The Sweet Life

Here is the shortcut to the photos.

"No Problemo"

The four Americans1 were enjoying their dinners at "Le Grotte" (The Grottos) when something caught the eyes of two of them. One called their waiter over and using his minimal Italian (learned only recently) asked, "Signore, que sono quello?"

He answered grandly, "limoncello", accompanied by slight smile.

"How many does it serve?," asked another.

"No problemo," was the reply, with an enormous grin. He disappeared as he said it, as though he were the Cheshire cat.

"Well, I wasn't sure I actually wanted any, but apparently it's been decided for us."

A few minutes later the waiter returns with a frost covered, narrow-necked bottle containing a flourescent yellow substance. Clearly, it was extremely cold.

"I wonder how it's served?", one of them thought, since it had to be frozen solid. Within moments he had his answer. The waiter quickly placed four glasses on the table, removed the cork stopper from the frosty flask and poured - poured! - the day-glo yellow liquid - liquid! - into the glasses.

The four looked at the glasses, the bottle and then each other. One them exclaimed, "Oh... my... God!" and all began laughing like madmen.

"Saluti!"

The initial lemon tartness gave way to a slight sugary sweetness and then the burn of the Italian equivalent of Everclear. After another 30 minutes of contemplation (if that's what it's called) we paid the bill and staggered out the door.

"One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other" was our mantra as we walked down ancient Via del Corso back to our hotel, with the 50 cc motocini attack just a few feet away.

1- Two of whom are not pictured here.

"Learn a Real Language"

I made friends with the hotel sales director (dirretore commerciale), a very attractive woman. Through a series of misadventures involving the hotel office computer and my desire to fire off some email she and I became acquaintances. She asked me one night where we all were going for dinner, whereupon I answered "The Grottos" (see the previous story).

"The Grottos... The Grottos..." she repeated out loud. "Ah!", she exclaimed. "Le Grotte! Tsk... you should live here and learn a real language!"

That was one of the funniest things anyone has ever said to me.

I promised to take her to dinner the next time I came to Rome. "But it has to be a nice restaurant with no tourists!", was my demand. Somehow I think that there are more than one or two restaurants like that in Rome. I saw her several times during my stay and each time I think she wanted to do the "kissing" greeting. I kept doing the "warm American" style handshake but I guess I am not ready yet for the "warm Italian" greeting. Maybe next time.

Post script: I had told her that I would send her the URLs for a bunch of web search engines when I returned home, which I did. She replied a few days later telling me "You are really not too bad for an American!" Heh heh heh.

"Roman Rehash"

The day of our arrival I collected a few of the guys who were in town (two of which had flown over with me) and hit the streets. We revisited the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. I went up on the second level of the Colosseum this time and took some photos. They are here if you are interested. I gave them my "Ancient Roman Ruins" spiel and one of the guys mentioned that I should give tours as a sideline if I live here. So, now not only will I be expected to work but also play guitar at the Trevi Fountain and give tours. :-)

Ostia Antica I did visit a "new" place (if a place 2000 years old can be called new) this time as well - Ostia Antica. Ostia was the port city for Rome for several hundred years at the height of the Empire. It's located on the Tiber River near the Mediterranean Sea, about 30 minutes by commuter train from a southern Metro station. It is as interesting as Pompeii, but not nearly as crowded. I had the place practically to myself.

When Rome fell, Ostia became superfluous and eventually was abandoned. It then became a convenient source of building materials until the naturally marshy area finally covered it, thus preserving it pretty well. It was rediscovered late in the last century and is almost entirely excavated now, thanks to a few Popes in the late 1800's and - ahem - Mussolini in the 1920's and '30's.

In some ways Ostia is a better ruin to see than anything in Rome. Rome's ruins are all about the pomp and majesty of the capital city. Ostia was a working city. It allows one to see more of daily Roman Empire life than the grand temples and stadia of Rome itself does. Ostia has an additional advantage in that everything is accessible. I was able to walk on millenia old mosaic tile floors and touch equally old wall frescoes. That was a truly remarkable experience. I spent all day there, exploring insulae, baths, temples and even a cafe (complete with bar and outside dining area) and a public restroom (with marble "thrones" still in place). I bought a postcard of the latrine at the bookstore and sent it to my Italian teacher. It was an enormously fascinating day.

When I had finished with my explorations I walked back to the train station. I spied a snack bar and decided to grab a Coke and a pizza. The guy behind the counter greeted me with a friendly "Caldo?" (Hot?) to which I replied "Si, molto!" I ordered my Coke and pizza, played with the sweet little resident kittycat for a while and then caught the commuter train back to the city. The fact that the counter guy was dressed in a Roman tunic didn't faze me a bit. The maitre'd of the restaurant in the same building is dressed like a Roman centurion. [shrug]

"The Cure for Culture Shock (Get a Clue)"

As I was walking amongst the ruins of Ostia, a truth was suddenly revealed to me. Europe, despite it's reputation among Americans as being socialistic and lacking in individual rights is actually "freerer" in some senses than anyplace in the US.

Imagine that a place like the Colosseum existed here. Does anyone seriously believe that we would be allowed within 100 feet of it, let alone on the second level? The liability risk would no doubt be considered too great. And yet here I was walking amongst these ruins (and at one point walking ON the walls of one building) with no one yelling at me to get down, no fences, no disclaimers about not being responsible, blah blah blah.

The trains, the busses, the metro and even to some extent the airport is left to you to figure out. Interestingly, when an English option is made available (on a ticket machine, for example), the button will be labelled with a Union Jack rather than Old Glory.

It's this "Figure it out yerself, you stupid American" approach that is a large contributor to the culture shock that inexperienced travelers feel when travelling in Europe, or any foreign country. The first time I went to Europe was 1988. I went with my then girlfriend now ex-wife, who was a very experienced European traveler. I was ready to go home after the third day - I was culture shocked really badly. I can honestly say that I no longer experience any amount of culture shock in Europe - I didn't feel it when I was in Rome the first time and I certainly didn't feel it this last visit.

One truly is responsible for one's self over there, which is something Americans ultimately don't like, I think. We are used to "service with a smile" and having everything laid out for us so that there are no difficulties whatsoever. How difficult it is indeed to have to actually rely on one's own powers of observation and deduction in order to do something as simple as wash one's clothes (I watched customers in a Munich laundromat for 20 minutes or so last summer before I was ready to wash my clothes!)!

"And so, in conclusion..."

It was a fun trip. Rome in the summer is a very different city than the one I got to know last winter. It's hot and humid and more crowded, but the nightlife is greater and the parade down Via del Corso every night was at times absolutely amazing... I will certainly have an interesting time of it there, if and when it ever happens...