Credit: Photo courtesy of MTV © and TM MTV Networks Photo: The Situation Flirts With Snooki on the Jersey Shore Season 4 Premiere

Ciao, cari amici! Now that we've all had a much needed hiatus from The Ron and Sam Beat Each Other Senseless with IKEA Furniture Variety Show our beloved Jersey Shore, doesn't it feel good to be back? Returning fresh-faced and invigorated, I feel like I'm approaching Season 4 with open arms — as one would approach an old, familiar friend. Okay, maybe not a "friend", so much as a distant, black-sheep cousin — you know, the one who steals bedpans, purses, and anti-seizure medication from the old folks' home when he visits grandma.

But honestly, standing at the precipice, with an entire season sprawled out before me, this veteran recapper can't help but wonder: In thirteen weeks' time, after all of the inevitable smooshing, fighting, and varsity-level binge drinking; after the unavoidable international embarrassments, and the xenophobic faux-pas, what kind of man will I have become? Will the next Ron and Sammi Sweatpants reunion (the one that — spoiler! — we all, unfortunetely, know is coming) finally short the hard-wiring in my brain? Could this be the Jersey Shore season that finally breaks me? As with everything in life, dear friends, only time will tell.

But anyway, we're back in action! As they stuffed American appliances and plush carnival-prize animals into their zebra-print suitcases, the gang seemed beyond excited about their Italian sojourn. From their own greasy little pockets of the greater tri-state area, our eight little guidos prepared for their first trans-continental excursion with every international tourist's time-honored right of passage: the passport picture photo shoot! In their own local AAA offices, each of our beloved cast members posed, flexed, and postured for the camera. You know, just like the kind stewards at AAA let you do in real life. Oh, reality TV!

Credit: Photo courtesy of MTV © and TM MTV Networks Photo: Jersey Shore Florence Jacuzzi

And while Snooki posed for her "pitcher" and waxed poetic about her vast geographical knowledge (including, but not limited to, the proud country of Europe and Europe's two neighboring allies, Great Britain and England); while Pauly D packed an assortment of hair drying devices in his dingy, paneled, Mad Men-on-crystal-meth basement rec room; while Deena and her friends ate mozzarella stix and slurped neon ultimate margaritas at the local TGI Friday's, all the while rehearsing the all-important Spanish vocabulary she'd mastered for her big trip to Italy; while Bowwoww and her comic book-sized juicehead boyf, Roger, relished in the last Karate Kid role-playing sex they'd have for some time; while Sam and Ronnie, in their own, sad and separate homes, pretended that their upcoming trip wouldn't land them on the cover of Co-Dependent & Predictable Monthly; and while Vinny scratched at his pre-pubescent beard, and Mike scratched at his irritatingly inflamed and itchy genitals, the people of Italy slept — the last, long, peaceful sleep they would enjoy for a long, long time.

After having sex-segregated sleepovers (the girls at Deena's parents, and the boys at Vinny's inter-generational Italian halfway house), the guidos and guidettes boarded their separate, eastward-bound flights. The ladies' (and, four seasons in, is it horrendously naive-slash-optimistic to still call them "ladies"?) itinerary called for a two-hour layover in Germany (the two hours they spent butchering the place-name "Dusseldorf” was priceless!), followed by a quick flight to Milan, and then a bus ride into Florence. Meanwhile, the fellas flew into Madrid, and then directly onwards into Florence. Neither party had even the faintest idea of where they were flying off to, or where they'd been, and the entire charade began to feel more like a bizarro version of The Amazing Race than anything else.

