far too much writing, far too many photos

I’m sitting at an internet cafe in a neighborhood north of Termini in Rome, a few blocks from where I’m staying. Have been in Rome less than 24 hours. The high points so far: (a) the food, (b) me speaking Spanish to confuse the Italians who deal with me as if I were an American tourist. (It works.)

The flight from Madrid got underway late. Late, late, late. Thirty minutes after takeoff time we still sat on the tarmac, one of the flight crew announced we were delayed because “some people” were searching through passengers’ luggage. Meanwhile, the strange mix of jazz and muzak-version popular songs Iberia tends to play on their inboard sound system pooted along, at one point spewing a scary lite-remake of Hey Jude, then a bit later We Can Work It Out. Somewhere in there, I glanced out the window, noticed a handful of airport personnel grouped around a large flatbed cart that contained six or seven large pieces of luggage. Talking, laughing (the people, not the baggage). After a while, an airport truck showed up, they tossed the baggage into it, it took off. The employees disappeared. We finally headed out to the runway and got going.

Next to me sat a 30ish Italian couple. Tan. Way tan. Maybe from vacation time on the Spanish coast. And big into snuggling, big into handling one another. (Which is okay by me; it’s just been a while since I’ve spent so much time in close proximity to that much foreplay when I wasn’t one of the participants.) A couple of hours later, we were in Rome.

Termini Station: the single longest railway station I’ve ever seen. Got off the train and began walking. Continued walking. And walked some more. Walked and walked and walked, dragging my luggage. Then walked some more. As I neared the station, I passed a couple of close-set columns between which sat two 20-something males looking as if they might have been through recent hard times, a bit soiled and street-weary. Sitting in the shadows, sharing a loaf of bread and some cheese, pouring some wine. I walked past, the aroma of fresh bread filled the air. Fifty, sixty feet away, on another track platform, the lights of a large vending machine apparently dealing in beer or harder stuff shone in the evening darkness. The illuminated words that ran across its top read “SELF BAR SELF BAR SELF.”

Managed to figure out the subway, managed to find my stop, managed to get upstairs to the street, managed (with help from a kind Italian woman) to find my hotel. Checked in. Asked the man behind the desk if he spoke Spanish or English. He spoke both, didn’t care which we used, we blabbed in Spanish. By this time, it was nine o’clock. Tossed my stuff into my room, went back out for something to eat. Found a neighborhood joint tucked away in a narrow cobblestone backstreet-almost-alley. Talked Spanish to them. The proprietor knew Spanish, everything was fine, though I don’t think they knew what to make of me. I suspect they see me, they check me off as an American. Then I start with the Spanish.

Went back to the hotel, checked out Italian TV. Watched some of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu and Gabriel Byrne emoting their way through a strange version of The Three Musketeers. On shuffling into the bathroom this morning, I found me dealing for the first time with a phenomenon I’ve heard about: a corner of the room posing as a shower. There’s the usual washbasin/mirror thing, two feet to the right there’s a showerhead poking out of the wall and a drain in the floor beneath. And that’s it. Got it going and, despite my elaborate attempts not to spatter water everywhere, managed to spatter water just about everywhere. (We’re talking about the culture that gave birth to miracles of engineering during the days of the Roman Imperium. Can’t they hang a shower curtain? Oh, never mind.) A large, beautiful bathroom, apart from that one glitch.

A cold, sunny morning. Streetside trees along the walk to the Metro stood studded with oranges.

And here’s a weird feature of the local subway system: many stations don’t vend tickets — one has to find a shop aboveground to procure them, usually a tobacconist. I had to wander around the plaza until I located one, a currency exchange shop. Plunged belowground, grabbed a train, returned to Termini, picked up a train ticket for tomorrow’s journey to Florence. Also picked up a Spanish-Italian dictionary.

The outing for the day: the Villa Borghesi, a sprawling, beautifully preserved estate north of here. A beautiful place — many, many acres of wooded land, rolling expanses of lawn. Also, several enormous old buildings, one of which houses the art collection. The public is only admitted every two hours, only in limited groups. I had an hour and a half until the next entry time, picked up a ticket, found a bench out in the sun. (Temperature around 60, people from all over the planet strolling around, soaking up the rays, all kinds of languages being spoken.) Shortly before entry time, I went to the in-house cafeteria, down in the building’s basement, for some chow prior to showtime. The white-costumed guy behind the counter had me pegged as an American dimwit, asked me what I wanted, his tone bored, condescending. I replied in Spanish, he stopped with the ‘tude and dealt me some food.

The collection: pretty interesting. Many, many rooms hinting at a seriously wealthy lifestyle, most large with high, vaulted ceilings and marble to burn. Statuary everywhere, mostly depicting what might be called females of a robust physical aspect. (How long can one hang around staring at carvings of nymphs, goddesses and shapely, naked Roman babes? How could people live with that kind of thing in every room and concentrate on daily life?)

A strange feature: the Daphne and Apollo room. Daphne: a nymph, fathered by a river god, Peneus (pause for loud, editorial throat clearing), whom Apollo found extremely attractive. So attractive that after her rejection of his advances, he pursued her physically, deciding to have her one way or another. As he closed in, she called to her father to turn her into something else. Mid-stride, she turned into a laurel tree. The central piece in the room is an impressively crafted, life-sized sculpture of the pursuit, Apollo getting his hands on her just as she began the transformation. However: on a nearby wall is an oil painting of Apollo, seated in a rustic locale, naked, in all his virile glory, except for a green spread around his lower body. For some reason, he holds a violin, both arms thrust into the air, the one with the bow waving toward the sky. Behind him, near the left edge of the painting is a nubile babe in a white dress — Daphne, I’m guessing — cavorting by some trees. And off behind her, toward the horizon stand what appear to be several modern buildings, as in 20th century architecture. The two furthest toward the horizon thrust up into the sky, looking for all the world like office buildings or tall blocks of luxury flats.

I stood there for quite a while trying to figure it out, finally gave up.

Walked back to this neighborhood from there, along the length of la via Veneto, a concentration point of stores selling expensive neckties. One — Villi? Zilli? Gilli? can’t remember — claims to sell the finest tie in the world. Might be they do, I can’t say. I hate wearing neckties.

So there you have it, Rome, day 1. Off to Florence tom’w for four days, then back here. Further updates will happen at some point.

Later. Be well.

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