Sunday, 5 June 1983

Dear Mom & Dad,

Time seems to be going by pretty quickly for me. There are so many things to do and I have been so busy trying to do them. I think it is going slower for Jeannie because she stays around the house most of the time.

I got a booster for the TV antenna this week. Some of the stations come in real clear without being snowy. Unfortunately, something is wrong with the booster because the picture starts fading after the booster has been plugged in for about one minute. I will change it tomorrow. The kids seem to enjoy cartoons. Many of them are the same ones they saw in Fort Smith, only in Italian now. Personally, I like the commercials best because they are faster moving, simple, and show things about their culture. Except for the words, you can't tell much difference in Italian and American commercials. They are similarly silly. I am told that at night there are frequently shows on TV that would be rated "R" in the States.

With you talking about allergies and baling hay reminds me of all the allergies I have seen in patients since I got here. The say this is the worst place in the world for allergies. Pollution (air, etc.) in Naples is terrible as well as the fine dust. Also, there is always a little sulfur smell in the air from Solfatara. People frequently develop asthma while stationed here. Similar things cause the cars to rust. The air is a lot better here at Lago Patria. (It's just the lake that is polluted.)

If Becky comes to Harrison this month, tell her "Hi" and make her write us.

Your questions about me practicing medicine here are all pertinent. Some day I will explain in detail the advantages (& disadvantages!) of practicing here. I am still trying to form my opinion. There really seems to be no system, which was real discouraging at first. But the patients appreciate what I'm doing and that's really what makes it all worthwhile.

I am going to Philadelphia next month to take the Family Practice boards, at the Navy's expense. I hope I can pass. I will be staying in the hotel where the test will be given. It will be lonely without Jeannie. She won't even talk about it, probably because she wishes she could go back & visit a place where they speak English and have round door knobs, etc. I will get to Philadelphia in the evening of 5 July. You can be sure that I will call you before I go to bed. The test is on the 8th from 8 am to 6 pm. I will leave Philadelphia on the 9th and get back to Naples about noon on Sunday the 10th. I will sleep 3 nights in Philadelphia before the test. I hope that is enough to recover from the time change.

We are learning to drive like the Italians. The other day, Angelique asked, "Why don't they stop at red lights?" How do you answer that one? Actually, sometimes they stop. We haven't figured out that system. If they don't stop, neither do we.

The "body work" on the car was just rust spots. If there is a hole that your thumb will fit into, it has to be patched or it won't pass inspection on the base. (The Italians have no such rule.) Inspection is required to get military plates overseas.

There are speed limits here, but I haven't seen very many cars going that slow. Usually, if they are going the speed limit, it's probably because their car won't go any faster. The speed limit on the Tangenziale is 80 kilometers per hour (50 MPH), but the average car is probably going 65 MPH. The speed limit in front of our house is less than 30 MPH, but everyone drives between 40 and 60 MPH.

At least with a tornado you get some warning. Usually, you know to watch for one by seeing the weather and listening to the radio. With an earthquake, there is nothing and nobody to warn you that it is going to happen. It's a scary experience because it catches you off-guard. (We don't have tornadoes here, but we do have thunderstorms. We will have to unplug our TV when it's lightning.)

It will be a long time before we are really "settled" in our house over here. We hope our big shipment will be here within the next week or so. Then we will really be busy trying to figure out where to put everything. And we will have to get the washing machine fixed so it will work over here. I'm trying not to think about all the other things that we will have to do. We need to find a kitchen table real soon or we'll be eating off our card table.

Once we get settled, it will be easier to study Italian because we will have more time. Most of the Italians we run into, away from the base, do not speak English. Angelique & Steven haven't been around anyone enough to learn any Italian. (The TV will help.)

Steven is talking more and more English, though. Today, one time, I said, "Go away." He has been saying, "Go away," very plainly ever since. He will repeat anything you tell him to. He knows most of his ABC's and likes to sing with Angelique. Both the kids still get excited when we go through the tunnel on the Tange. The traffic is so exciting that they are otherwise quiet in the car, watching the other cars & trucks. That helps us because we have to concentrate so hard when we drive.

Tuesday afternoon I got the dryer all hooked up, so it works now. Tuesday evening we went to look at some wardrobes (portable closets, you could call them) that we bought. We got two 3-door wardrobes with one 3-door storage bin over one wardrobe for our bedroom. We got a 2-door wardrobe for Steven's room and a 4-door wardrobe for Angelique's room. There is a 2-door storage bin over Steven's. That should give us a lot of storage space. (Cost: $670. Yes, I thought it was a lot of money, too.) Only 1/2 of them are in the house so far.

By Wednesday evening, Jeannie couldn't stand the way the car looked or sounded. The rattle had gotten louder and louder. We got the rattle fixed but she still can't stand the way the car looks. And neither of us trusts taking the car as far as Rome. SO, Jeannie decided that if she could have a more reliable car that looked nicer, she wanted it, even if it were a standard transmission.

