Wednesday, 3 July 2013

'Arrivederci' Francesca

After GT had published this piece on Sunday, a student came by and said, 'Sir, I read your article. Arrive, Arrive,' and she trailed off. Later there was an attempt to read some Hindi into it as well. 'Arrive der se' or Arrive late. After these assaults on Italian, I was at pains to put all the flamboyance of Naples and pronounced the word the way I thought the Italians would while tucking into their pizza. 'Arriv-ver-der-chi' I said with some consternation and amusement.

When we were studying, we were always told to learn a foreign language. Some took  the advice seriously. Others were content to parody what they could not understand. Learning a new language, I have learnt makes you welcome strangers more easily. You get to learn a new culture you think in another language. It's fascinating. Here's our brush with a little bit of Italy . . .

                                                                           Arrivederci Francesca
                                                                                                                                  --Brian Mendonça

When Francesca missed her 0715 flight from Goa to Mumbai her world fell apart. Almost.

Though she was present when the flight was boarding, she was not allowed to board as she showed up less than the stipulated 45 minutes before departure.

The ground crew did not know she was up till 0230 a.m. making her British guests feel comfortable at a redone old Goan villa deep South of Goa.

The airline was going by the rule book. But I can’t remember the number of times when I have breezed in sheepishly with all of 35 minutes to spare and flown.

What went wrong?

Francesca, an Italian national, agreed later that for want of sleep, she was a bit tetchy. Perhaps her morose replies put off the staff and they grounded her. Where was the charming Goan hospitality? Although she was very much present, they put her down as ‘NO SHOW.’ 

This was after explaining that she was taking a connecting flight at 12 midday from Mumbai.

When I met her at the airport she was distraught. ‘Nobody helps me,’ she kept saying. For a young lady travelling alone, India was putting her through a lot. ‘Could it get worse?’ she asked miserably.

In times of crises people either help or criticize.  One lady from the same airline gave vent to her ire in Konkani.  She badmouthed Francesca loudly to the security personnel at the departure lounge. But there was also a gent of the airline staff who stayed back after his shift at 8 to help and advise in any way he could.

As we drove home, I said we need to simply be thankful we were alive. ‘Life is full of options,’ I said. Curled up on our sofa, Francesca accessed our internet on her Apple i.pad. She skyped and called the makemytrip people. After repeated hanging-ups on the phone they rescheduled her journey for both sectors -- at no extra cost. 

Vastly relieved, Francesca consented to have something to eat. Queenie rustled up a steaming bowl of porridge and a cool lemon drink. As we sat around the table, the colour came back to Francesca’s face. She spoke about her parents in Italy, her trip to Spain, and her stay in Los Angeles and how it was now after 9/11. She was now headed to London to find work.  This global nomad introduced to us the concept of ‘couch surfing’ where any backpacker sleeps on the couch at a friend’s home when visiting his/her country and vice versa.

A huge number of foreign tourists travel to Goa – some alone, some with friends. A little understanding for them -- as they transit through Goa -- would not be out of place. How would a Goan feel in Milan, for example?

 I reached her to Dabolim airport at 12 midday. ‘Arrivederci’ Francesca, which means ‘Goodbye’ in Italian. As you wait at Mumbai airport be sure to catch some sleep on your 0145 connecting flight to Heathrow tomorrow.
Published in Gomantak Times, Weekender St. Inez, Goa, on Sunday 30 June 2013. Pix of Francesca, Queenie and Dwayne taken by me at Turiya villa, Canacona on 16 May 2013

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