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2004-03-11 - 10:59 a.m.

You know, there was a time when I never thought I could get sick of cheese, tomatoes, bread, and olive oil.

I was wrong.

However, the only thing that could conceivably make me sick of all that is a week in Roma, so it was all worth it. I still think it will be a long time before I'll be able to hear "pomodoro" without wincing.

As I have often said, I feel bad talking about amazingly cool trips or events that I have been to because, well, most people reading this probably weren't involved. However, I think I'm going to be able to handle this one because, as ridiculously awesome as Italy was, there were a few things that were not so awesome, a few minor wrinkles that, while by no means deal breakers in regards to our enjoyment of our trip, certainly caused me and Shkbob the occassional inconveniences.

Like the plumbing situation.

Anyone who knows The Notorious RRZ can tell you that I like my plumbing. It is one of the few modern amenities that I really feel like I can't live without. I have managed to live an entire summer without air conditioning, and only thought I was going to die a couple of times. I have come to the point in my life where I don't even want a microwave. However, I need my plumbing. I need a bathroom, with a toilet that flushes, and a shower of some kind, and a sink. There must be access to hot water at a reasonable pressure. I could never, ever go camping, because while a bear may shit in the woods, I, in fact, do not.

Now, with only one exception, every bathroom I went to in Italy had a toilet bowl. The aforementioned exception was a bathroom in the Villa Borghese, a GORGEOUS public park in the northern part of the city. I wish I could have enjoyed the cypresses and the cherry blossoms more, but when I got to the bathroom all I found was a hole in the ground, at which point I gave a resounding "Fuck this!" and headed out the park and towards the nearest restaurant.

However, not all of these toilets had seats. This was a problem for me, because I have a big ass. I am okay with my big ass, but my big ass needs some space on which to rest itself. It also prefers not to rest directly on cold porcelain, particularly when it's 40 degrees out and the window is open. However, I learned how to sit in order to give my poor ass the space it required, and fortunately the bathroom in our hostel has a seat on it.

What it did not have was what I would like to call "standard flushing ability."

Shkbob arrived at out hostel at 10am, but had to wander around until 2pm to give them time to prepare our room. Whatever I may say about the bathrooms, let me say that, for the price of $25 American per night, the Hostel Alessandro is a pretty good deal. The beds, though small, were quite comfy, and there were full kitchen facilities and bathrooms that, while not in the room, were spaced well enough for there never to be a need to run down the hall in a wet towel. At most, you ran five steps. Anyways, when we finally got to the room I headed to the bathroom first.

Upon my return: Shkbob?

Shkbob: Yeah?

RRZ: I got some bad news.

Shkbob: Oh?

RRZ: The toilet? Doesn't flush. Well, that's not quite true. It flushes, just not that well.

Shkbob: Good to know.

At that point she went to the bathroom, and on her return: Dude!

RRZ: Yeah?

Shkbob: The toilet flushes; you ust have to rev it.

RRZ: Rev it?

Shkbob: You know, like an engine?

Sure enough, provided that you flushed five times in rapid succession, the toilet would indeed flush with an adequate degree of force.

The shower, however, knew nothing about adequate force. It came out at a very weak trickle, albeit a very warm one, and you had to actually hold it to get any water on yourself. If you tried to hang the showerhead back up on its hook, it fell. Suffice to say, I was very glad that I had my hair cut before I left. As did Shkbob.

Another problem was the time change. Italy is 7 hours ahead of Texas, meaning that most of Roma is waking up around the time when most of Austin is going to sleep. Couple this with the exhaustion that comes from spending an entire day roaming the city streets, museums, and ruins, as well as Shkbob's insomnia and my killer snore, and you get a truly ridiculous sleep schedule.

Not that I'm complaining, much. Shkbob and I, although bestest friends, haven't hung out in ages, what with her job and my show. This was our chance to catch up, spending hours in our beds talking about the fucked up people we know and how weird it is that we've grown up to the point where we are taking vacations with our own money, only to look at my watch and say, "Fuck. It's 4:30am." While this was simply an annoyance most days--we wanted, after all, to see as much of Rome as possible--but it was a bitch when we had things to do in the morning, such as show up for the tour bus to Pompeii and , y'know, get to our flight. Also, did I mention the absence of an alarm clock in our room?

So, in lieu of actually buying an alarm clock, the Dynamic Duo became the Paranoid Pair. We slept with the windows open, hoping sunlight and traffic would wake us up. We slept in our clothes, hoping that we wouldn't get comfortable enough for a really deep sleep. We slept sitting up, hoping that we would wake up easier. We did everything short of training the local pigeons to fly into our rooms and coo softly into our ears. Yes, we did make it to all of our destination on time. No, we did not really need that kind of irritation.

