T for Tom

I Will Not Tell You That You Have To Go

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on January 4, 2012

I will not tell you that you have to go to Rome if you have never been.  I will not tell you that you need to walk through the streets and eat the pizzas which can be found five to a corner while making your way to the Colysæum, or drink the wine that comes cheaper than a sixer of the local birra, or find time to check a map at every turn because there are many turns and each one brings uncertainty when the only thing certain is the opportunity for seeing something historic, important, trivial, desecrate, languid, luminous, pontificate, or even simple in a town where gregarious is the norm.  There are no ways to be anything other than a traveller, an American, la turista, in a city where even half the Italians aren’t from Rome and everyone wants to see the Vatican, Colysæum, Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, the rolling hills of Trastevere that lead to the Santa Maria Basilica or the flowing walls that line the river and eventually lead to the Castel Saint Angelo or Testaccio or Piazza del Popolo where fireworks have flown, feet have tread, wine was poured, history was made, civilizations were born and thousands died at the hand of a belief or two.  What’s really died is human experience at the hands of human triviality under the guise of human curiosity.  Hopefully your curiosity will lead you to greater places where emotions still exist, where the world is singular and vast, where the people are harmonious and extravagant not for fashion but for living, where walking in no direction in particular and stopping for the first bottle of vino is more important than never stopping because damnit! we’re going to make it to the Saint Peter’s Basilica and see the fucking Creation of Adam inside the Sistine because I didn’t travel all the way across the world to not see the world’s greatest paintings, the world’s greatest structures, the world’s greatest history, the world’s greatest women, the world’s greatest church, the world’s greatest tragedy.  But the tragedy can only be seen if you take a second to stop and drink the wine, letting the people walk by, the time go by and the sun droop until finally around midnight the only people in the streets are drunk and they want occasionally, hopefully, want to scream so loud that it can be heard up and over the open hole at the top of the Pantheon and down into the halls inside because at that time of night no sound is heard inside because visiting hours close at 6pm.

Colysæum

There is no way to experience Rome.  Escape eludes at every turn because on every block and sidewalk and taxi cab and ristorante and fencing and park bench and lamppost is a man and possibly a woman carrying a map, a bag full of souvenirs for the family and the lost dreams that coincide with thinking that somehow “seeing” is “enriching” and nowhere in their bag or in their minds is the thought that this all means nothing and couldn’t be worth the time it took to get here just to tell their coworkers how wonderful their trip was when they didn’t even remark on the color of the bricks used in the streets (browned and black with age) or the shade of glass that holds the wine or (mostly green with a few browns, too) or the smell inside the Sistine Chapel (like the first few minutes after a rainfall) or the way that nothing in this city will ever be as big as the impression we had of it before arriving.  The Colysæum was in this way both full of awe and disappointing.  In my drunken stupor of a four day bender that I spent in Rome I couldn’t figure out what drove me to see the shrines, statues, plaques, lights, buildings, facts, things, nonsense until finally before leaving I realized that I did not feel like I was anywhere special or anywhere that I had not yet been.  There is something to be said for the history here, that it is so great and so told that nothing I was seeing was I seeing for the first time.  Sure, from the textbooks and the shows to the real thing it is certainly great, a checkmark to stage in my passport and a few photos to post on this blog, to make conversation at work and to prove to my friends in America that my time in Europe is not wasted.  But I feel like I could have been more productive.

A few blocks walk and slight downhill curve were all that separated the Colysæum from my hostel, and surely did I walk the city as best I could during my brief time there.  I’ve often learned that in my time around the world, before and after America, it can never be said that all was seen and all was done when visiting a city for just a few days during the week.  So why try?  Why burn your candle trying to walk to every artifact and edifice just to say that you’ve seen it, when all you’re doing is wasting energy that could be spent drinking with strangers who might reveal something more genuine and honest than any thing that literally millions of people are doing at that exact moment?  The Vatican had no less by my estimation than 100,000 people in it while I was there, and that’s a tall order to handle for any moment of transience I might possibly have experienced.  There I am in the Pantheon trying to figure out why I walked into the Roman “Temple of the Gods” to see only a statue of the Virgin fucking Mary staring me in the face.  There I am in the Vatican Museums walking at a pace that was determined by the flow of the crowd around me and not by my own desires, staring at Egyptian fucking hieroglyphics as if it were something I didn’t pay money to see and did expect to visit while in Italy, waiting patiently for the Sistine Chapel to finally emerge along the tour, finding finally the Sistine Chapel at the end after the inside gift stores, reading the signs that politely asked me “respect the Sistine Chapel, we’d like to remind you that it is a holy place,” and staring guffawed at the ceiling that Michelangelo spent years creating while hundreds of people jammed into the room about the size of a barroom and listening to the yells, screams, whispers, and shouts of the tourists who were at a minimum every three minutes reminded to SILENCE PLEASE by the ushers who have no sense of humor or irony, one or both, doing nothing to stop the people from using their flash cameras because it’s useless – useless because more important is the money, the tours, the profits, the glamour, the sights, because one church is the world’s third most visited site not because it is holy but because it is historic (or ancient or some better word), but let’s not blame the tourists.  You did this to yourself, Pope.  It could be stopped, but fuck it.  Millions€€€€€  There is no way to break through the masses, to grab the seagulls overhead and fly with them to the Mediterranean where I could drag with me the hostility, the vile, the darkness, the unstoppable capitalism that has painted this Eternal City green and with it fall deeply, darkly to the bottom of the sea and plunge with such a speed and weight that the oceans would rise and another race from another planet might get to experience what is left from the tidal wreckage in the way we want to experience the streets of Rome – silently, from a distance, and with introspection.  Somewhere on these streets walked Caesar, Maximus Aurelius, Bruno, Constantine, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, soldiers of Rome, believers in Romulus and Remus, and making way to the present that we are given that in no way honors these great shapers of culture by doing anything other than making an euro off their name, and in a way that is not any way particularly surprising or tactful.  Everything that was once inspiring and artful and paved at the hands of slaves and worked until the earth’s largest buildings were completed was wiped away at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, those devils who removed the great racing grounds where Ben Hur triumphed and replaced it with the Saint Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church which you can gain entry to for only 20€ (yes, I paid too damnit).  I’m not supposing that the Romans were any better than the Christians, one polytheists and the other monotheists, but at least they knew what integrity was.  In this way everything became one and the same, and no longer contained any relics of exoticism, or that is to say, nothing that I don’t feel I already knew about. When I walk through the streets of Germany or the hills of Belgium or the mountains of Austria I see things that I am not at all familiar with, have never seen in person or in books, and learn to experience them in the only way any of us can – in our own moment, in our own history, and in our own mind.  We cannot recreate the past and we cannot change the present, and in that way Rome makes its dollar – every corner with a street sign pointing to the nearest historic site that you have to see because you’ve heard about it so many times.  More treasureful to me are the little alleys in Germany where houses butt up to watch stores and book stores and shops with bier and people eat foods that I’ve never heard of and life is quiet because no one cares to visit the vast unknown, they only shop at Ralph Lauren.

