Tuesday, December 21, 2004

# Posted 2:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

CIAO, TUTTI, DI ROMA: After sleeping off my day's journey from Oxford to the Vatican by way of Dublin (thereby confirming the rumoured post-1990 status of Dublin, or at least its airport, as centre of the world), I go out to stroll about St Peter's and down the Tiber to the Piazza Navona. Rome by night cuts a bella figura.

With women on the sidewalk saluting each other with 'Ciao bella,' more fur than in the New York zoo, espresso at the belle monde's Rosati and at Antico Cafe Greco (among whose patrons were counted Lord Byron and Keats), the omnipresent scooters, telefonini, and two-toned leather shoes, I feel as though I'm on the set of Fellini's Roma. Which, of course, I am. As a scooter passes on the sidewalk next to a car illegally parked and blocking traffic, the Romans passing on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II pause to comment about its likely engine power. This is Rome.

There is a sunniness that you don't tend to get, oddly, in the Home Counties. There, speaking with a stranger rivals with being a foreigner for ancient criminal heinousness under the English common law. Here, strangers meeting your eyes say 'buona sera' to you in the street at 2 am. Part of this sunniness (though not at 2 am) is undoubtedly the sun, which unlike in the Home Counties exists here.

I discover there is a 2-step process involved in crossing a busy street in Rome. (1) step into traffic, and (2) begin walking. Try it: it's rather fun once you get the hang of it. (C.f., driving through intersections in Matamoros, Mexico). All traffic signs, semafores, and so forth are strictly advisory in Rome (once again c.f. Mexico).

If Italians were citizens of the world's hyperpower, everyone would be talking about 'loud Italians.' In Oxford, you often want to make them shut up, which is done, presumably, by way of holding down their hands. Here, in their element (and free of the echo chamber of the Cornmarket McDonald's), they're unbelievably cute. I'm dubious that the children here don't receive some form of subsidy from the Italian tourist board.

They're all on scooters, all dressed in scarves, shoes of the moment, sunglasses. The Gucci-to-square-foot ratio is rivalled only by Paris and the Upper East Side. The former, only on the subway underneath the 8th arrondisement. (The latter, everywhere.)

I seem to have, for my nightly sum of 28 sterling, rented a closet next to the elevator machinery, providing the pleasant metronomic accompaniment to my nighttime hours of the lift going up and down. At 3:45 am, I rather suspect the staff are pressing the buttons just to make sure I'm getting my money's worth. For 'former Papal apartment,' in Roman hotel argot, for future reference read 'there's a large, customed inflatable Santa continually inflating and deflating serving as the doorman.'

For 'Irish pub,' read: 'Americans, from Chicago.'

Judging from accordion players by Piazza Venezia, they like Sinatra here - I don't know yet know, though, whether this is principally on account of American tourists or his mafia connections.

At the Temple of Jupiter Moneta: here, adjoining the Vittoriano and under the present-day S Maria in Ara Coeli, lay the first mint of Rome: hence, money. I see a silvered mime popping out for a fag by the Capitoline. We tactily agree not to notice each other.

Graffiti by the Leonine Wall accuses the Pope of being Polish (accurately) and (more creatively) a Jewish fascist. You know something has gone drastically wrong with your reproductive history when you subconsciously begin comparing groups of nuns in terms of which is cuter. On my first full day, I attain the Vatican in time for the Angelus, speak to the Swiss Guards, and find myself proferred an invitation for an audience the following day. (Note to self: in the unlikely event I end up having a conversation with the Holy Father, remember to ask him which blogs he reads.)

I'm always pleasantly surprised to learn, on arriving in Italy, that I speak Italian. There's no reason I should - my mother is Tuscan, and I have the entitlement to Italian citizenship if I ever have to flee a pogrom impending against OxBloggers in Oxfordshire, but I've hardly spent much time at all in the country - but it always seems to come in rather handy when I'm here.

I don't know what it is about exposure to the tourist sector that produces the peculiar mix of smarm and condescension which is so distinctively remarkable in that industry, but the worst, loudest sort of tourists and the tourist-merchants fittingly deserve each other.

A nice trick: when panhandlers ask you for cash and you're not disposed (by reason of their projected alcohol content, &c.) to give it them, rather than saying 'golly, ma'am, I'm sure sorry, but God bless ya'll,' say, 'je suis tres desolee mais je n'ai pas du solde.' Then, when the great revolution comes, the poor of the world will be really p___d off at the French.

A political party of the left has chosen, oddly and rather frighteningly, to adopt the shamrock as its insignia.

I have paid my devotions today both to the successor to St Peter and to the Vestal Virgins, who have no one left to remember them. I remember, and venerate you.

More travelblogging the next time I find an internet point; till then, a hearty ciao di Roma!
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