For the third time in as many years, I was a guest speaker at the NAB’s annual European Radio Seminars; this time it was held in Rome.
Although I had conducted seminars in Italy before, this was my first visit to Rome.
Upon collecting my bags at the airport, I made my way toward the taxi stand outside…and then noticed a ground transportation desk right inside the airport. They assured me that if I hired a car to take me to my hotel, I would be paying exactly what a regular taxi would cost.
I figured if they had an office right there in airport, they must be legitimate, right?
The ride to the hotel cost me 110,000 lire; later I spoke with a radio executive from Poland, who told me she paid just 73,000 lire for her taxi ride along the same route. That made me feel like a real chump…until sales trainer/ consultant Dave Gifford revealed that he paid 150,000 lire for his ride.
The Cavalieri Hilton was a long drive from airport. Once I finally reached my room, I was happy to discover a beautiful view of the city from my balcony (albeit shrouded in mist for most of my day there). The hotel was located on one of the Seven Hills of Rome; hence the view.
On my way to my room, I couldn’t help but notice the armed guards on every floor of the hotel. It turned out this was due to the presence of numerous high-level delegates to the World Food Summit, which also was meeting in Rome. (The rumor I kept hearing, that Fidel Castro was staying at the Hilton, turned out to be false.)
I don’t know who had stayed in my hotel room prior to my arrival. But whoever it was left a half-empty bottle of Russian vodka (the label was written entirely in Russian) for me. (Too bad I don’t drink.) I did, however, quite enjoy the hotel orange juice made from red oranges, which I never had tasted before.
When I went to check out the meeting room for my first session, I discovered there was no DAT (Digital Audio Tape) player there. The hotel’s audio-visual company insisted I hadn’t requested a DAT player — despite my showing them a copy of the faxed A/V list they had received and initialed.
As it turned out, the A/V company’s incompetence made me feel smarter than usual.
When preparing the tapes I played at my audio-related seminars (back when I played tapes), I would dub the various cuts onto one master DAT, which I kept with me in my carry-on bag.
And I’d make a copy of that DAT onto a second DAT, which I packed separately in my checked suitcase.
And I’d make another copy, this time onto analog cassettes (the standard type of old-fashioned audio cassette), just in case I found myself in a place that for some reason did not have the requisite DAT player.
I started using DATs in 1993, and since then I had followed the procedure described above. But this was the first time I ever needed to dig out that old-fashioned yet life-saving analog cassette. To my great relief, the audience didn’t even realize there was a technical snafu.
Of course, I had to adopt a rather firm attitude to convince the hotel’s audio-visual person that the cassette player, which was stationed in the back of the room, could be moved to the front for me to operate as I spoke. Hotel A/V people almost always tell you the equipment can’t be moved from wherever they have decided to put it.
After my seminar, I returned to my hotel room at around 5:00PM — exhausted, as I always am after a seminar. It was almost dusk.
I walked out onto the terrace for some air, looked out upon the city, and saw what looked for all the world like a movie special effect:
The sky was cloudy and overcast. My balcony overlooked Rome, placing me above the city lights and below the clouds.
There seemed to be one dark cloud moving just over the city skyline.
But it couldn’t be a cloud. It was moving too fast, too low, and as it moved it separated, rejoined, spiraled. Then it split again and, incredibly, the two pieces flew in opposite directions.
I stood there exhausted, stupefied, half-convinced I was witnessing some eerie, other-worldly phenomenon.
As I kept watching, it swooped upward and across the sky and finally I realized it was an immense flock of birds flying in intricate formation, hundreds and hundreds of them, together resembling the lead shavings in the Magnedoodle game with which kids apply a magnet to to create faces.
I watched for 20, 30 minutes as they performed their aerial exhibition, sometimes closer to the clouds, much higher than my balcony, sometimes like an invading force just above the buildings (at which times, in the dusk, they appeared simply as a moving shadow on the rooftops).
All in all, it left me breathless, dizzy, enchanted, and overwhelmed.