When moving into Rome by train, there is only one way to go in and that is through the Termini station. From then on you can move along the public transport lines to wherever you want to.. Termini is a typical Italian central train station, full of markets and shops, and it can turn into the backpacker’s delight, since you can buy there whatever you will need for the trip, without having to spend the day searching within city limits for a place to buy whatever you may need. But Rome actually IS a lot more than buying. Rome is one of the most beautiful cities, not only in Southern Europe, but also in the whole world. Rome is actually full of ruins and architectural artefacts that are dated from every era in European history, from the times of the Roman empire to the twentieth century.
But in an effort to understand Rome, and write about it, one has to reminice of the times he had in there, his recollections of the city’s atmosphere, his thoughts while being there and the idea he gets about the others accompanying him in this trip, if there is anybody doing that. Certainly the first thing I remember about arriving in Rome this time around, is the Americans. There are zillions of Americans loitering around the Italy at any given time, and a great deal of them visits Rome, either in order to have a religious experience in the Vatican, or to explore their Italian roots, or to appreciate the art and cuisine, or even to get a glimpse of the Mediteranean lifestyle , as it was portrayed in a series of Hollywood classics. The firs Americans I came across where two quite daft girls from California, at one table in the hostel’s bar. And during my attempt to strike up a conversation with them one of my roomies turns up and rescues the day. His name is Dane and he is actually an actor travelling around Europe. The other one appears a bit later, an Iranian-American with a ponytail going by the name of Babak. Babak is very moderate about religion, despite the fact that he is of Iranian origin. In fact, as he confesses to me, his family’s relation to religion is just spiritual, and it does not have anything to do with politics or society whatsoever. Both the girls are just out of high school, so they are trying to enjoy a coming-of-age vacation in Europe, before returning to go to college. This is the traveller’s tribe. Huge and complex, consisting of people who travel the world for different reasons each other. One beer brings another and suddenly politics comes to the table. The girls are avid Obama fans and they are quite confident that Obama will win in a landslide and that he will bring a real change in America. We, that is Dane, Babak and I, are not that enthusiastic about the prospects of Obama changing anything. Especially in foreign policy, a change of faces in government does not automatically mean a change of policies. The domestic front is a totally different case. There Obama might be able to bring a real change, but that is also highly improbable, at least by European standards. That happens because however left leaning Obama might be by American standards, in reality he is a part of the liberal right by European standards. That means minimum social measures, but no real political revolution, and a great dissapointment for most of his voters in the long run. But things generally tend to be enthusiastic about Obama at this point, and all the Americans I meet have a certain amount of hope for the Obama government.
The next morning turns out to be quite busy. I am visiting the Colosseum, the roman racetrack, the Palazzo Venezzia, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Quite a long walk, but also one that shows the traveller a great deal of the town, and some of its most picturesque aerias. First stop is the Colosseum, a large stadium built for the sole purpose of offering “bread and fun” to it’s audience, something that consisted, mainly, of slaves fighting wild animals and or aech other to the death. Big brother in its most brutal way, and a perfect way to manipulate the masses and turn them away from their day to day grievances. Probably the acts in there helped in keeping the dictatorial powers of the Ceasar intact for ages. What makes the Colosseum a amazing structure, is its capacity. Its capacity was of more than 20,000 spectetors. That means that at any given time a small town was able to watch the “show”. That was something extraordinary for a time when the population of the city was at about 200,000 people. Not far away from the Colosseum and the two gates surrounding it lie the ruins of the race track. The races that were taking place in there were a really brutal spectacle. Actually they were very dangerous horse races, in which four teams where competing around an oval circuit. Safety precautions were non-existant, and accidents where all the rage. Dying on the track was very often, making the races just another form of bloodsport, meant to exist just for the amusement of the public. Nearby are the baths of Octavian, built by the Emperor whose name they bear. On the outside they are not really interesting. But the fact that Romans of a certain social posture used them often made them an interesting place to take a peek in. Actually in these places deals were made, people were discussing politics and forming plans and alliances. This might sound like the Russian mob, but it was actually some form of get together of political friends and lobbying, in the times of the Senate. Actually Roman senators were very avid lobbyists themselves. There was a very specific example of one particular senator who was so hell- bent for the destruction of Carthagena, who actually ended his speeches on every subject discussed by the senate with the frase: and thus, my friends Carthagena must be destroyed.
Right below this aeria, lies the capitolium, where the senate used to convene during the times of the roman democracy. There decisions where made, and alla of the political play came to the forfront. But a further more interresting building, is the Palazzo Venezia, wich lies on the top of Piazza Venezia.This massive white building, that was made of marble, was one of the most Notorious struvtures in Italian history. Benito Mussolini had given some of his most noted speeches there. And it was in front of the palazzo where Rome’s first ever far right mayor since WWII was sworn in. Italy has taken a swing to the far right with Il Cavaliere in office, especially since the opposition is quite powerless in parliament, and he can pass whatever bills he likes. All this makes Berlusconi’s dream of becoming a new version of Mousolini, and reviving his “glorious” times. This means more vulgar displays of power from neo-fascist gangs, and of course Italy slowly turning into a police state. And of course, everybody is expecting all this “politics of tension” situation makes everybody expect a violent eruption coming from the left or the right any time. This is more than obvious on the said day, since Dubya is paying Rome a visit, and the police is really on its feet. So I am not surprised when I see a column of vans in Carabinieri liveries parked in front of the palazzo, with carabinieri waiting inside.