And speaking of irritation, let me tell you a little story about my lungs, and about the Roman tradition of smoking everywhere, all the time, and the lack of fuel emission standards in Italy. What, you mean you want to pass on my phlegm-drenched tale? Very well, but let me just say that the side of the Colosseum that faces the street is black, and it isn't because the Romans wanted it to go with everything.

Having said all this, what an amazing trip. There is no city in the world like Rome. I think the most amazing thing about it is the seamless blending of the ancient and the modern. In Rome, you can walk down the street, pass by a McDonald's, cross a square constructed during the 17th Century, pass a bus with an ad for the latest Versace line, look at the movie posters stuck on a wall contructed during the 11th Century, grab yourself a Fanta and a sandwich in front of a church contructed in 800 AD with an Egyptian obelisk in front of it that dates back to 1500 BC, choke on the exhaust from a passing Passat, then turn the corner and find yourself face to face with the Roman Forum. I cannot imagine what it must be like to grow up surrounded by that sense of history. Even in the week that I was there, as I wandered through the catacombs where early Christians secretly held their Eucharists and buried there dead, back in an era where they were a cult, dangerous and despised, and as I lounged on the Palatine Hill, looking down on the homes of Augustus and Livia, first emperor and empress of the Western World, I realized just how transient our civilization is. Rome began life as a modest little republic on the Tiber, became the unquesitoned ruler of the Mediterranean, transformed into an Empire that stretched from Britain to Persia, and finally collapsed into a memory, its once legendary forum a cow pasture. When you walk in Rome, you realize that, at any time, your world, too, can change irrevocably.

Nowhere was this more true than in Pompeii. We did the Pompeii tour in the rain, with Vesuvius hidden from view behind the clouds. We walked under our overpriced umbrellas (the weather up until that day had been PERFECT, cool enough to keep us from sweating but warm enough, in the sunlight, to keep us from needing anything more than a light sweater, and the weather continued perfect after our Pompeii excursion) past homes and businesses, giggling like 12 year olds at the dirty pictures in the brothel and in the home of "The Vetti Brothers," who were, shall we say, not brothers. I wondered if these people would have had their porn on such full display if they knew that it would be all that would remain of their lives in 2000 years. We saw the corpses of men and women covered in ash, heard stories about archaeologists finding bread in the ovens and food on the tables. As we walked, an American kid (it's ALWAYS an American who does shit like this) had his friend take a picture of him in the altar dedicated to the household God. It was a goofy, muggy picture, of course. I wondered, if one day, two thousand years from now, someone will be walking through the remains of a Christian church in East Texas and ask to have his picture taken on a cross, or on the altar. I hoped that, if someone were to wind up walking through my house in a few millenia, that my porn will have disintegrated by then.

This all sounds very morbid, and I don't want the Roman Tourism Board thinking that I'm telling people not to go. So I'll come out and say it: go to Rome, if you can, and have a time. Eat gelato as many times as you can--no ice cream served anywhere in the States compares. Stop in cafes for espresso and pastries whenever you're tired. Eat the pizza, especially the ones with rughetta on them, and order the house wine, because it is cheaper than soda and practically comes in bulk. Do not admit to being American if you can help it, and if you do, inform the person you are telling that you are able to speak a second language. If you speak Spanish, you won't need to worry about getting around--there seems to be this unspoken agreement between the Italians and those from Spanish speaking countries that, seeing as our languages are so similar, we won't fault one another for not learning each other's specific vocabulary. If you make an honest effort to speak as much Italian as possible, the people will treat you really well. Go do cheezy things like tossing the coin in the Trevi Fountain, but try to go to trattoria where there isn't a menu in English, because they charge less and serve the best food. Look at all the couture in the windows, and imagine yourself wearing the Cavallis and Armanis, but don't waste your money on them, or much of anything else. Take a tour for things like the Vatican, the catacombs, and Pompeii, but use a guidebook (take time to FIND A GOOD ONE that will list things like when museums close) for the Colosseum, the Forum, and other stuff that's within walking distance. More than anything else, just walk around the city. Walk until your feet give out. Watch the sunlight hit the steets and the pine trees in the breeze. Keep an eye out and your guidebook handy, because you're going to walk past some archaelogical or religious or artistic treasure as you go. Drink some more wine, and go home when you're exhausted.

I plan to go again. I tossed a coin in the Trevi to insure it. I'd love to go with a big group, as there were a lot of things that I wanted to do that I knew that Shkbob wasn't up for. If not, I might go alone. Regardless, as great as it is to be back in a place where the toilets flush on the first try, I'll be missing the wine, the gelato, and the atmosphere (the emotional atmosphere, not the air quality) until I get back.

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previous - next

The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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