Naturally, the boys and girls were racing to their new Italian apartment in order to call dibs on the the most prime bedroom real estate. And since the girls brought roughly 37 over-sized pieces of luggage between them, and since the brainiac interns at MTV gave the guidettes the most painfully backward and indirect travel itinerary imaginable (seriously, a layover in Dusseldorf?!), the boys arrived at their Florentine digs first. And what a sight to behold! The walk-up apartment that would house our heroes for the next several weeks was so utterly frozen in a distinctly ‘90s aesthetic — all sponge-washed walls and glossy pastel frescos — that you'd swear you were on the set of George Michael's "Freedom! '90" video. Come to think of it, is there any concrete proof that MTV didn't just haul the set of The Real World San Fransisco out of its 17-year-old storage container and reconstruct it in Florence?

Anyway, after the boys settled into their respective rooms, and after Vinny educated us on European toilet etiquette ("Yo', we got that f**king thing that cleans your ass!"), the girls arrived. There were hugs and big plastic smiles all around and, before long, Pauly broke out the limoncello (gag!) for inaugural shots. After everyone in the group buried their jet-lag under thirteen pounds of hair gel and tanning spray, they headed out for a short nighttime stroll around Florence — which, it must be said, is truly a gorgeous city.

After a quick tour of their neighborhood, during which the macaroni rascals repeatedly referred to a carousel as a "Ferris wheel" — truly alarming stuff, considering the serious amount of time these rocket scientists spent boning each other on boardwalk thrill rides back in Jersey — they retired back to George Michael's Italian love den for a little R&R.

Credit: StClair / Macpherson / Splash News Photo: Snooki on the Carousel in Florence on May 13, 2011

The next morning, Pauly lovingly awoke his housemates with the grenade horn. Equal parts French and bicycle horn, the grenade horn is the sophisticated, European cousin of the American grenade whistle, and will surely play a painfully pivotal role throughout the season. Anyway, after having their eardrums decimated by the mind-numbing honk of the cursed horn, Pauly and the gang piled into their cars and headed to their new, Italian gym. Or, at least they tried to. The boys safely navigated their way through the narrow, winding streets, but the girls? — the girls somehow circled back to the apartment without causing serious bodily harm to themselves and others, so let's just be grateful for that, shall we?

Later in the day, while the cruel voltage converters fried Pauly's seventh blow dryer, and baked off a significant amount of Deena's acrylic hair, The Scenario pulled Ronnie aside for a little mano a mano. Mike confided that, several months back, he and Snooki rode  the Jersey Turnpike all the way (if you, uh, know what I'm saying) — while, get this, Snooki was dating Jionni! What's more, Mike said that, since they've been in Italy, he's started to develop warm and fuzzy feelings for little ol’ Snooks. Knowing Mike to be nothing more than a festering pile of Valtex and well-rehearsed lies, I immediately called the crafty shiz-stirrer's bluff; and in a move so uncharacteristically swift and astute, Ron agreed — or, at least he did in a private confessional. And while it's refreshing that somebody finally saw through one of The Senario's greasy-faced fibs, I have to say: the idea of holding the same opinion as Ronnie sort of makes me hate myself more than just a little bit.

Anyway! Shortly thereafter, the gang piled into their taxi cabs and headed over to something called Otel — a wondrous, magical club of Dante's-Inferno-style delights, where nearly everything (the drinks, the bar, the bartenders themselves!) was on fire — a novelty which delighted our easily distracted friends to no end. And because it was the start of a new season, and because the in-fighting, back-biting, and Sam/Ron nausea hadn't yet set in, everybody had a truly great time. Nobody seemed to mind the fact that Vinny, with his pigeon Italian, had to act as a boner-killing intermediary between the other guys and their prospective pick-ups; nobody seemed to mind the fact that Pauly and Deena spent a full half hour rubbing their tongues in the most unnatural way imaginable (think: Jabba the Hutt licking Princess Leia); heck, nobody even minded when Mike inappropriately tried to face-hump a very bothered Snooki, as some sort of power-play in his latest master manipulation.

No, on that first real night of clubbing, things were good — no, great. Will the Joe Roch of a few week's time look back at these simpler, less complicated times and laugh, or perhaps weep? Again, friends: only time will tell.