Thursday, January 1, 2009

Paul Theroux Does Rome

I think we might have been up for 48 hours, except for a couple of naps. The last time I was getting out a bed in my pajamas, it was Tuesday at around noon. I’d gone to sleep at 6AM. Right now, at least in Italy, it’s 5AM on Thursday. There’s this funny thing called the international date line, so I don’t really know how long I’ve been awake, but I can tell you that my body is having some issues.

The seat magazine promised me Wall-E, which I had been anticipating since leaving Sacramento. I have flipped though every station, though, and come up with Ugly Betty episodes and some documentary about endangered sharks--- I think I caught a glimpse of Bernard Madoff--- but no Wall-E. So instead I’ve been curling up in my miniscule seat, trying to pretend that I am in a bed, and sleeping for twenty minutes at a time.

When we got on this plane in Washington D.C., they paraded us right by the first class seats and the economy seats. I want one. I don’t know what I have to do to get one, but those things look like they do everything for you, including sex acts. They not only fold into beds, but it seems as if they become butlers, too. IT is just MK and I in our little row of two, and we feel crowded. My elbow is in her elbow’s space, my carry on luggage is stowed haphazardly beneath the seat in front of me, blocking my feet from extending, and although I have the window--it helps with my fear of flying---I don’t think that jumping out of it would really do much for my feelings of claustrophobia.

When we got to the Sacramento airport, the entire place was covered in fog, that thick fog that makes it seems as if your words are getting swallowed in cotton balls. I told MK that I was hoping that our flight didn’t get cancelled and hoping that it would. She said that the pilots just use their instruments to fly the plane. They don’t need to see, she admonished me. That must be why they put in those superfluous windshields. Just a bow to tradition only.

Mk was right, though. Take off was smooth. Six hours in a plane to D.C. was crowded, but smooth. Our hour layover in D.C. lasted long enough for me to get a bottle of water for $6 and get in line for our miniscule seats. The boarding agent nicely announced that they would board first class first. “Just follow the red carpet for boarding!” They don’t roll out the red carpet for us, let me tell you. We trudged behind all the other plebes.

We dragged in at 9AM, after negotiating a confusing baggage pickup situation. We wandered the airport, until we found other people from our plane. It was raining. I mean raining inside the airport. MK went to the bathroom and there was a repair guy sitting on his mini bulldozer contraption, right outside the women’s bathroom, guarding the torrent of water that served as a waterfall entrance to the restroom. “Go in, go in,” he told each woman who approached. “It’s fine.” So MK popped up her umbrella and waltzed in. A woman next to me with a baby came back and told her husband, “I can’t find any restrooms,” and I told her the one with the Niagra Falls entrance was fine. She brightened up, and then came back a few moments later. “It’s closed?” I asked. My sweetie was in there. Had she entered some sort of Roman Blue Lagoon? “They can’t let me take the baby in because it’s raining too hard in there,” she said. MK told me later that the man had a point. She felt as if she was peeing outdoors in Portland, Oregon. In other words, she felt right at home.

Rome has some similarities to Paris, except that I think they fired the garbage collectors. Either that, or the trash guys are too busy running people over to pick up actual garbage. The place is not just awash in rain but also awash in discarded bottles, bags, and fast food wrappers. It’s almost as dirty as an American city I’ve been to, but not quite. We’re Number One still!.

Once, when I was in book club, we read a book about traveling in China by Paul Theroux. Theroux’s narration seemed to consist of three conclusions: 1. Why weren’t the Chinese more Western? 2. How could anyone eat this godawful food? And 3. Why the hell would anyone come here?

