How many people know that minors traveling to Mexico either alone, with one parent or in someone else's custody require notarized consent from nontraveling parents?

On a recent press trip, among a group of six travel writers -- traveling with their children and, except for one, without spouses -- only three knew of this U.S. State Department provision.

Of those who did not know, one was turned away at the airport and did not make the trip, one was able to contact her husband and hurriedly find a notary at the airport and the third -- a colleague of Insider's -- was traveling with her husband.

Because our colleague's husband was returning alone on a different flight, however, the reporter had a letter drafted and notarized in Mexico for the trip home.

The letter was not asked for on the return journey, but it's a good idea to have one, we were told, particularly for parents who have last names different from their children's.

The primary purpose of the provision -- though it is not spelled out in the State Department's Consular Information Sheet, at travel.state.gov/mexico.html -- is to prevent kidnappings, especially by noncustodial parents.

It is worth noting that at no time during the trip-planning stage did anyone -- the PR firm that sponsored the trip, the travel agency it used or the airline -- mention this provision to the group.

If ever there were an opportunity for value-added service, this was it, sounds like.

Count off, one-two

Insider went a-punkin pickin' with a couple of kids over the weekend at Heaven Hill Farm in Vernon, N.J., about 90 minutes northwest of New York.

Scarecrow holding a sign.Every year, the farm has an autumn festival featuring hayrides to the pumpkin fields, a mini-crafts fair, food vendors, carnival rides, a hay maze, haunted hayrides at night and a haunted barn.

But what haunted us most was the sign the farm had posted near its exit, which was done half in fun, we're sure, but made us shiver, nonetheless, at the thought of trying to shepherd more than a handful of kindergarteners in a place with so many distractions.

We had only two little ones in tow, but before we left, we counted heads anyway.

Gnomenclature

Lonely Planet puts out a good little Italian phrase book. We were leafing through the book during a night flight to Venice, attempting at once to brush up and to put ourself to sleep (perchance to dream, in Italian?), when we came upon a most curious entry, in the section on gender inflections.

In compiling the guide, the editors sensibly cited examples useful to travelers: un treno, a train; un orario, a timetable, etc.

But then this, to point out "irregular" nouns requiring uno instead of the "regular" masculine un: uno studio, a studio; uno zaino, a backpack; uno gnomo, a gnome.

A gnome? ... We rubbed our eyes. What could be the significance of gnomes, here?

Are there gnomes in Roman mythology, similar to the trolls of Germanic legend? Did Michelangelo -- on commission from some patron and out to make a quick florin -- sculpt a series of lawn ornaments out of his precious Carrara marble, and we just didn't know about it?

Neither of these, according to an Italian tour guide we spoke to. Rather, the phrase book's editors wanted to give an example of a noun with the "commencing digraph" gn.

Now, the best-known gn word among non-Italian-speaking Americans is probably gnocchi, for the dumplings usually made from potatoes.

But this would not have been a good example, as the word is all but nonexistent in its singular form, gnoccho. So uno gnomo it is, the plural being gli gnomi -- as if one weren't enough.

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