1981 Fiat 131 Brava at back of our villa - Aug 1983 So, now we have another, better car. Friday, we bought a 1981 Fiat 131 with 19,500 miles on it. It is a 5-speed. It has 4 doors and doesn't have a rust spot anywhere that I can find. It has been really taken care of. We bought it from the Director of Administrative Services at the hospital. It is a metallic copper color and looks brand new. Now we have 2 problems: teaching Jeannie to drive it and selling the old one before my Rabbit gets here. I'm sure you think we are crazy, but if the new car doesn't get wrecked or stolen we will probably still have it till we leave. I had no intentions of keeping the rusting car that long, but did expect to have it longer than this. Jeannie said it is easier to drive our new car than it was to drive my Rabbit. Actually, even I had trouble driving this car because it died a lot. I tuned up the idling speed today and it runs much better. Now if I can just get used to 5 speeds. It is a beautiful car. I am real pleased with it. I know Jeannie will be after she drives it a few times. Right now she's not ready to tackle the heavy traffic, yet.

Thursday I had to stay overnight in the hospital to cover the emergency room. I was pretty busy up until midnight, then I slept the rest of the night.

I was going to ride the bus to work Thursday morning, but just before the bus came, a friend of mine from the hospital came by and gave me a ride.

Jeannie trimmed Steven's hair the other day. He looks better. He is 34 inches tall now. His legs are a lot longer than they were a couple of months ago. He has no problem any more reaching the floor when he sits on big bird or the wagon. He has diarrhea right now, but is acting fine. Steven has a smile that is a real charmer. We finally got his impetigo cleared up, but now Angelique has it on her face. Jeannie said the kids get as dirty playing inside as they do outside.

Angelique said she can't think of a name for your kitten. She implied she would have to see the cat before she could name it. Why do you have another kitten?

Friday evening, Jim Elkins, from church, came at 6 pm with a Navy truck. We went and picked up 1/2 our wardrobes (filled the truck). George Maynard, Penelope's husband, helped. We unloaded the truck and went and picked up our refrigerator and a large cabinet. George stayed and ate supper with us about 8:45 pm. Next Thursday, we are going to get the rest of the wardrobes.

Yesterday morning we went to Euromercato. This is a huge store with an area like a giant K-Mart and a giant grocery store all in the same area. On the side under the same roof were at least a dozen stores similar to a mall. All the prices are fixed with price tags and you can't bargain about the price. They had a little of everything. Some of the products are even American. There were 3 rows of pasta. We bought Angelique some shoes and Steven some clothes and saw a lot of things that we would like.

We ate lunch at Carney Park. Jeannie signed the kids up for swimming lessons this summer. They will go 3 days a week for 30 minutes. Jeannie will swim with them. For six weeks it is costing us $80. That's more than twice what I thought it was worth.

It was fun to drive the new car this weekend. We are going driving this evening to let Jeannie practice.

Right now I am sitting out on the front steps watching the kids play. It is a beautiful day. The temperature is quite pleasant. We dread the hot summer that is coming. It will be different without an air conditioner. The car doesn't have an air conditioner either.

Now it's bedtime. Jeannie did a good job driving the car tonight. She says she likes the car now. It's running well now.

We are still trying to figure out how to arrange our kitchen. Too many problems. It'll all work out eventually.

You all take care. We always look forward to hearing from you.


Michael, Jeannie, Angelique, & Steven

Naples driving is sometimes sport with changing rules
by Charlie Sapp

    Driving in Naples is challenging enough under ideal conditions but if compared to a sport, such as football, then driving at night is the equivalent of the Super Bowl.
    To play, one should know his opponent. It is important to understand that the Italian driver is an aggressive competitor, an artist behind the wheel. For him, the journey is a creative experience. We Americans are simply operators of switches and pedals.
    The equipment covers all types of rolling stock. The night driver will encounter everything from horse-drawn carts to high-powered macho-man sports cars. The lighting will vary from none at all to halogen headlamps that can burn the hair off a water buffalo at 100 meters. In between are all sorts of motor scooters, Fiats, Mercedes and large trucks traveling at a mind-boggling variety of speeds.
    There are few rules that you can depend on and the game could be called "Anything Goes a la Autostrada." Players may enter or leave the playing field at any location and without warning. While concentrating on the BMW closing in from behind at warp speed seven, the careless driver is likely to fuse with an unlighted hay wagon.
    A particularly distracting (and annoying) tactic, raised to the level of an art form by the Neapolitans, is the continuous flashing of headlights to say, "Move aside, I'm coming through!" This technique would not survive in Texas. After about two flashes some not-so-urban cowboy would hang his hog leg out the window of his pick-'em-up truck and blow the front end of the offending vehicle all over the state.
    But, arriving safely home after a night on the road does give one a feeling of accomplishment. Hopefully, we will all be more defensive and safer drivers when we finally do return to the continental United States. I only hope I can remember not to park on the sidewalk.

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