Easter Break, Part IV

ITALY: Holding Its Breath


First, in other news:


I’ve finished the first of two 5000 word papers due within a week of each other. If you want to know anything about Asian energy security, speak up.


Now, the fun stuff that keeps me going when I’ve got writer’s block at word number 2,958:

From Croatia, I took an overnight ferry to Ancona and a train to Rome. The countryside (see below) was, of course, gorgeous. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, at how rural Italy is. I think I had the impression that Italy was mostly Rome. Silly, I realise, but not entirely crazy or overly American – I’ve talked to a number of Europeans who seem to think that nothing exists between New York and Los Angeles.

I got to Rome late Friday morning, with three new fellow ferry-travelers, and wandered around until the overnight train. Because you don’t catch much news when backpacking, I didn’t know that John Paul II had suffered a heart attack; it wasn’t until I asked Kyle, a fellow wanderer whom I met in St. Peter’s Square, that I understood the news crews, rosaries, vestments, tears, security guards, group prayers and songs that filled the entire square and bled out into the rest of Rome. The whole city, I think, held its breath until John Paul’s passing Saturday night.

My most vivid and lasting memory of Rome, however, will likely be the divide between its “haves” and “have-nots.” One cathedral, which would have been a gem in any other city but was not significant enough in Rome to be marked on the tourist map, had a magnificent Pietˆ inside and a man begging on the steps outside. We attempted to chat for a little while with my limited Italian and some hand language, and I eventually figured out that he had fought in WWII against the Americans. He patted me on the back – the Italian version of no hard feelings, I imagine.

The Trevi Fountain, one of Rome’s most impressive, provided another wake-up. It’s customary for tourists, and I imagine anybody (though I doubt the locals often participate) to throw a coin over their right shoulder into the fountain. In addition to the usual crowd of street jewelry sellers and photographers for hire, there was a small, elderly, probably Middle Eastern woman begging for change. I sat on the steps and watched people ignore her and then throw their offerings into the fountain.

Anger, guilt, compassion, shame, helplessness, disgust. I don’t have any intelligent words with which to react to the old soldier or the fountain woman, so I won’t. The idealist in me can only hope that the cynic in me is wrong and the tagline to the Motorcycle Diaries is right:

“Let the world change you, and you can change the world.”

I apologise for not taking lots of Roman pictures; here are a few until we get to France.

On the train between Ancona and Rome:

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Wandering around

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The best part of my Italian experience was the potentially miserable overnight train ride to Marsielle. My new friends included Ben, a hallmate from freshman year at Vanderbilt (yes, complete coincidence); Giada, a nineteen year old student; Angelo, a twenty-one year old Sicilian (and likely mafia member); an Albanian guy whose names I won’t pretend to pronounce or spell; Maria Teresa, an southern Italian French teacher, and her mother Laura, the perfect Italian grandmother. If I were allowed three grandmothers, I would pick her. We shot the breeze most of the night, forcing Giada and Ben, who originally claimed to be studying “romanticas,” to translate. I left the train with an invitation to visit Sicily and a newly adopted Italian family.

Maria Teresa and… I’m sorry, he said it three times, but it just wasn’t going to happen.

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Angelo and Giada

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My favorite Italian (fall in love at once) and Ben’s shoulder

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One Reply to “Easter Break, Part IV”

  1. I want to send you a bit of encouragement because it sounds to me like your experiences with the people on the street have caused you some inner turmoil. You have shown great humility by talking to them and appreciating them for who they are. So many people would get side-tracked by touristy stuff that they wouldn’t notice the things you have. You were given the eyes to notice people on the street and a desire to talk to them for a reason. What you are studying in school can be used for the “greater good.” Don’t let it get you down and mad, which I don’t think you are dwelling on this, but let it inspire you to go out and change things. all the best and keep the chin up. Lucy

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