Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Day of Sight-Seeing in Rome

My days here have already fallen into a pattern. I wake up at some unpredictable hour, varying from 5:30am to 12:30 pm. I putz around, turn the a/c back on, and drink an entire bottle of water in one gulp. (For some reason, I am always dehydrated here.) I watch terrible news coverage on the only channel I get in English, BBC World. Within a half hour they've already started repeating a "news story" -- say, the New York premiere of The Dark Knight -- and I've seen the same Exxon/Mobil propaganda commercial for the 3rd time, often twice in a row. ("We found a way to transport 80% more gas across the world by liquefying it first. That's how we're saving the environment, one ship at a time.")

It is time for a shower, which I fear. It is one of those detachable shower head things that I have never understood. (What am I supposed to be spraying down there, my balls? Shall I self-administer an enema?) The real problem is that I have never figured out how to make the shower head stand up in the lug nut thingy. So every time I turn on the water, there's a great chance that the shower head will fling itself off the lug nut, lurching and spraying water in all directions like a Benny Hill sketch.

The water is no picnic either. If the water is hot, no amount of cold-water knob turning will make it less than scalding. If the water is cold, no amount of hot-water knob turning will make it less than icy. The key is to inch the water toward the lukewarm middle early in the knob-turning process. Like Barack Obama, only with water.

I'm still pretty OCD about leaving the house. Every pocket is checked many times. Feeling the keys is not adequate; I must be holding them - nay, looking at them - while I shut the door behind me. Then I realize that I might drop them in a drainage pipe or an elevator shaft, so they go into my pocket, where I feel them up fifty times a day.

Monday's selection from Frommer's Walking Tours of Rome, 1st edition, is "Ancient Rome." Mr. Frommer promises to include sites most visitors never frequent. I did the Forum and the Palatine Hill two years ago (Livia: loved the house), but I never made it to the Capitoline Museums or nearby churches. My first stop is the Domus Aurea, which has been opened recently to the public. Frommer announces that it is open "Wednesday to Monday."

Now, I've passed the Domus at least five times in four days. As with so many sites here, the problem is that I have never been able to find the entrance. But I am determined. I walk over to its adjacent park, filled with middle-aged Roman women (two dogs, no children). The park is full of ruins, but which ruin is the entrance? I finally find it, hidden behind a tree and up a small hill. The Domus Aurea is open Tues-Fri, 10-4pm. Not such a good start, Mr. Frommer!

"No big deal," I say, to absolutely no one. I'll just walk through the Forum to the Campidoglio, where the museums are. Crossing the street, I put my life in the hands of the drivers of Via Fori Imperiali -- this is Mussolini's highway after all, whose drivers are imbued with fascist intensity. Here stands the most annoying tourist area in all of Rome; first you have to dodge very pushy tour operators, who promise to skip you to the front of the Colosseum's endless line. Then there are the fake gladiators, who want to pose with you for a pricey picture. No thanks, Gluteus Maximus!

Hiding behind a big American tour, I walk up the Via Sacra, the famous street cutting across the Forum. It's a slight hill covered in big, uneven, ankle-snapping cobblestones. Up ahead I see Somebody's Arch, which is very cool. Then I see the gate. Then I see the sign on the gate, Uscita -- Exit Only. For the love of Tina, why not just let people in here, Italy? Going to the main entrance is a 10-minute walk, minimum. And I'd have to find it. (My travel superpower is sense of direction; my Achilles heel is my inability to find anything once I'm there. Italy really pokes my heel.)

But look! There's a path to the left, walking right up Palatine Hill. Fine, I'll pay to enter the Palatine, look around again at some very cool ruins, and walk through to the Campidoglio. I walk up one of the steepest hills in Rome -- doing fine thanks to my new Ecco walking shoes, the shoes of our Lord -- and see a church up ahead. People are walking away from the church, looking very confused. I have been duped. Italy has no intention of letting me in to the Palatine from here, even though I can literally see the entire thing through the gate. "Criminy!" my father says in my head.

It's 12:30. At this point I realize that I'm pretty hungry. Hey, what about that great restaurant that was closed after 3pm? I strut down the hill, dodge past the gladiators and the tour guys, and frown at the hipster-poseur bar. There's people sitting outside the restaurant! I walk up, only to see that the restaurant has been closed and replaced with a snack bar. Because, hey, it's Monday, and who wants to be open on Monday after a weekend off?

"Fine," I say to nobody. Snack bars serve paninis, and paninis are delicious. Ha-ha, Roma! There are only two paninis left in the case; I learn that I must pick one of them. (Rome must be the only place that runs out of sandwiches.) I order the Monticenti, which the bartender pretends not to understand, because I failed to say "chenti" instead of "centi." While pointing directly at the sandwich. Whatever, snooty bartender chick.

After waiting for the heat-up, I take my tasty, crunchy, well-priced sandwich outside and sit at a table. I am halfway into my bite. "No no no, signore! Table for outside customer only!" They charge more for table service, of course. Fine, I'll go watch that soccer match, annoying table lady! A group of South Americans has put together a soccer league, with uniforms and officials and everything. The play is pretty good, and the huge balls of dust kicked up by the players only somewhat color the taste of my standing-up panini.

As usual, so many of the memorable travel events aren't on the map. Say, watching a few dozen Ecuadorans get together for a barbecue and soccer match overlooking the Colosseum. Or nearly running into a young couple making out on the steps of a 9th century church, turning away, and watching a gay couple's beagle frolic in the church fountain. Or walking into a park and watching a large group of nuns sit in a circle, pull out a couple of guitars, and sing folk songs.

Rome is lousy with nuns. Nuns in black, nuns in grey, black nuns, Southeast Asian nuns, nuns with backpacks, nuns with fanny packs, nuns with baseball caps over their habits. One nun is even wearing a t-shirt over her skirt. Monday's street-nun count: 13, not including this group. (Priest count: 0, although I did hear one through a door when I accidentally stumbled into a church office.)

Seeing the nuns teaches me forgiveness. (Did I mention that the Capitoline museums close on Mondays too?) So Rome, I forgive your random work schedule. I will fail to wonder any longer why your churches can't be open from 12:30 to 4:30, your priests requiring a four-hour lunch break, despite the lack of any staff manning the door or monitoring the visitors. I will not concern myself with your stores that open only after 7pm, or only Tuesday to Friday, or as far as I can tell, never.

I'm sure you have your reasons.


At 2:38 AM, Blogger Alison said...

I'm amazed that there are any nuns left in Rome, I thought they were all in Sydney for World (Catholic) Youth Day (week, month, year, how long does this thing go for? Sheesh.)

Which is probably where all the priests are too. Either that or they've all skipped off on holiday - when the pope's away...


Post a Comment

<< Home