our destination. I saw what she had meant when she described it as a shit hole.
To give an idea of what Abano Terme is like, the best way to describe it is an amalgamation of bad modern architecture combined with a failed tourism industry. As we drove through the town, we passed one abandoned hotel after another, each sporting a For Sale sign. It had once drawn thousands of tourists for its famous hot springs, but then it had gone into a steady and almost inevitable decline. The Russian couple were staying at a five star hotel right in the center. Camilla waited at the car rolling a cigarette while I went to drop off the bag. I had assured her that it was very likely the husband would be waiting to have an argument, given his tone over the phone.
“I’m not coming in, if there is an argument, I will start to laugh,” she said.
“Good idea,” I said.
But neither the woman nor her husband were anywhere to be seen, so I left the suitcase at the reception, explaining who it was for.
When I left the hotel, Camilla was leaning on the bonnet of the car smoking a cigarette, an enquiring expression on her face.
“They weren’t there, so I left it at reception,” I said.
“Oh, well good then. Come on, let’s go, I’m staaarving,” she said.
We got into the car and were just pulling out onto the road when we noticed people gesticulating and pointing at the roof. Camilla got out and grabbed her handbag, which she had left there.
“I don’t think we should ever combine our genes,” I said.
“No, me neither!”
And then we started to laugh.