It's Not the Holiday Inn

Trip Start Oct 24, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Sunday, February 28, 2010

The San Giuliano hotel, across the long bridge that connects the island of Venice to its less alluring mainland counterpart, is a pleasant stay. The quality of the facilities is about what one would expect for the hotel’s surroundings: a middle-class neighborhood just a few blocks to a commercial district and a short bus ride to an industrial area. Concrete flattens the landscape, low, black gates line the streets, and “Attenti al cani” signs hang conspicuously. These warnings are not bluffs, either; I saw a few dogs that looked like they meant business. All in all, somehow the neighborhood is not so unattractive. I never minded the frequent walks around the block to the bus stop, or to the nearby gelato and sandwich shop. It was sunny, if a bit too cool, and the sidewalks were clean. The building walls were bare and concrete, but well maintained and free of graffiti. And the laundromat on the corner, I am sure, had I used it, would not make me wonder how clean my clothes were really getting.

There was always one of two men staffing the front desk of the San Giuliano, both probably in their forties, of average height, with graying hair, and roundish faces that betrayed the little extra weight their modest, dark suits tried to conceal. Both were also congenial fellows that looked like they belonged there, at that desk, in that exact hotel, in that particular neighborhood. Each time Tracy and I dropped off the room key on our way out the door, we would get an amicable smile – not overly friendly, but their eyes possessed a liveliness that said it was genuine. When we returned, we would get the same smile and a “buon giorno” or a “buena sera.” The Friday night we checked in, they told us about bus routes to and from the main island. On Saturday one of the men gave us advice on restaurants and, with a friendly aspect, pointed us toward the ground floor for the free breakfast. Later, the other wanted to know how we liked Venice so far. Sunday got just a little more personal.

Sunday morning was not like Saturday morning, when DeAnna and Andrew came knocking at our door bright and early to get the day’s activities underway. On Sunday, we got up later, but still in time to take advantage of the tail end of breakfast downstairs: bread, cheese, deli meats, yogurt, cereal, fruit, pastries, juice, water, and, yes, coffee. I piled my plate high, but Tracy’s was half-empty. Her face advertised discomfort, too. When I asked if she was feeling alright, she said she needed to go back to bed because she was getting cramps, and a week early. She returned to our room after scarcely having touched her food while I stayed behind to finish my breakfast. Andrew showed up a few moments before Tracy left, so I chatted with him for a little while before heading back up to the room to check on Tracy

When I walked in, she was in bed with the covers pulled up over her head and a pillow on her face. I asked her if she had taken any medicine, and she said she hadn’t brought any. I had a little, but when I checked, the Excedrin had dissolved in the liquid that had somehow pooled in my medicine bag, and I wondered why that always seems to happen. I extracted the lone, undamaged Advil liqui-cap from my otherwise ruined medicine supply, and gave it to her. We both knew that would not be nearly enough, so, as my husbandly duty dictated, I left the hotel in search of a pharmacy.

In Italy, as in most of Europe, businesses have restricted Sunday hours, and many are simply not open. In Italy, pharmacies are not open on Sunday, as they are in the United States. I never thought I’d say “god bless CVS,” but, well, there you have it. I had walked around the block to the only pharmacy I had seen anywhere and discovered this fact the hard way. I was a little irritated. I half expected a business that deals in health and pain-relieving products to be open for business on Sunday. I trekked around that block and the next one, looking for any signs of commercial life and pondering the cultural issue of convenience – the strange European complacence with the lack of it, and the aggravating American insistence on it. I searched for a good 30 minutes, but all I saw was a group of costumed teenagers waiting for the bus to carnival, and half-dozen elderly women in fur coats out for a Sunday stroll with their little, foo-foo dogs. No pharmacy.

On my way back to the San Giuliano, I considered Tracy’s suggestion to me before I left. “Why don’t you just go to the front desk and ask if they have any medicine?”

“Things are different here,” I had told her. “It’s not the Holiday Inn, where they have complimentary convenience items for forgetful travelers. I doubt they’d have all the products you’re looking for, anyway. I’ll just go to the pharmacy. I’m sure they’re open.”

 As I came upon the hotel, I opened the main entrance door and the front desk man smiled and nodded at me. I smiled back, and in my best mixture of Italian and Spanish, conveyed to him my situation.

 “Do you have medicine here?” I asked.

“What kind of medicine?” he replied.

Ah ha. Maybe this was a little more Holiday Inn-like than I thought. “Pain medicine,” I said. “It’s for my wife. She has pain of the uterus.” It probably sounded as awkward to him hearing it as it does to you reading it. It was the best I could do at the moment. But remember that I am not speaking in English here.

He said, “I don’t know. Let me see.”

He yelled something to a woman in a conjoining room that made me starkly aware that what I was speaking was less Italian than I thought. Then he turned back to me and said in English, “Just one moment.” He got up and went to the back room and returned a minute later holding a box and a small, wrapped item. And in the same tone he might have used to ask me the date or the hour, he said, “Can your wife give herself an injection?”

I almost laughed out loud. Luckily, before he asked me, I had caught a glimpse of the wrapped item he balanced between his thumb and index finger, so I had a split second to prepare myself. It was a syringe. The attendant placed the wrapped needle on the counter and opened the small box he held in his other hand. In it there were two miniature glass vials filled with liquid. In less than a second, my brain processed all of the following: he was going to offer me this medicine, whatever it was; it was probably a pain medicine of some kind; there was no way in hell Tracy was going to inject herself with anything, especially a mystery liquid from a stranger; the man was genuinely trying to help us, not harm us; this would have great anecdotal value for later on. My sense of humor was already begging for freedom, and I cautiously yielded to it.

“Well, she is a doctor,” I told the man.

 With a pleased expression he repeated back what he understood, “You’re a doctor?”

“No, my wife. My wife is a doctor. I’m not a doctor. Yet.” I felt compelled to throw in that final word for my own psychological benefit. The man furrowed his brow slightly. It seemed to take him a second for that to compute – that “she” was a doctor, but “he” was not. Though I could have been imagining things, I do not think I was.

“Okay,” he said, “then she can inject herself, yes?”

“Probably, yes,” I replied. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to get the physical evidence to support the presentation of the story that was at that very moment forming in my brain.

No further information or instructions were necessary in the mind of the desk attendant-turned-physician, as he simply slid the syringe and vials across the counter toward my resting hands. Simultaneously I thanked him for his kind help and marveled at this singular experience. I could not wait to do a little show and tell for Tracy. I took the tiny elevator to the third floor and entered room 320.

Tracy was as astounded as I was at the very notion that this was considered normal or acceptable. “I’m not giving myself an injection!” she exclaimed, half laughing. I replied, also laughing in amazement, “Can you imagine how much trouble the Holiday Inn corporation would be in if this had happened in the US!” We joked about it for a while, and I snapped photos in anticipation of the very blog you are reading. With little thought, we both decided it would be best to return the unopened syringe and pain killers to the attendant and thank him for his generosity.

I explained to the man that my wife had an allergy to that particular pain medicine, but that he was very generous and that we both thanked him for his concern. He smiled with compassion and said he understood. Then he got up and went to the back room again, returning this time with another box in hand. My first thought was that he had a different serum, but he did not. 

He told me, “Here, then these might help.”

The big, blue-lettered word on the white box said “Ibuprofen.” As a second option he had given me ibuprofen. Needless to say, that was the help I had been looking for.


Still more Venice stories to come.
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