HeadWay Italia

Welcome to the second issue of HeadWay, the unofficious publication brought to you by your globe-trotting friends at 2 Heads Communications. You may remember that last time around we wrote from the tiny island of St. John, down yonder in the Caribbean Sea. This time we greet you from the russet hilltops of Italy, where we have unpacked our backpacks and settled into an extended exploration of the various permutations of pasta and extra virgin olive oil. The results of these and other meaningful endeavors can be found in the pages that follow.

But before you delve deeper into this newsletter—and the recesses of our travel-logged minds—allow us to repeat our customary disclaimers, perhaps more emphatically than ever.

We again apologize for the humble production, but please keep in mind that we’re marooned here with only our trusty, portable Powerbook and HP Deskwriter—no Pagemaker, Quark, or Adobe font in sight. Not to mention a scanner, copy machine, or Exacto knife.

The truly observant among you may notice that neither the postmark nor postage stamps are Italian. If you cannot figure out the rationale behind the decision to mail this beast from the Twin Cities instead of Italy, please read the article Reality Bites, found on page 3.

Which reminds us that, without the help of a few faithful folks back in our Minneapolis office, you wouldn’t have heard from us at all this year. So a thousand thanks to Nancy, George, and Mom for handling logistics back at home so we could roam the globe. And a thousand thanks to you, dear reader, for sticking with us through the traveling road show that was our 1994. To be continued…

Heading Home

For those of you interested in the facts, in the three months after leaving the Virgin Islands at the end of May, we logged some 15,000 miles, slept in 35 beds, and ate the cuisines of nine nations who sincerely believe that theirs is the best. We always agreed—enthusiastically when a guest in someone’s home—even when being served baby snails, pig innards, pickled fish at breakfast, and dense coffee before bed.

But how does any or all of this relate to 2 Heads Communications? That’s a good question; you have a right to ask it, and we’re on a mission to answer it—with no one to bill but ourselves. We’ve seen and learned too much to condense the journey to, say, miles and beds. But rest assured that we’re eager to come home and apply what we’ve absorbed.

If we were to open the official European branch of 2 Heads, it would be tough to say where. If possible, we’d abide by true-enough stereotypes and seek a location with the efficiency of Switzerland, the workers of Germany, and the magic of Stockholm (1/3 water, 1/3 parks, 1/3 pure history—all on 14 islands). While we’re at it, throw in the gastronomy of Italy, the wine and cheese of France, the nature of Norway, the living tradition of Scotland, and the mentality of Denmark. Oh yes, also the beaches of St. John—and the language of England. Alas, there’s no place like that. At least we haven’t found it yet.

We did, however, find that this big old world more often feels like a global village. For those of you who doubt that metaphor, we suggest a quick trip through a few countries. One of the first things you’ll notice is that everything is everywhere. I mean, Fords and Hondas are in Germany, the car capital. Coke, Budweiser, and 7-11s are popular in Norway (never mind that the latter typically sells fresh pastries and breads, things becoming most inconvenient to obtain in America). And as we all know, our most holy of institutions, McDonalds and Burger King, are omnipresent—although often in exquisite buildings and locales. Why is it that our country, the creator, gets stuck with all the plastic, orange architecture? The only consolation is that we also get the 59-cent burger—versus the $2.59 that Europeans hungry for a taste of America queue up to pay.

The consumption doesn’t end there. They LOVE our movies, music, and military. Soap operas and sitcoms. Levis and Timberlands. And that utopian mecca where most teens dream of escaping to is, you guessed it, the U.S.A.

But the best news is that the Ugly American seems to have died—or at least gone to the bathroom. Most U.S. tourists are no more obtrusive than any other foreigner. Consequently, one finds that Europeans are surprisingly kind and curious, and occasionally eager to chat. Universal language? You’re reading it, my friend. And you’ll be understood most anywhere you go except, of course, for obstinate Italy and France—and this may be the only thing they agree on.

Europeans love to speak English. They think it’s progressive, hip. (Obviously, they never sat through umpteen years of American education where, sadly, it has become decidedly unhip to learn proper English.) You’ll see English phrases on clothing, in media, and especially in ads. Frequently, it’s butchered—perhaps nowhere more than the slogans that appear on garish sweatshirts and jackets. On second thought, maybe we could make a living over here!

Random Sample: Clothing Slogans

  • Adventure…Travel…Expedition Secret
  • About of Haeven!? (sic)
  • The Uncover America
  • To Return Winner!
  • Ocean Plush
  • The Bigs of Ice Hockey…The Most of Goal
  • Genius Playtime
  • Olympic Games for Poppies

The point is: Even language barriers are crumbling, which provides yet another sign that our planet is striving to become one world, and a peaceful one at that.

