Monday, August 31, 2009

Needed: Scooter Repellent

Italian people are nuts. And not your garden variety slightly-out-of-whack nuts either, but full out insane-as-can-be nuts. I spent my one week of vacation in Rome this summer. Rome is beautiful. And filthy. And only slightly less corrupt than the eternal pits of hell.

Let me tell you about our first day in Rome. To start off the day on a good note we got up at the ungodly hour of 3:30am. We drove 2 hours to the airport and then sat 3.5 hours in a plane that could fall out of the sky at any moment. I was very aware of this little fact on account of my very rational fear of flying.

We arrived in Rome dressed for the sort of cool summer weather we have over here, and immediately realized we were going to melt. Well we couldn’t very well change in the middle of the airport so with some difficulty we moved on and located the local trains. We took the first train into Rome and ended up at Tiburtina train and metro station where I proceeded to get my wallet stolen. This was a particularly good idea, I thought, since it gave us the chance to socialize with the locals. Tiburtina train and metro station happens to have a police station attached to it, so the next thing we did was spend the most disturbing hour I’ve ever experienced at a Roman police station. No one knew English, they all had massive amounts of fire power on their person and everyone was screaming at each other and waving their arms. They made me sit in a chair and questioned me about what had happened and made me write an account of it. They took away my passport and left us alone in the middle of chaos central with gun wielding maniacs and women who were giving me the evil eye. But at least they had air conditioning.

By the time we left Tiburtina I still didn’t have my wallet, I was hot as hell, I was thirsty and hungry, not having eaten anything since 3:30am. So we took the metro and jumped off at a station that was supposed to be pretty close to our hotel. Turns out “pretty close” isn’t so close when you’re toting a 30 lbs suitcase behind you on narrow cobble streets while being chased by angry scooters. By the time we got to the hotel I was praying vacation would be over soon and I could get some rest. The rest of the day we spent practically sleeping on one of the three gazillion tourist buses that flock the city like parasites. It was lovely.

The next day we started exploring Rome for real and soon realized that nothing in Rome is where it is supposed to be. The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, they’re all just strewn all over the place in the weirdest locations. At one point we were trying to find the Pantheon and when the little back alleys got smaller and smaller we thought for sure we were lost and we’d never see our hotel again. Turns out we were wrong and some idiot hid the Pantheon behind a dumpster and then built a bunch of houses so close to it that the streets are so narrow you can barely even drive a scooter down them. Knowing the Italians they’d probably still find a way to cram seven tourist buses and a Fiat side by side down the street.

Don’t worry, though, if you’re in Rome and are having a hard time finding it, I’ll help you out. First, get on a tourist bus and ride with it for several hours until you think you might have heard the tour guide say something resembling “Pantheon”. Get off the bus, consult your map and start walking in any random direction. When the streets start to get darker and too narrow to drive on, take a left at the end of the alley with the dead rat, behind the dumpster and the scooter you’ll find the Pantheon. You’re welcome.

Romans take things seriously; especially their driving. Traffic lights and stop signs are viewed merely as friendly suggestions of how you might want to act if you were so inclined. Romans are not so inclined. The one with the loudest horn usually goes first. This made me wonder how come not more of the cars were equipped with external horns on the roofs with much bigger capacity for making noise. After a couple of days of quiet observation I realized this is due to the fact that were you to mount an external horn on a Roman car it would either A. fall through the roof of the Fiats that for some reason are made out of plastic and only slightly bigger than an average size Barbie car, or B. not work. Nothing works in Italy. This statement is of course, as stated above, based on completely scientific observation made during a three-day period while eating gelato, dying of heat stroke and trying to survive crossing the street.

Speaking of, crossing the street is something that is not recommended during your stay in Rome. M and I tried that once. After almost being run down by one tourist bus, three red Fiats travelling together, a horde of scooters and a pack of evil Segways, we realized that walking 68 miles on the other side of the street to get to the same place wasn’t all that bad after all. It’s all about perspective. After we got home my ignorant sister asked me if we rented scooters while we were away and I just started giggling like a crazy person. I don’t think she quite got the joke, but I happen to know that the life expectancy of a person riding a scooter in Rome is roughly 2.5 minutes.

It was 95 degrees in Rome. I live in a place only slightly warmer than the North Pole. While the Romans dressed in jeans and shirts, I wore as close to nothing as I got away with and carried with me 3 bottles of water at all times – one to drink from, one to pour over my sizzling skin and one in case I couldn’t take it anymore and needed to drown myself to put an end to it. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. At Saint Peter’s Basilica the guard told me most respectfully I couldn’t enter wearing next to nothing, and kindly asked me to cover my legs and shoulders. I considered respectfully punching him in the face, then I considered kindly asking him to kiss my ass, before finally reminding myself that I was entering the womb of the Catholic Church and would probably be struck down dead by God if I entered wearing next to nothing. The fact that I’m not Catholic somehow slipped my mind. I think it was the heat.

All in all, I had an amazing trip. Don’t let my ramblings fool you; Rome is truly beautiful and one for the most amazing places I have ever seen. I’d go there again in a heartbeat. Maybe. Now I just need to replace my lost credit cards and driver’s licence. Oh the joys of travelling. *


  1. OMG... that has to be the single best piece of travel writing I have ever read!!! It makes me want to go and be angry and yell and honk my horn... Which, btw... is how people communicate in Egypt. They don't speak Arabic, they simply honk at you in passing...

  2. Talking is clearly overrated. Why be polite when all you really have to do is honk your horn? Honk once for yes and twice for no. :P

  3. Seriously, sweet jesus, this damn place wouldn't let me sign in. You don't have to go anywhere to find things that won't work. Just turn on the damn internet.

    Z, dearest, one of the funniest things I've ever read! Coffee does not feel great coming out of your nose. Just for future reference.

    Manda, if you want communication, try driving on Broadway early in the AM. There's a whole lot of honking going on. With a side dish of middle finger and a healthy helping of f*ck you's going on. Oh wait, it's usually you flipping me the bird.


  4. You know, Sin, there are so many perfectly normal things you could be doing with that nose, stop snorting stuff out of it.

    When I go to NY in a few weeks, I totally expect to hear a symphony of honking again. Until then, I'm enjoying the peace and quiet over here. People are too polite to honk in my part of the world. They just stare a little and sigh a little and have evil thoughts that will probably land them a place in hell.

  5. Did they fit like 5 people to a scooter in Rome like they do in the Dominican Republic?

    I was afraid I was going to see dead scooterist's (I doubt that's a word, but I'm going with it anyway)on the side of the road like roadkill.

    You couldn't pay me to ride on one of those damn things outside the US.

  6. Candice - I don't think we ever saw more than two people on a single scooter, but every 10 minutes or so an ambulance* would race past us with the sirens blaring, most likely to scrape the latest dead scooterist off the road. The very flat dead rat, however, I have photographic proof of, speaking of roadkill.

    (*I'm guessing it was a different ambulance every time, but it could also have been the same dude driving around and around just to piss people off.)



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