So I never want to be Paul Theroux. On the other hand, after one jet-lagged day in Rome, I may be a little cranky. I have had to stop abruptly on sidewalks more often than I can count, because some Italian took it into their head that they needed to stop in the middle of a busy walkway. Small children have tried to eviscerate me by hurling pointy objects in my direction. Last night, while we slept in our room on the alley way (a nice voice magnifying device for all those exiting bars, restaurants and homes), we got to hear all the famous Italian passion as large groups of people said good bye to each other forever, over and over again, all night long. If it weren’t for the noise from the alley, I’m sure we’d be awakened by the noise for the “breakfast room” which is next to our hotel room---the dishes begin clanking at 6:00AM. Nicely, though, there is a sign on each table, instructing the guests to not slide their chairs too noisily. The sound of espresso being made, as we all know, is nothing in comparison to the sound of a chair being pushed back.

Craziness isn’t limited to the US and people who name their children Mowgli, Track, Trig or Sunday Rose. We saw one woman squat in front of us, on a narrow sidewalk, as if she were going to urinate, thorugh her clothing. She didn’t/. Instead she began pushing her arms into the air, as if she were pumping iron, while we tried to negotiate the edges of the sidewalk, the better to escape. She shouted at us as we passed, still pumping imaginary iron above her head, and we were grateful to not have understood a word of what she said. She probably called us crazy American dykes, or sleazy visitors from Xenu, but I don’t know. I kind of doubt that she welcomed our presence on the behalf of all the Italian people, but I suppose it’s not impossible.

We and 10,000 other people saw the Trevi fountain yesterday, in the pouring rain. I got some photos of umbrellas surrounding the fountain, and MK claims to have gotten a photo of the two of us in front of it. All I know is that by the time I was done with being bumped and grinded by a bunch of Italian strangers--my God, these people friggin’ live here, couldn’t they have the decency to come see the tourist traps in summer, leaving us alone to see Romantic Italy?--I was getting cranky. There’s not a lot that makes me cranky, but extreme lack of sleep and too many people are a pretty sure bet. I was also dehydrated--those planes are so refreshing normally, but this one seemed to suck the juice right out of me, like Tom Cruise in a bad Anne Rice movie--and I craved orange juice. We wandered to some tourist cafĂ© populated by Italians--the nerve--and ordered some oj and a Panini sandwich of salami. Yes, it was kosher salami. We almost got the kosher proscuittio. At least we didn’t get cheese on it, Izzy. The Panini was great--no mayo, no butter, nothing but salami and Italian bread--and we watched the barkeep squeeze the orange juice. It was so thick that it came with a spoon. Really. I have the photo. Ah. Relaxation, finally.

And then off on one of our first day we’re-lost-let’s-get-more-lost-in-the-rain-in-Europe walks. Up hills, down hills--who knew there were hills in Rome?--and both of us sleep deprived and cold and wet. Amazingly, we didn’t fight. MK didn’t throw a beret in the air, though she does have the charming habit of stopping to take a photogaph every time an Italian isn’t stopping dead in their tracks in front of me. “Oh look,” she’ll say. “There’s a door!” and out pops the camera. “There’s a street sign!” “There’s a church.” Now, of course churches are in short supply around here, so I can understand that, but when one is exercising and one has a corn (yes, thank you, it has not evaporated with use), and when one is dying to eat some Italian food that isn’t shoved down with the watchful eyes of 10,000 tourists, and when one just wants to find one’s bed, one does not have much patience for one’s companion who merrily wants to take photographs of cobblestones and those darling--but empty--unused garbage cans.

OK, I admit it. I’ve become the Paul Theroux of Rome. Scrooge of Italy. Whatever. Today we see the Vatican, so you can imagine my excitement. But sometime today, I’ll get to eat a real Italian meal, and that does have me excited. Food is a reliable companion to joy for me, even if I’m not such a reliable companion to joy for poor MK. She’ll always have her pictures to console her, though. Maybe the one of the McDonald’s sign will sleep with her at night and keep homesickness at bay until my normal good mood returns.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
I'm already laughing at your first post from Italy and I'm only on paragraph one. You are suffering from very severe jetlag, but you have NOT crossed the international dateline! It's in the Pacific, between Guam and Hawaii...