Rick Steve is a real person, apparently, and he writes guidebooks. He rocks. He doesn’t send you to dives, like LP does sometimes. He urges you to be a reasonable traveler, and not to be quite as American as you might otherwise be. He’s kind of a dick, which is probably why I like him.
He is clearly under 6 feet tall. There’s a whole paragraph in the Rome section about these “fast” trains that you really should take if you want to move around Italy. They’re more expensive, and they leave every 30 or so minutes for Milan and other fabulous places. He extoles the virtue of the 1st class cabin with its pre-selected seats and lower likelihood of getting your shit made off with because pickpockets, apparently, aren’t smart enough to realize that paying $30 more for your ticket means you can steal better stuff from richer people. The seats are comfy, and they have little Lexus-esque buttons for adjusting things. What they also have are fixed headrests. If I sit straight, they headrests hit me right on the wingbones of my shoulders. Fuck TrenItalia.
How does this relate to tight pants? So not only do Romans dress like they think San Franciscans are out of date low-renters, but the style for mens pants is low on the hips with a hang that … emphasizes the male hang, if you get my meaning. There’s even strategic “wear” built into the pants that draw the eye. A moment of silence for how awesome Italy is.
Even the business pants, say of the 6′ scruffy Italian businessman on the sleek laptop across from me on the train, are tight, showing a possibly slightly out of date love affair with soccer and a habit of walking that hasn’t passed away with the job that bought him that Dolce & Gibbana watch. He’s taller than most Italians, but has a practiced-looking hunch to get his shoulders under the embedded headrest. His shirt is what we’d call “sport fit” in the US, but seems by comparison here to be “a bit baggy, really”.
As we’re flashing through the countryside in Tuscany, the grey sky of September drops soft rain on the green fields and hillside wineries (the Greeks coming to Italy originally called it the home of grapes; yes, I just implied that Italians are really Greeks; I also think that the Japanese are Korean and the Scotch, Welsh and Irish are just the dispossessed barbarians of Atlantis, uh…I mean, mainland Europe). The towns are copses amid the rolling hills. The horizon is small; the mountains here are just hills.
For the first time, I realize that Italy isn’t just a proto-fascist Mediterranean country that’s quaint, lost World War 2, and builds startlingly bad and startlingly good cars. Italy is Rome. The 2nd empire of Rome, the Church, looms above the heart of Italy with a grandeur that even adjusting for jetlag is indescribably. I know why Hannibal Lecter came here at the end of those Silence of the Lamb books. In the manor houses and stone buildings of Northern Europe, there is a deep patina of civilization so old I don’t have a reference for it. Here, gorgeous villas whose foundations are older than the legend of Christ, are part of a thriving modernity.
Like some rare native Americans in Ecuador who feel like even the wild colors of their panchos are as much a part of the Andes as the hillsides and the wild, spidery trees, and the quiet, muching llamas, Romans – and maybe Italians in general – are part of this place. The way Americans are so much a part of their cars that driving seems like a right, Romans are in their home on the wide streets of VIa di S. Gregorio or the tiny sidewalks of Via la Cremona. I don’t mean they’re at home like you feel when you sit in the leather seats of a Mercedes. They seem like they are in their home. In your house you don’t stand aside to let strangers walk by; you’re not abashed to give someone a frank appraisal.
At the same time, in the casual arrogance of the human brain that transmogrifies things experienced into background, I think they have forgotten that they are civis Romani
that they live in urbis deorum, the seat of civilization itself. The funny sashes on police clothing are an odd counterpoint to the silver jewelry draped over shapely limbs (and those are the men!).
The people of Rome know where they are. But like Italy, they have forgotten history because it lies everywhere around them. They still think they are a small mediterannean people. How else could a modern bullet train, racing so fast through tunnels that the pressures in your ears change , have fixed headrests fit for someone 5’9?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s projection and the druken touristissimo clotted on me from too many encounters with elegance so gaudy it looks effortless. Maybe it’s just the Italians’ way of saying, “never again” to the northern barbarians that sacked Rome, “you may have risen in your barbarism and taken our glory, but good luck sitting on our trains, bitches”.