I appreciate the way all trips abroad are Pilgrimage.
We rise long before dawn. We pack what is precious.
We go via unpredictable means to strange places where even the smells are familiar but strange.
Nihil sub sole novum. There’s nothing new under the sun.
Italy is an old prototype of California.
Rome is a Los Angeles that ate San Francisco, gained class and age, but kept its shabby as a gift to the future.
Arriving at the Immigration station, we mill, we ponder, we breathe out the bad air of the plane from our cells. A man in a crisp uniform that somehow carries no import for its foreign-ness, stands by an empty doorway with no Italian-equivalent INS officer. He raises his voice, gesturing with both hands. “American Passport. This-a way, please!” (I guess Kim was right, adding -a to things really does make them Italian!).
Ah, we’re out in the baggage claim area.
They must want us with our incriminating evidence before we face the music. How Los Angeles International of them.
By the conferred blessing of Wendy’s 1K status booking the flight, or the weirdness of my pack, it comes out in the first batch, just a few minutes of waiting.
I follow the signs to “Green Customs, nothing to declare.” I am introduced by a series of 3 tour representatives to the Italian custom of standing directly in the middle of the walkway and not being apologetic about it.
There’s the green exit. The guards on the red “I have cocaine and bombs and parrots in my bag” exit even look friendly.
The air is warm outside.
I’m following the train “Tren” icon.
I’m in the rail station, the machine spitting a ticket at me.
I’m in the open air under the vast Quonset hut of the Leonardo Express station.
I never took out my passport.
I didn’t get a stamp.
Is it breaking international law if they just can’t be bothered and usher you out into the 1980s-LAX drab of the outside?
I’m imagining the customs official in the US. “And they let you into Italy – in Europe, without a Visa. Really, Mr. Stafford? Really.”
You know when the massage place in SFO doesn’t have any prices listed, and they tell you to stay in the massage chair after the foot massage “as long as you want” that you are gonna pay for that massage. What you don’t expect, after waking at 2 in the morning and smearing your way across San Francisco in the dark, is that the gorgeous woman in the chinese tunic with the wooden fasteners is so surprisingly good at her job that you don’t care.
My movie rating scale, by the way, has no stars in it, but is applicable here.
The lowest rating: don’t watch this movie if someone else rents it and offers to blow you and give you pizza.
The highest rating: you should have to pay them more money and do something slightly unpleasant to get to watch this movie.
Interpolate between those as humorifically appropriate.
The Italians are like the Irish, but with swagger and sexy. Occasionaly, you’ll see a hot little gaelic footballer swagger down High Street after a game. In Rome, even the women swagger. Just a little, but in a sexy way.
The Italians are like New Yorkers, but gone wrong. There are so many of them. They’ve been crowded around the abandoned and reedy Tiber so long they’ve forgotten what “personal space” means. They have no concept of walking in their crowds, rushing into the train before the slightly startled debarkers even have time to get through the doors. Edie Falco in her many forms over and over brazenly cutting right in front of you in line at the train station, the tratteria, the pizzeria, the Colloseo, the crosswalk.
Why is everyone here in this shady palazzo near these gorgeous ruins? Let me rephrase. It’s 11am, shouldn’t all the Italian-speaking men sitting and wandering the square be… I don’t know… working or something? I mean, I think it’s Monday, or it’s probably Tuesday. Do they all work in Japanese restaurants?
This is the wrong question.
Why am I not always walking at noon by the Marin Civic center, with the ducks attracting Zeus’ attention by clustering together, watching him take off after them, no hunger in his body, just the pure canine delight of the chase, slowing in time not to reach the slow, fat geese who migrate both miles from the civic center to the water reclamation plant.
Thick, brick buttresses turn slowly into hills of dirt over the millennia, the bricks camouflaging themselves as rocks. When the ancient is everywhere, in parks with that have stood so long they or their ancestors might have seen the original Marathon (wrong country, I know, get over it), when the catacombs of the dead hidden under your feet like a great warren have compacted, the calcium of Roman saints and senators providing a stronger foundation than the TIber’s dirt for the rail lines, how can you have a sense of perspective? How can you not walk around like you, or your grandfather, or the original pater of your familia don’t own the world, who owned this place synonymous with civilization itself?
There are palm trees, and a surprising number of people speak English in spite of my intent to struggle without Italian as visitors to the US are shocked to have to struggle without English unless they ghetto their experience.
Night is a cool wind and warm Hawaii air. The quiet thumpa thumpa disco I’m in has slowly filled with effortlessly beautiful Italian men. There was food. The solemnity has risen. They’ve gone quiet as the true religion of Italy comes to us: there is a soccer match on. All the faces of Rome turn toward it, illuminated like the colored wind I couldn’t quite capture with the little face of my phone today, Mary literally burning blue in her glory.
Civilization. Grandeur. Decadence. California is a tawdry copy.
This is what we did before Facebook, huh?
Pretty nice, guys.