Sunday, July 13, 2008


One of the crazy things about moving to a new place, as opposed to just visiting, is that you realize that the main aspects of survival that used to be handled by hotels are now up to you. For example, how to eat, sleep, and get around. How to meet people and speak to them in a language they will understand. How to operate the toaster and the washing machine. None of these are givens in a new environment, and you know that I have problems with washing machines.

It took nearly 24 hours in Rome before I could even find my neighborhood grocery store. My first day was spent, as usual, trying to stay active enough to avoid sleeping mid-day, despite having not slept the night before. My apartment is literally within sight of the Colosseum, so I head that way hoping for stores. Nothing. I am beyond starving. My guidebook says there's a good restaurant here, but they close from 3pm to 7pm. I end up eating pasta in this poseur club with pastel-colored plastic "ghost" chairs; the hipsters stare because I'm eating spaghetti at 4pm. Italy has a lot of rules about food. No cappuccino after breakfast, no pizza for lunch, no cheese on fish, and 4pm is drink time or fruit time or gelato time, but not pasta time. I am socially castigated for my public error in judgment. It happens again when I have the gall to eat a gelato on the street while gazing at an obelisk. It is probably illegal to eat near obelisks.

I walk all over town again after dinner, but I get home after two hours and two gelatos. I barely make it to 8pm before I collapse, having lived an entire day on gelato and a tiny portion of pasta. The next morning, my belt cinches up two spots tighter than usual.

Everything causes more stress when you're abroad. When you arrive, you have nowhere to go until the rental company shows up, and you realize that if they don't show up, all you can do is pay for a hotel. If you can find one available, or afford to pay for one for the next five weeks. After the house assistant drops off the keys, you get OCD trying to leave the house, because you realize you have nowhere to go if the key doesn't work, or if you lose them. So you write down the phone numbers of the only people you know in Rome -- the parents of a grad student, and the rental company's office assistant, who is probably all "Ciao!" as he Vespas out of town for the weekend, throwing his company phone into a ditch.

When you finally leave, the door locks behind you, and your hands literally shake while you test the key to make sure it really works.

The next morning I finally find the grocery store after having the brilliant insight to check the plastic bag in the garbage can. That plastic bag saves me from reenacting the last scene of Into the Wild. It turns out I had walked right past the damn store, because it was hidden on a nothing side street with no sign turned toward the big main drag where people actually walk. Let's face it, Italian businesses really don't give a crap if you shop with them or not. I think they're all paid by the government. But the entire bag of groceries costs less than yesterday's 4 o'clock lunch debacle, and only slightly more than the $20 bottle of sunblock I bought yesterday. Tortellini for two nights' dinner is two bucks, the sauce is a buck. That's less than gelato!

But I will never give up gelato.

The other modes of survival go pretty well. My apartment is a decent size for a studio. The bed is on a loft constructed over the bathroom, and has an incredible view of a classical-revival church up on a hill. I even have a little balcony. The bathroom is huge with a big porcelain bathtub. The a/c doesn't work so great, but if you let it run for a few hours it becomes bearable, plus there is a fan. Water pressure is good and the kitchen is decent, but I only have a dorm fridge. (The freezer is now full: one ice tray and a frozen dinner.) The location is fantastic, a good neighborhood that is walking distance to everything but not touristy.

If this has posted to my blog, obviously I've reached another goal: internet. I spent all of Saturday afternoon walking around trying to find a decent internet location. (To be fair, I did stop at a couple of churches and the Trevi. And for gelato.) I was willing to pay a lot of money to rent a mobile broadband card, but Vodaphone, the Italian cell phone company, will only sell mobile broadband to Italian citizens. To find out that information, I waited in a ticket queue for an hour behind 20 other people; even the Italians were annoyed. I then tried to find an Internet cafŽ in my guidebook, to no avail -- it must have closed. On Sunday morning I went to the only bar in my area that advertised wifi, only it doesn't work. That's after signing a form declaring that I would not use the internet for terrorist activities.

Now I have to finish this weird banana drink I ordered, because I thought I was ordering an actual banana.

I'm fed and intermittently connected, so it's officially feeling like I'm on vacation. The weather has cooled off today, so tomorrow I'll probably do some sight-seeing. Or maybe I'll just sit around on my ass. Oh, the things we'll not do!


At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - followed the link from the "Things What Things" blog and I'm enjoying reading about your trip - especially your flight over! Look forward to reading more of your adventures....

At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Canonfodder said...

Man I'm so glad you're back! I loved your Amsterdam adventures,and can't wait to hear you deconstruct your Italy trip. My daughter goes to U of M, and I want her to take one of your classes. Do you teach any English (right?) classes for non-majors? Anyway, welcome back!

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Bill Barrett said...

When I got your out-of-office email, I did not believe FOR ONE MINUTE that you'd last more than a few days without somehow finding internet, even if you had to string scrap wire all over your body and duct-tape an antenna to your head and rig a bicycle for power! But no pizza for lunch? That's just plain un-Italian! I've never heard of that one. And did I ever tell you when I was in Capri in 2003 I saw Mariah Carey in the flesh? It was at this random restaurant, and they were celebrating her birthday with a big huge cake and big picture of herself!


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