Navyo’s third and fourth day in Rome. An excerpt from his recently published book, ‘Soul Traveler: Taking the Jump’.
The next morning, I get up too early for a Roman and make for Feltrinelli’s, the bookstore near Teatro Argentina, to meet my new Couchsurfing friend, Vicky.
Vicky hails from East Anglia, close to my hometown in England and has been in Rome, it turns out, for thirty years. We’ve arranged to spend most of the day together for her to show me around.
But first is caffè and she knows just the place. She introduces me to caffè lungo—a long pull espresso—accompanied by cornetti, the sweeter Italian equivalent of croissants.
Vicky’s planned out the day and has put some considerable thought into our time together. As the day continues, I realize how kind she is. Not only that, she’s funny. Hilarious in fact, and our shared British humor goes a long way.
The topic of astrology comes up.
“You have a Transit in Uranus,” she informs me. We both split our sides walking down the street, laughing loud.
Hopping on a bus, we speed uphill to Garibaldi’s statue and the cannon that goes off every day at noon. I’ve come all this way to see a gun? Well, no. The view from the hill is spectacular, a full panorama of the city.
A local sits in the park minding his immaculate red setter, Red. He and Vicky talk in fast Italian while Red waits for his friend Mango to appear from the gates of the nearby Finnish consulate. His ears prick up as the gates open. A Vespa zooms out and the gates close again. No luck, but he still waits, as dogs do.
Vicky and I take a long walk down a long flight of steps and then turn a corner past the city jail. It’s a small street and three men in suits are walking towards us. She suddenly grabs my arm. One of them, she says quickly, is a major politician in Rome. Three bodyguards slowly cruise in cars behind them. We keep walking and discover a funeral in process.
In typical Italian style are some local bystanders, the well-dressed funeral party, the press, a camera crew and the pall bearers trying to lift the coffin into the back of the hearse, all squashed into this tiny little street.
Vicky and I squeeze by the hearse as it’s all going on. A man on a scooter waits to get by, along with a half dozen cars, blindly honking without a clue what’s going on. She asks a couple of butchers watching the scene from their shop who it is that’s died. A professor, apparently. Hmmm. Must be some professor. Maybe that’s code for someone else entirely.
Finally we’re out and able to breathe again. A few big city blocks later, we arrive at one of her favorite restaurants.
Downstairs, it’s noticeably cool. She orders pasta while I order pizza con rucola. It puts pizza back on the map and thanks to Vicky, I’m happy that I finally have some good food in Rome. We chat up a storm and get along like old friends, her company a breath of familiarity in this foreign land. Rounding out lunch with a shared tiramisù, it’s time to continue our adventure.
Up on the street, the heat hits me like a hammer. It’s too hot, but I’ll adjust. What else to do? Beg for mercy? This is Rome, so that is completely feasible, but let’s just cross the road instead.
We hop on a tram to Circus Maximus, which sounds like a character from The Life of Brian. I prefer its Italian name, Circo Massimo. There it is again, Massimo—massive, huge, colossus. Rome didn’t do things by halves. They were really into big. According to Vicky, this was where about 200,000 Romans showed up to watch deadly chariot races.
Ending up at the Arco di Costantino, standing between the Forum and the Colosseum, Vicky tells me how it has been painstakingly restored to its full glory. Little did I know that l’Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a short walk from the Louvre back in Paris, is a replica of this one. I knew I’d seen it before.
Vicky has been such a great friend and tour guide for the day, so knowledgeable and so funny. I hope we meet again and share more of our crazy Britishness abroad.
But now it’s back to Alessia’s for another nap. I’m overheated and undercaffeinated—something I thought I’d never say.
When I wake up, there’s a surprise in store. Alessia has arranged for us to go on a bike ride. But not just any old bike ride. This is the Ciemmona, the Italian version of San Francisco’s Critical Mass. I’m stoked. More importantly, I get to go with Alessia. She’s such a sweetheart. She’s just so into life and doing things in new ways, so caring and kind. A bright soul if there ever was one.