“No we do not expect anything to happen”, their leader tells me when I ask him if there is a demo scheduled over there. Then their cb crackles something, he jumps in one of the vans, and suddenly they all scramble towards the Piazza del Popolo, trying to muscle their way into the narrow Via del Corso, and leaving me almost thunderstruck. Damn they are fidgeting. But somewhere near the Italian high court, between Via del Corso and the Piazza Navona, there stands a figure that is not fidgeting. In fact, every day, he stands in front of the building patiently, in an effort to find justice. He is a Romanian prize fighter who did some fights in Italy but got nothing out of them, because the Italian boxing federation stripped him off his license. He says it happened because foreign fighters are not allowed to compete in matches in the Italian championships if they don’t meet some strict standards, while this does not apply for Italians. At least that is what I understood after talking to him. Racism? Definately.
The Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful places in Rome. Full of fountains that were created in the renaissance by the famous Vatican protigee sculptor Bernini, it is a very famous hangout for romans and tourists alike. Unfortunately this time around it is being remodelled and some of the fountains are covered. This means I can’t see a big part of the piazza. But nevertheless, my aim for the day is the Pantheon. It is one of the most amazing churches in Rome, the only one that sports an opal on its roof, or a boca del diavolo as it was called then. In fact up until some ages ago it was used as an observatory. Words can not describe the beauty of the building, it is the kind of building that makes you feel small. Moreover, another thing that strikes you while in there, is probably the micture of architectural styles in it’s interior. Combining delicate greek and roman styled columns with massive and rigid structures of the kind that the modernists planned during the early decades of the twentieth century, this building looks more like the work of a visionary architect than a temple.
When the night comes the whole motley crew gets together once more at the bar. Drinks come out and we have a jolly good time talking with the girls, when a group of typical American college jocks actually joins us. My oh my. They actually aren’t that good conversationalists, but, they get the girls to follow them with one sole argument. “We have vodka”. That is the main thing about them that strikes me. The other is that two out of them (a Mexican American and a Moldavian Jew) that are immigrant’s kids have been almost totally Americanized. Especially for the Mexican guy this comes out as some form of reverse racism. The guy looks as if he is ashamed of his origins. The Moldovan guy on the other hand is more relaxed about his nationality. He left the place during the war, as a kid, and probably that makes him a little more relaxed about his nationality, though there is a lot of bitterness when he talks about the political situation in Moldova nowadays. But, contrasting Babak he does not seem to be really interested in changing things.
Anyway, angry at the way the vodka argument worked for the girls, and obviously drunk from the beer and tequila, we decided to retreat to our room, and see what the hell our new roomie was. But this happened in a totally twisted and perverted way. While going into the room we were hurling at each other threatening movie quotes like “I’m gonna go medieval on you boy”. Despite the fact that our new roomie seemed to be of female form, and covered from head to toe in her sheets, we continued to the same tune inside the room. My last memory of the night consists of Babak turning towards his lower bunk (where the girl was sleeping) and screaming toward her in a Tony Montana mode something that sounded like “SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”!. When we woke up in the next morning she had packed her things and left us. Damn, we terrorized her… Mind you the night before the whole Tony Montana incident Babak had earned his nickname, Mr Chop-Chop, after mumbling something about chopping to peaces the maitre of a pizza restaurant near the Yellow, who was actually being intolerably late, even by Greek standards, in serving us our food. We spend the morning contemplating on our next plans. Dane is going to be travelling to Atlanta within the month in order to work on some project with a director friend of his, while Babak is on his way to New York in two days time. Dane is flying to Athens this evening and me and Babak are thinking of going to a pub crawl, with the daft California girls. So, with just a few hours at our disposal, we decide, to go drink some coffee and fool around at the Piazza del Popolo, and maybe later go get some food and tourist artefacts at the Campo dei Fiori (also called Campo Americano).
We spend zillions of hours hanging around the café and lazing around. In fact we spend most of the morning commenting on people walking past us in the street (it’s Thursday morning). Most of our comments, are, centered around Italian women. The common idea about them, is that they might not be exactly pretty, bu they really do know how to take care of their looks. They are all neatly dressed, and they seem to have a talent when it comes to makeup. They actually don’t apply to much of it, but none of them moves without it. Generally there is some moderate use of it, nothing really much.
Th Campo dei Fiori is another story. It is a posh area, mind you, full of American tourists and fancy cars. Everything exept sandwiches and ice-cream served by delis and carts is really expensive, and everybody moving in the surrounding area seems to be able to spend small fortunes at an y given time. Actually the aerea is swarming with American tourists trying to follow the steps of Robert Langdon, or trying to get their own little wiff of a 00’s Roman Holiday, being totally oblivious to things going underneath the surface.
In reality the city is full of Forza Nuova and Casa Pound stickers, while newly elected mayor Gianni Alemano was being greeted with fascist salutes by his fine during his inaugurational speech, and Berlusconi and his Liga Nord cohorts keep on their racist speeches in the Parliament and the Senata, and even worse, have started passing racist and anti-imigration laws without the smallest hint of a reaction from the parliamentary side of the opposition, and with the only left force capable of reacting, the PRI in souch a political shambles that it cannot even find its way to either its political resurrection, or at least some leftist programme that can counter the Romano Prodi debacle.
These things can be felt when in Rome, and can lead to discussions. Of course there is a lot of discussion between the three of us, wich leads to the conclusion that things need a radical change in Italy, with no clear idea on what change might be.
Putting aside politics and all, we return to the Yellow in time for a small drink and Dane to catch his flight to Greece.