February 19, 2008

I Am Going to Hell: Pucca Danglers

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Living abroad in Italy has made me think from an anthropological perspective about what it means to be a “tourist.” Is it the way one dresses, one’s lack of proficiency in the local language, or the quintessential camera and map that identifies him as a foreigner? I often use myself as an example and think of how I am perceived by Florence.
I know that I do quite well in the looks and body language department. Wearing fitted jeans, a Versace scarf, and Ray-Ban aviators — I walk past the Duomo each morning and perfect my indifference as I briskly navigate flocks of pigeons and gaggles of Japanese. Tired of taking pictures and rarely in need of my map, I am mistaken by most Italians for one of their own. The charade abruptly ends, though, when they attempt to converse with me.
Why I ever thought it would be a good idea to live in a country where the extent of my lingual skills was “gratzie” and “prego,” I’ll never know. What I do know, though, is that I still want a Pucca Dangler. Today I was (a tourist) in Pisa. I traveled there to take the staged obligatory photograph of me “holding up the tower” as evidence for my mother that I am spending my euros on more than wine and hookers. After arriving by train, I enjoyed a leisurely lunch with two of my housemates. I had gnocchi, Sarah had pizza and Alexa had a pitcher of wine that the waitress foolishly thought was for all three of us. Following the meal, we strolled from the restaurant’s side street lined with vendors selling “leaning” coffee mugs and other useless crap to the “Campo dei Miracoli” where the famed tower, cathedral and baptistery stand.
Immediately we noticed a queue of people who were waiting to climb to the top of the tower, and we quickly joined them. There we agreed how it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and delighted in how we could afterwards brag that we had climbed one of the Wonders of the World on a warm, sunny day while our Cornellian comrades were holed up in Olin escaping the snow. 20 minutes later my dreams were dashed when we were informed that if we hadn’t purchased tickets already, it was too late and we could not ascend the tower that day. I was devastated. Alexa was secretly thankful; she knew that circularly climbing a slanted seven-story tower after downing a liter and one half of red wine could be disastrous. Sarah just wanted gelato.
We spent the next half hour inside the cathedral looking at golden mosaics, relics of saints and marble statues of a strangely buff Jesus that made my downstairs feel funny before Sarah’s request was granted. As we stepped up to the nearby gelateria though, I saw something that honestly filled me with more excitement and awe than anything I had experienced that day. In a vending machine, on the lowest level, were little plastic eggs that encapsulated Pucca Danglers. Alexa loudly asserted that a “Pucca Dangler sounded like the jewelry that a girl would wear if she got her cho-cha pierced.” They are actually cell phone charms — caricatures of joyous, nondescript Asian people — and have nothing to do with female genitalia. They looked something like this: d(^_^)Y. I had to have one! It just made sense to me that if I went home with a glorious Pucca Dangler then not climbing the tower would no longer matter and I could still be the envy of all my friends.
Of course, the fucking machine did not work. It functioned enough to take my money, but was incapable of dispensing my prize. So there I was on all fours, 100 yards from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, futilely attempting to fist the machine. Alexa, at this point without inhibitions, had no problem enlisting help in my quest for happiness. Sarah pretended not to know us and slowly backed away. We violated the machine for another 15 minutes until the owner of the shop came outside, assured us that nothing could be done and asked us to please leave. Seeing that I was sincerely distraught, he apologetically pointed to the machine’s other offerings and asked, “Winnie the Pooh?” I scoffed at such an offensive suggestion. And as I stood and dusted myself off, I indignantly replied with my best Italian, “No, Gratzie!” Did I look like an overweight 5th grader with a social disorder?! To think Pooh is equivocal to a Pucca Dangler is just ludicrous. Clearly the Italians had it wrong — it was no field of miracles. Alexa with an impending headache and I with a heavy heart, found Sarah and made our way back to the train station. Stopping in shops along our route, I made my last failed attempts to find the elusive Danglers. On the train back to Florence, though, I took solace in the fact that at least I had not been “just another tourist.” Thousands of people each day gaze in awe upon the tower, take the same photographs and have the same, generic experience. I, however, was able to find the beauty and magnificence in something small, unusual, and without discernible pupils. They can have their fond memories of the tower, but to me Pisa will always be about the Pucca Danglers and broken dreams.