We go to the local bike coalition and they’ve set aside a bike for me. It’s big enough, just, and they’re going to auction it tomorrow to raise money. Alessia and I, plus her friend Giangi from Naples, ride to the meeting spot at Piazza Emanuele. It was only yesterday that I wished I could ride a bike in Rome, and here I am! The Universe shows up yet again.
It’s early evening and the sun is starting its glorious descent. We assemble and wait. This being Italy, it’s complete chaos. All the bikes slowly get pointed in one direction, then we hear we’re going the other way. We’re leaving now. No, we’re not. Yes, we are. Almost. Not quite. OK, we’ll wait. Horns are honking, bells are ringing, voices are shouting, it’s all getting louder. OK! We’re leaving!
The mass rides shotgun down Via Cavour while Alessia yells, “Piano! Piano!”—Slowly! Slowly!
The idea is not to get somewhere fast, but to ride slow, stay together and block traffic.
I can’t believe that I’m riding a bike with hundreds of people blocking traffic in downtown Rome. It’s a warm, full-moon night and I’m in ecstasy. I’m never, ever going to forget this moment. It’s a defining moment, no less. And a long one. The ride goes on for hours. There are almost fistfights with drivers. A few of us get ahead of the mass and suddenly, Oh shit! I’m alone in the middle of traffic on a bike! Soon, everyone else catches up and I’m safe again.
I don’t want it to end, but I’m hungry, and so are Alessia and Giangi. We split off from the mass and ride back together, tired and happy.
This is my last night in Rome—in Italy. What better send-off than this? Alessia cooks a wonderful meal from the produce she recoups from the local outdoor markets. She’s invited her filmmaker friend, Claudio, to come over to meet me. He works at Cinecittà as a gaffer (electrical technician) and is making his own film, a comedy, and trying to raise money for it. We have lots to talk about and time flies.
Dinner is served and I’m feeling so blessed. We end up on the roof staring at the moon. What else is there? I’ve had the most amazing ten days of my life Couchsurfing through Italy. It feels like home.
Alessia comes with me to the station to see me off to the airport. There must be some event going on because the station is full of teenagers in fancy dress. And they are all getting on the same train as me. And my luggage. This doesn’t look good.
The train arrives and I squeeze in. We are packed tighter than sardines in a tin and it’s hot and there’s no air. Alessia waves, concerned, through the window, but I wave back with a smile. How Italian is this!
The train stops at the next station and the doors open. Fresh air rushes in. With a collective inhale, we see people on the platform walk away from the open doors, throwing their hands in the air. But three intrepid folks squeeze between bodies and away we go.
Two stops later, the train gives birth to the herd. Ahhh… I can breathe!
Pulling into Fiumicino on this now strangely empty train, I get ready to depart with both a tone of sadness at leaving la bella Italia and the excitement of continuing my adventures.
Next stop: Toulouse, France.
The security at the airport is so relaxed, I begin to question my safety. Nothing like the uptight American airports where they suspect you of hijacking a plane with a toothbrush, or even a towel, especially if you wear it around your head. It’s at this moment that I feel glad to be out of the States for a while.
At the departure gate it says Oslo and not Toulouse. Maybe they ran out of letters. According to the attendant, once this plane has loaded, the Toulouse gate number will appear. Not. I discover from a fellow passenger that the Toulouse gate has in fact been moved to Gate 2. We head over to the crowd gathered there, the sound of le français a familiar music to my ears.
Before I get on the plane, I make my way to an airport caffè and have one last slice of hot focaccia with cheese and olio. Thank God for Italy.
Updated in April 2017 with expanded text to reflect the one published in Navyo’s book, ‘Soul Traveler Vol. 1: Taking the Jump‘
Navyo grew up to 6 foot 5 in England, studied music in London before traveling to Pune to meet Osho in 1979. He has been the co-ordinator of the music department in Pune Two for several years and has participated in a number of CDs of Music from the World of Osho. After a decade or so in California, he now travels the world housesitting in wonderful locations, working as a graphic designer by day and writer by night. facebook.com/navyoericsen – conscioushousesitting.com