Featured On the Go — 27 January 2013

Navyo’s third and fourth day in Rome…

Day Three

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. She hails from close to my hometown in England, and has been in Rome, it turns out, for 30 years. We spend most of the day together and she shows me around, which is most enjoyable as she is not only hilarious, but very knowledgable about her new home town.

First off is coffee and she knows just the place. We both order caffè lungo and croissants. Perfect. I’m still getting off on the fact that I’ve been drinking espresso ever since I arrived. My body must know that I’m in Italy and it’s completely natural to do this, because it feels great! Of course it does, you idiot – it’s coffee!

We hop on a bus and go uphill to Garibaldi’s statue and the gun that goes off every midday. I’ve come all this way to see a gun? Well, no. The view from the hill is tremendous. A full panorama of the city. I take photos and we stop to talk to a local who is sitting in the park minding his beautiful red setter, Red. He and Vicky talk up a storm in fast Italian, and Red waits for his friend Mango to appear out of the gates of the nearby Finnish consulate. The gates open and a Vespa zooms out. The gates close again. No luck, but he still waits expectant, as dogs do.

I can make a bicycle look really small
Critical Mass stopping traffic downtown Rome
A Roman statement if ever there was one
Constantine's arch by the Colosseum
Elegance and gold
History is impossible to miss here
Teatro Pompeii makes this ruined city
Statues grace the city
Arches everywhere
One way to park a bike
Angels in stone
Ancient depictions on every street
Teatro Pompeii surrounded by traffic
Roman signage
Yes, Jesus and his mother were black

Vicky and I take a long walk down a long flight of steps and end up walking past the Rome city jail. It’s a small street and three men in suits are walking towards us. She suddenly stops and grabs my arm. One of them, she says quickly, is a major politician in Rome. Behind them are three bodyguards in cars. We keep walking and discover a funeral going on. In typical Italian style are the two of us, some local bystanders, the well-dressed funeral party, the press, a camera crew and the pall bearers trying to bring the coffin into the back of the hearse, all competely squashed into a tiny Italian street. Vicky and I squeeze by the hearse as it’s all going on, and a man in a scooter faces us, waiting to get by, along with a half dozen cars, some honking without a clue what’s going on. Vicky asks two 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. Rome, after all, does have a dramatic political history.

Finally we’re out and walk a few big blocks to one of her favorite restaurants. I feel so grateful to my fellow Brit who is making sure I am fed, watered and introduced to some of the hidden gems of the Eternal City.

The restaurant has a cool downstairs and I order a very tasty pizza with arugula. It puts pizza back on the map and I’m happy again that I finally have some good food in Rome. We chat up a storm and get along like old friends, rounding out lunch with a shared tiramisu. More yum.

Coming up to the street, we hit the heat. Yowza. It’s too hot. But OK, I’ll adjust. What else to do, beg for mercy? It is Rome, so that is completely feasable, but I choose to cross the road instead. We hop on a tram and get off at Circus Maximus, which to me, sounds like a character from the ‘Life of Brian’. I prefer it’s Italian name, Circo Massimo. There it is again – Massimo, massive, huge, colossus. Rome didn’t do things by halves. They were really into Big. But CM is the place where the real shit went down. I mean the thumbs down, kill ’em, blood and sand, Spartan gladiator shit.

We end up at the Arco di Constantino, between the Forum and the Colosseum, and which has apparently been painstakingly restored to it’s full glory. It’s beautiful and ornate and I love it, but not as much as the Colosseum, which keeps grabbing my eye. That’s power for you.

We say goodbye after a long day of trekking the streets of Rome and I’m a happy, if tired, man. It’s been wonderful to have met Vicky and again I feel blessed by my new friends. Meanwhile, it’s back to Alessia’s for another nap. I’m overheated and undercaffeinated – something I’ve never said before!

One nap later and there’s a surprise in store. Alessia arrives and we talk about plans for the evening. OK. So far so good. I’m going on a Critical Mass bike ride. It’s the 10th anniversary in Rome and 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, and she’s so caring and kind. A bright soul if there ever was one!

We go to the bike coalition and they’ve set aside a bike just for me. It’s big enough, just, and they’re going to sell it on eBay tomorrow to raise money. Awesome. So me, Alessia and her friend Giangi bike to the meeting spot. It was only yesterday that I wished I could ride a bike in Rome, and here I am! The Universe showing up yet again!

It’s early evening and the sun is just going down. We assemble and wait. This is Italy of course, so it’s complete chaos. All the bikes are headed in one direction, then we hear that 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 and Alessia yells, “Piano! Piano!” – Slowly! Slowly! The idea is not to get somewhere fast, but to block traffic slow. Not to split up the group, but to stay together, as a mass. It seems somehow apropo that this is Critical Mass, but there’s not a cross to be seen, far less to bear.

I can’t believe that I’m riding a bike with thousands 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 over an hour. There’s almost a fist fight with one driver, and another time when a few of us get ahead of the mass and suddenly, oh shit! I’m in the middle of traffic on a bike! Fortunately, 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 and bike back together. All in all, it took about four hours. Unforgettable.

This is my last night in Rome — in Italy. What better send off than this? We get back and Alessia cooks us a wonderful meal. Go Alessia! Her filmmaker friend Claudio comes over and we chat. 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.

It’s dinner time, and I’m just feeling so blessed, so blissed. We end up on the roof of the building 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 to me.

Day Four

I’m up early to pack. Alessia comes with me to the station, which is so great and unexpected of her to do, and sees me off to the airport. There must be some event going on at the beach, because the station is packed with 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 Italy! The train stops at the next station, and the doors open. A rush of air comes in like there’s a breach in the hull. With a collective inhale, we see people walk away from the open doors throwing their hands in the air. But three intrepid folks successfully find empty space between bodies and we’re off. Two stops later and the train gives birth to the herd. Aaaahhhh…. Now I can breathe. Finally pulling into Fiumicino on this strangely empty train, I get ready to depart and continue l’avventura!

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 tampon, or even a towel, especially if you wear it around your head. It’s at this moment that I feel once again glad to be out of America.

I go to the gate and of course, this being Italy, it says Oslo and not Toulouse. But apparently once this plane has loaded, the Toulouse one with appear. Not. I discover from asking a fellow passenger that the Toulouse gate has been moved to Gate 2 and we head on over to the crowd gathered there, the sound of le français a new music to my ears.

Before I get on the plane, I make my way to an airport cafe and have one last hot slice of focaccia with cheese and olio. Thank God for Italy.

I have such great memories of my time here that I will treasure. With all my hosts – Vincenzo, Carla and Claudio, Rita, the lovely Silvia and Alessia, with new friends Sophie in Siena, my fun and bubbly English friend Vicky who showed me some hidden gems of Rome, Giangi il ciclista, Claudio the filmmaker. I salute you all with un grande abbraccio! I look forward to seeing you another time, another adventure!

In the next issue you will read of Navyo’s settling in France…

Read Navyo’s previous lap:
London – Paris – Milan
Viva Roma

NavyoNavyo 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/navyoericsenconscioushousesitting.com