But there are still countless distinctions, to be sure. And that’s what makes traveling so fascinating. So while we took something new from everywhere we went, the place that took something back—stole our hearts to be precise—was diminutive Denmark. It seems to be a land packed with cosmic, NICE people who have advanced “live and let live” to “love and let live.” It’s evident in their smiles, their clean villages, their tolerant diversity, and the things they say. But it’s made clear by the things they do: the bus driver we asked for directions who left his route to take us where we were going; the car rental employee who, after taking the keys for our car (without the standard damage and fuel check), loaded our luggage back up and drove us to the train station; the campground operator who, when he learned we were traveling without bed linens, called his wife who dashed over with crisp, fresh sheets from their own closet.

It was also in Denmark that our adventure had its requisite disaster: I fell down to a head-smashing concussion, complete with unconsciousness, bloody face, ambulance ride, hospital stay, amnesia, broken teeth, stitches, and more misery that I can’t remember. (Amnesia’s best side effect.) But only in Denmark can you get a concussion without the additional headache of insurance hassles: Everyone there receives free healthcare—including tourists. So kind, good-looking doctors and nurses pulled me through my worst hours. No wonder I left a piece of myself there, besides some dental work. But travelling can be like that—full of travails. The worst of times, the best of times.

But thanks to abundant good times, our journey has been a multi-course feast for the senses. And we’ve been particularly blessed (spoiled, really) to have friends and relatives in many places we’ve visited. They’ve not only taken us into their homes, but on tour to meet their families—who were often our own distant families—and more friends we didn’t know we had.

Yes, in Europe, gracious and unconditional hospitality still flourishes. And the makeshift, gestural conversations rarely include the standard “So what do you do?” mantra from America. In Europe, what you do is this: You eat the food in front of you. You have another glass of wine. You hike, go swimming, go for a ride in the country. Beyond that, what you “do” doesn’t matter. Europeans not only won’t judge you by the title on your card or the car you drive, but they couldn’t care less. This is not true everywhere, of course, but in the better places you may land—with a little luck. The same place where the friend of a friend whom you met only a few days ago waves good-bye until your train is out of sight.

In our mind’s eye, the train is now rounding the final bend, the waving friends and families fading into the landscape of memories. We’ll soon be home again, where nothing will have changed like we did, but where that sameness will be, in fact, what makes us feel at home. Over and over this year, pie-eyed, proud hosts have asked, “Are you thinking of moving here?” “Well,” we have answered humbly, “It’s a lovely thought. But we have a pleasant home and a growing business, and your country doesn’t really welcome foreigners anyway.”

All of which is true, too true. So please, welcome us back. With smiles and handshakes. With challenging projects. With stories of your own travels and discoveries. We’ve had priceless experiences, seen unbelievable sights. But we’ve also learned that, as my Grandma says, “It’s not so bad we are off.” And that home is just about as good as anywhere else.

Miss/Won’t Miss


Things We’ll Miss

  • Legitimate bike lanes
  • Gelati
  • World Cup fever
  • Tiny, specialized shops
  • Scenic train rides
  • The art of bread
  • Prices that include tax/tip
  • Wild places
  • Prix fixe meals
  • Safe streets
  • The churches
  • Real family values
  • Relaxed pace
  • Clean urban subways
  • Open air markets
  • Kind strangers
  • Living history
  • Cobblestones
  • Mountain hikes
  • Slow food
Things We Won’t Miss

  • Border patrol
  • The toilets
  • Inadequate appliances
  • Erratic opening hours
  • Train stations
  • Radio stations
  • Questions about Texas
  • Being treated like a tourist
  • Windows without screens
  • Smokers everywhere
  • Indifferent waiters
  • The drivers
  • Language barriers
  • Ethnocentricity
  • Motor scooters
  • Bidets
  • Iceless drinks
  • Phonecard bills
  • Getting lost


Things We Missed But Didn’t Miss

  • OJ chase—prime time
  • Haiti
  • Signs of inflation
  • Baseball strike
  • Ross re-emerging
  • Target Center brouhaha
  • Raking leaves
  • Forrest Gump
  • Road construction
  • Political opinion polls
  • OJ opinion polls
  • Jackson marries Presley
  • Minnesota elections
  • Vikings winning streak
  • Healthcare debate
  • OJ jokes
  • The first snow
  • WCCO at the State Fair
  • Paul Rand at the Walker
  • OJ in the can

Reality Bites

When spinning stories of our travels, we find that, time after time, most people would rather hear about the misadventures than the perfect moments.  So here are a few yarns about the dark side of being a company on the move, sometimes without a clue.

