Saturday, March 1, 2014

Safe and Sound in Rome

Act One:

I'm seated on a train bound for Termini Station in Rome. I have my rolling art studio with 30-something pounds of paper and linoleum alone, my backpacker guitar and all my other gear squished into a quad of chairs thatI'm sharing with an interesting (if not friendly) trio of Germans. We're close enough to smell each other's breath and they're doing their best to pretend I and my stuff don't exist as they talk/yell in Deutsch overtop of one another the entire way.  

At this moment I'm thinking about my Dad and the first lesson he taught me about travel (besides wearing a cooking pot on your head if you are traveling in the backseat of a family car after breaking your back window on a gravel road while towing a boat - true story). When I was first heading to Europe, 20-something and ready for a glamorous adventure, he said that before he would drive me to the airport I had to carry all my gear from the house up to the main road and back. I did, and when I came back I edited out about a third of my stuff. A couple of months into the trip a friend came over to travel with me. He took one look at my two remaining suitcases, foresaw all the lifting he'd have to do to appear chivalrous, and insisted I let him mail one home for me in the spot. I relented. After a few days it became clear that he and I had two very different trips in mind, and we parted ways. I didn't miss that suitcase one bit. Since then I've become a very efficient packer.  I can wheel my current set up with one hand, nothing to carry the other hand free for paying fares and hailing cabs.  I'm feeling pretty sleek. 

It still fascinates me that I can sit down in a chair (albeit an uncomfortable one), watch two movies, eat a microwaved meal, listen to some stuff on my iPad, have a fitful nap, stand up again and I'm in Amsterdam. I do all those things many other nights and nothing of import transpires.  But today here I am in Italy after a quick morning connector flight, which included my first attempt, and my first gaff in speaking Italian. I was trying to ask the flight attendant for peach juice, but based on his smirk and my previous language experience I suspect I requested a female fish. Oh well, at least I'm throwing it out there.  I did get the juice, and after gently correcting me he still spoke italian with me.  So far so good. 

And a few hours later...

A perfect intro to Roma:  

I got off the train and managed to find my trolley bus. I couldn't figure out how to pay my fair so I just didn't, and no one seemed to mind. We toddled off to a graffiti filled wasteland of tracks and tunnels about halfway to my destination and the trolley just stopped. Everyone looked confused.  I looked around and saw a lineup of trams in front and then behind us, all stopped and flashing 'non en servicio' signs. People mumbled, shrugged, and shuffled out onto the tracks and slowly dispersed like teenagers after someone's parents shut down a big shaker. 

Suddenly my suitcase set up didn't seem so fantastic. Trying to drag my rolling universe over tracks, curbs, cobblestones and potholes while dodging traffic in a skiddy area, I  searched for a taxi stand.  I found one, gave the address and we careened off through a windy maze streets. When we were getting close to our target a uniformed polizziotto appeared to shoo us away. The street between us and where we needed to go was closed.  No sooner had I offered to get out and walk the last chunk when a chatter of hail hit the windshield. My cabbie pointed at the thermometer gage showing a balmy 10 degrees Celsius, shaking his head and saying 'this is crazy!', but with the same resigned acceptance of the evacuees from the tram.  It escalated into the wildest pelting I think I have ever seen. And then, by the time I pulled my camera out to video it, it was over.  He insisted on getting me safely yo my door, helped me in, and up I went to the fabulous and adorable apartment of Virginia, my host, which I will sketch tonight as I drink the fantastic bottle of wine I bought for three dollars at the little store on the corner. 

I think I like my new country :).

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