Buckle up you guys, this is going to be a wild tale of crazy Romans and conquering public transit. Sadly I do not have any awesome pictures of myself to start this entry so we’re stuck with Tarzan here.
I had stopped to take this picture of a band’s poster. Some random dude, potbellied in a striped polo shirt, waited until I was done, then took out a map, pointed at it, and started speaking in Italian. I gathered enough from his pointing and a few stray words of Italian to understand that he was trying to get to the Pyramid. That was nowhere near where we were. For some reason I had assumed that all Italians, by their fluency in the language, gained fluency in public transportation as well. Apparently not. I had just figured out the bus system and the metro system, like, two hours prior. Now I had to explain how to get to Piramide with only rudimentary Italian.
The guy followed me like a lost dog all the way to the Metro station, which was a hike: a block, up two flights of stairs, and over a bridge. Finally I was able to get a Metro map.
“San Pietro,” he said.
“Oh!” I said. “No, San Paolo!” I ran my finger along the map to show him that the San Pietro stop was the wrong way, and San Paolo was the right way. “Marconi, Piramide — Ribbibia. Marconi, Laurentina — no.”
“Oh!” he said. “Grazie!”
Marconi is a Mussolini-era neighborhood, built a fair distance away from the older, more central parts of the city. It took me an hour or so to get back to the city. I got off on Nazione and looked around. It was around 1:00. I had to be at the Piazza Della Repubblica for my next class at 3:00. I had planned on going home for lunch, but I decided against it.
I bought a sandwich, water, and a cold soda at a cafe. I got it to go, but then I thought, well, where am I going to eat this? Since I was only a block away from the Capitoline Hill, I decided that I would eat there. I headed out; my hands were overladen with stuff, and my backpack was swinging in front of me. I had a difficult time balancing all of it.
I successfully crossed Via del Plebiscito. I was just walking on my merry way, looking ahead at the Hill, making plans for crossing the gigantic roundabout and trying to find shade. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some leathery, skinny, toothless old man burst out through a crowd of tourists. He looked at me, I looked away. Too late. He walked straight over to me, in just the course of a step or two. He shouted something in Italian at me, then threw his clear soda at me; it hit my feet.
I just stared at him, absolutely terrified. My only thought was that I was about to get attacked by this toothless dude. I had absolutely no way to defend myself, unless I whacked him with my sandwich or something.
He said some final word to me — or maybe it was a dry spit — and then he walked away.
I hid in the shade by San Marco and tried not to look at anyone. I ran through a list of what I could possibly have done to provoke him. Was it that I looked at him? Was it because my shoulders were bare? Was it because I had stumbled a bit on the curb? The fact that I hadn’t understood his rant made the whole thing more important and more of a mystery to me. I needed closure. Intellectually, I knew he was just a crazy person and that I had done nothing wrong. But I couldn’t stop myself from wondering.
After lunch I made my way to the Piazza della Repubblica. I was not going to leave this Piazza for much, much longer than I wanted. For a while I read in the shade of a large lamppost. As it got close to 3:00, I got up and started looking for my classmates. I found one, Kelly.
“It’s almost 3:00,” I said.
“I think he said that if there’s no shade we should go inside the church,” she said.
So we did.
“He’s not here yet,” I said. The church was lovely, and there was some sort of peaceful singing going on, but I still wanted to try to make the class.
“I don’t want to leave,” Kelly said. “There’s air conditioning and I don’t want to pay that old lady again.”
“Old lady?” I said. “You mean the one at the entrance? I thought she was just a begger.”
Kelly thought for a moment.
“Shit,” she said.
Fortunately the professor showed up a few minutes after that, and we were on our way. We learned how the church used to be part of a bathhouse, and then moved on to a nearby museum. On our way over, the girls in our class got cat-called. Most of the other girls ignored the, but I made the mistake of glancing at them as I passed.
“Hey!” they shouted. “Hello! Hey! What’s your name!”
I wondered if that was the only English they knew and how they knew we spoke English.
At the museum we examined various statues and their meanings.
Pop quiz! What’s wrong with this statue?
Then we made our final goodbyes to the professor — he had decided to give us Monday and Tuesday off so we could focus on our papers instead. Then we left. Presumably the other students left quickly. On the other hand, it took me a while to leave the Piazza.
First I stopped and took pictures of the fountain in the Piazza.
I had walked past an embroidery shop or a rug shop or a fabric shop or something on the way over. I had spotted in the window a special: small tapestries for 18€. So I headed back to the store to see if I could get anything good. On the way over, I noticed a crowd gathering in the square.
I was stopped by a guy, who began talking to me in English. I stared at him, confused. Finally he said, “Do you speak English?”
“Yes,” I said.
Then I walked on to the store. I bought three for 50€, then headed to the metro to go home. On the way back to the Metro, the guy stopped me again. He asked me some questions in Italian; I had absolutely no idea what he was saying. I headed to the Metro station (with a “parlo inglese!” at a woman who tried to stop me at the entrance). But the ticket machines in the Metro didn’t work. So I had to go back out of the Metro and to the stand near the entrance, where there was a guy who could sell me a Metro ticket.
On my way back from the dude, the same Italian guy stopped me again. He put a bracelet on my wrist and said, “One euro.”
I had a sneaking suspicion he was with the crowd that was gathering. Also, I’m suspicious of street vendors, particularly if they don’t have a stand. “What is this for?”
He didn’t understand the question, merely smiled at me.
“Is this a charity? Charity?” I tried to think of a simpler way to say “charity.” “Is this with them?” I gestured at the crowd that was still gathering. It was now attracting a police presence.
He just smiled at me some more.
This is Antonio. He wanted to get a pizza with me. We tried our best to have a conversation, with my elementary Italian and his rudimentary English. Also he kept asking where I sleep. I told him “Trastevere” because it sounded safe — it’s a big neighborhood. I live off of Trastevere, but not on the street itself. So I could answer the question without actually answering the question. I told him “Ho uno ragazzo in America” — probably not good grammar, but it means roughly “I have a boy in America” and he said something like “That’s okay! You can have two!” or “That’s okay! I’m here, he doesn’t have to know!” I tried to tell him that I couldn’t get a pizza with him because I only eat with my roommates. That’s not true, but I wasn’t really interested in getting a pizza. He also managed to answer my question about why the crowd was gathering; it was something related to the protests in Turkey.
Eventually I did manage to make it home, by taking the Metro to Termini, and then the 64 to Argentina, and the tram to home. I think I earned my sleep.