Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wanderlust: Roma

After our time in Torino, we headed to the eternal city, Roma. The city of romance. The city of intrigue. The city of history... I hated it.

It started well. We took a six-hour train ride down the coast. We bought the cheapy seats, which were not actually seats. So we stood for six hours or perched on our luggage, catching occasional glimpses of "the wine dark sea," the Mediterranean, glittering at the bottom of the steep cliffs that spilled down into the water.

It was a long trip, and by the late hour we reached Rome, there was only one bus left to our country inn. It also happened to be the only bus that could take every working man in Rome home to his mamma. And there was a bus code, one I had never been taught. As we waited at the bus stop, the groups of men got thicker and thicker and thicker.

When the bus finally pulled up and the doors slid open, I, who had once been standing first in line, was somehow jostled and elbowed and pushed until I was outside the bus and every other man was inside the bus, along with the rest of the team I was with, who apparently got the aggression lessons I must have missed. The men by the doors were oozing out of the bus and while holding on to the bars would thrust inward, trying to squeeze their way in to the fold.

It was 11 at night. I spoke no Italian. I had no idea where I was or where I was supposed to be going. I caught my pastor Steve's eye for one desperate moment and remember thinking, "This is it. This is the last friendly eye I will ever see before this bus pulls away and I am left stranded in Rome to be devoured by the night." Finally I pushed my manners aside and grabbed onto that bus. The men continued to sway and ooze and push. I couldn't figure out if they were trying to push me out with their manueverings or simply make more room, but somehow when all was said and done, the bus doors closed, and I was inside of them.

But that was only the beginning of the ordeal. I scanned the crowd of smelly men to find any of my friends, but though only feet away, we were all irrevocably separated by the mash of humanity. Italian men aren't shy. Hands and elbows and backsides brushed and pinched and poked. I didn't know which way to turn to protect myself and I didn't know which I wanted to protect more - my backpack or my backside. I couldn't move anyway.

With each stop, more men left the bus and we became slightly less mashed into unfriendly arms. Slowly, one by one, we were reunited with our friends on the bus. The guys formed a protective circle around the girls as we shared our stories of the unwanted hands that had groped in the confusion. The Italian pastor, Frank, shared how a man had tried to steal his backpack. Of course, there was nowhere for the man to escape to, so Frank struggled back and forth with the man and was finally victorious.

By the time we got to the countryside, we were exhausted, molested and downtrodden. I felt sick to my stomach. And that is why I hated Rome.

But, while weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes with the morning. In the morning I woke to see what had been in darkness in the night: the rolling, green hills outside of Rome. It was pastoral and sweet, and I felt like I had returned to the home of man somehow. The inn we were staying at was run by nuns and when I could finally suffer to drag myself out of bed to the kitchen, they served me what remains the best cup of coffee I have ever had in my life. It was rich and thick and...amazing. And I'm not even a big coffee lover. I topped it with milk from the white pitcher on the table, and that delicious, fat cup of coffee soothed my soul.

After its healing powers, we headed out for the day. I can still picture it: A line of Americans pulling their bags up and down the rolling roads lined with poplars. Lovely.

Our time in Rome was packed. We saw Trevi Fountain, my favorite. We saw St. Peter's Basillica. I even saw the Pope wave from his window. We saw the catacombs where Christians hid and were buried during Nero's reign. We saw where Paul was imprisoned. We "saw" the Spanish steps. "Saw" because they were so incredibly busy that we only really saw the people standing on top of the Spanish steps, while we fretted over our pockets and wallets as little kids tried to sell us trinkets and, we suspected, pick our pockets.

Although it was amazing to see such history, as my idea of a vacation is to be alone in the middle of a forest, its history and riches couldn't quite make up for the crush of people.

But our last night there was crowned with a jewel. We had dinner sitting on a piazza that was the quintessential Italian scene. We sat on the patio and watched the people go by. We had red wine, which I was sitll immature enough to pretend to like. The middle-aged rotund waiter hit on all the girls in fine Roman style. The candle twinkled on the table as we talked on into the night. Although I didn't love Rome, I loved the Italian pace of sitting and talking and enjoying life. I left Italy dreaming of returning, of drinking its espresso and walking over the rolling hills and simply soaking in life.


Tara said...

This sounds so wonderful except for the part where you were traumatized. At least you have fun stories like this to tell the rest of your life!!!

Anonymous said...

Amber, I had exactly the same experience on a bus in Rome when I was 17, and it was truly horrible. I'm so glad you have other memories that even out your experiences there. I remember very little else...

Amber said...

Oh, no, Candace! I thought maybe I was being too melodramatic...but it was traumatizing!

Amber said...

Oh yeah, and I also saw the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Forum...really made a big impression on me, apparently.