  • FedEx Hell, Ch. 1
    In St. John, one package which absolutely positively had to get there overnight was finally picked up some 26 hours after we called in our request.  Several days later, our client called to inform us that the materials still hadn’t arrived.  Countless calls to local Fed Ex offices and the US finally revealed that the package was still on the nearby island of St. Thomas, where it had been marooned for three days while that island celebrated a private holiday and a long weekend.
  • FedEx Hell, Ch. 2
    The three times we received Fed Ex packages in Oslo, their regular drivers were “on holiday.”  All three times, the “temporary” driver forgot or got lost trying to find us, delaying the delivery at least another day.  On the third occasion, since we had already moved on, they were forced to make a three-hour journey to a small island in the Oslo fjord to get the package to us.
  • FedEx Hell, Ch. 3
    As for Italy, we can only share the advice provided by the guidebook ACCESS: “Federal Express and DHL have courier services throughout Italy, though they are staffed by relative novices and are still working out such bugs as picking up and delivering on time.”
  • Power to the People, Part 1
    On St. John, power outages that crippled computers, faxes, answering machines (and fans!) were quite common.  Sometimes they were accidental, but oftentimes they were deliberate “scheduled maintenance” outages.  The latter usually occurred weekdays from noon until 4 pm.  When we would call the power company to inquire, they typically insisted they’d sent someone door-to-door to warn us in advance, if they answered the phone at all.
  • Power to the People, Part 2
    Power disappears in Italy too, though nature is usually to blame.  On our second day here, after figuring out a new Italian fax/answering machine, lightning struck and rendered it inoperable.  As we are without a car, we convinced our friend the cab driver to drop it off at the repair shop, in a city some 90 minutes away.  A month later, the machine still isn’t fixed.  The last time we checked, the sales clerk shook his dark head and simply repeated the phrase “domani mattina, domani mattina,” (tomorrow morning, tomorrow morning). Needless to say, we now heed the warning of another local friend, “When it storms, unplug everything!”
  • Power to the People, Part 3
    On St. John one Sunday evening, the electric poles going along the main road up the mountain started exploding, one by one, like a fireworks display in July.  Soon the fire engines wailed.  Then our whole side of the island went completely dark—and stayed that way. Miraculously, power was restored sometime the next day, but not before we had called several clients to advise them of our predicament.  (It still dumbfounds us, frankly, that a standard phone operates without electricity.)
  • E (Stands for “Elusive”) Mail
    Shortly before leaving St. John, we switched to an e-mail network with better international connections.  They said the necessary software would arrive within 48 hours.  It didn’t, of course, until after we had already left the island.  They sent another kit to Minneapolis—where we were regrouping for a week before leaving for Europe—but forgot instructions and passwords, both of which arrived after we had flown away.  Also included in that package were all the necessary access numbers for Europe.  Result:  Several weeks without e-mail capabilities, and countless phone calls across the big pond.
  • E (Stands for “Expensive”) MailIn the quest to connect, we resorted to calling the carrier’s U.S. “toll-free” (except for international calls) 800 number from a mountain hut in Norway.  We waited on hold for more than 30 minutes—at a cost exceeding $2 per minute—before giving up.
  • I Want My AT&T, A
    On St. John, nearly all matters with the phone company were to be handled in-person, at their office.  (No need to call, they probably wouldn’t answer, or would suggest you visit in person.)  Office hours?  Mondays and Wednesdays, 2-4 pm.  Once there, say  “good afternoon,” and wait your turn.
  • I Want My AT&T, B
    When a line repair was needed, the St. John phone employee told us to be present between 8 and 5 next Tuesday.  We were there, they didn’t come, we hate that.  So we called.  After a few transfers and a long hold, the employee told us the repairman had indeed stopped by but no one was there.  They were willing to give us one more try—next Friday, between 8 and 5.  Same thing happened again.
  • I Want My AT&T, C
    In Italy, getting a new phone line requires, among other things:  Registering your existence and intention with the police in one city; taking those forms and filling out more forms in another city; waiting for approval from various institutions; paying one year cash up-front; and waiting for installation.  We found an easier solution—move to a place with a working phone at the first opportunity (November 5, to be precise).
  • It’s the Little Things, Island-style
    Because most things are done in person on St. John, calling a shop to see if they had fax paper brought the following response:  “Well, come on in.  We’ll see what we got.”  As for a Stylewriter printer cartridge, the answer was much more conclusive: “What’s that?”
  • It’s the Little Things, Italy-style
    In Italy, it pays to schedule your spontaneous crises:  Shops close from noon to 4 PM for lunch, most shops don’t reopen on Wednesdays, and no one (except a few bars and restaurants) is open on Sundays.  But all this is subject to change—whenever the CHIUSO sign appears (though they often forget to take it down when they reopen.)
  • Apply Postage Here
    In Italy, buying stamps requires more than knowing a few Italian phrases.  A postcard with a short message is one price; a postcard with a long message is another.  Stamps are available at tobacco shops; stamps are not available at card shops.   One tobacconist showed us a chart indicating that postcards to the US cost 1100 lire; another person had a chart showing they were 1000 lire.  And while a typical letter to the US costs 1200 lire, a slightly heavier letter costs nearly 3 times more.  It’s enough to make you quit writing home.
  • Above All, Be Adaptable
    We talked to worldly friends.  We called technical service reps.  We read every available guide on electricity and phones throughout Europe.  Then we bought and carried a dozen adaptors or more.  Nonetheless, there were rude surprises everywhere.  A Great Britain plug wasn’t so great on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.  Our Scandinavian phone plug adaptor worked in Norway but not Sweden.  And here in Italy, our original Headquarters featured six (count ‘em, six) different variations of electrical outlets—none of which matched any adaptors we brought.
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