Capitale Roma

By New Years night the millions converged on the Roman Forum, the ruins of the greatest halls ever conceived and used by the world’s largest empire to make their congressional decisions.  Millions, literally I mean fucking millions, of people together in the streets, not drinking, not dancing, not doing anything special – the music never played, the lights never grew, the wine was never poured and the people never laughed.  Only when someone threw another firecracker underneath the feet of a girl did anyone get a jolt of anger or joy, only when the crowd was so massive that I made my way out not by walking but by being lifted from the sheer pressure of all the bodies around me, only when the last seconds of 2011 ticked away and only when everybody thought something might happen did they make something happen.  There was still no music, there was still no dancing, just a few thousand more fireworks exploding at once, and not even the kind that the fly but the kind that sit on the group until erupting in noise and without color.  Some display, let me tell you.  It went on all throughout the night, all throughout the next day, and all throughout eternity did the halls of the homes and the streets continue to ring with the BANG of fireworks because someone didn’t use all of theirs or they bought them off the nearest peddler selling light-up glasses, roses, fireworks, cheap purses, or knock-off watches.  The peddlers were as numerous as the tourists, as numerous as the pizzerias, as numerous as the taxis, the hotels, the trashcans, the wine bars, the site maps, and the places where once great ideas prevailed but now only cameras flashed.  I saw nothing resembling industry in Rome.  Only food, hotels, places to sleep, eat, fuck, and spend money.  It’s what the tourists need after all and nowhere in the city center did anything else win, did anything else make money, did anybody have anything to say but “two for a euro” or “come and sit in our pizzeria,” of course in broken English because there was no need to use Italian when even the Italians were tourists.  This of course made it difficult to know anyone with any sincerity.  No one cared to learn from, learn with, teach, or know anybody anything significant because no one had grown up and lived their life there.  In fact, the most talking we did was at a bar in Campo dei Fieri, where the nightlife was most spectacular (but less than spectacular), at a joint called the Drunken Ship where hip-hop played and everyone spoke English.  I couldn’t avoid it because the people here spoke English, and those girls are the most loose, the most frivolous, mostly because their just touring through like myself and because the women who weren’t touring through knew that the men were.  Something about Italy I find striking is that their idea of a bar is turning a ristorante into a bar by night – nothing about the layout of the business is changed, just that the music gets louder.  It is very difficult to talk to anyone that can hardly be walked through what with all the chairs and tables everywhere situated in a stupid line leading to a wall and the music playing so loudly that I can not even my own voice.  At least the American bar, for all its stupidity and the fucking sake that people traveled all over the world to see the Colysæum and play beer pong both at the same time (MOTHER OF GOD), the music wasn’t so loud that I couldn’t speak.  The one woman who gave me even five minutes was the bartender who had the day off, who had no one to talk to, and no friends besides the Americans she worked with.  It was no different anywhere else.  Stores, shops, eateries, all run by people who flock to Rome to find something ephemeral or holy and instead learn that making money is just as easy as it is around the world but twice as dirty.  At least in the states we’re not selling an idea along with our whores.  That’s the worst kind of bargain.  It never fulfills.

What fulfills is life, grabbed vibrantly at the moment that it can be experience (every moment, but only one at a time), and creating our own history.  I like to fit in, I like to be simple, I like to drink and dine and dance and carouse and play and be and fight and breathe and drive and talk and impress and speak and do and sleep and walk and spend and read and smoke and touch and listen and feel and run wild in the streets just like a local, just like a neighbor who goes mad with the yearning for escape like us all but is trapped like us all, living the way people do where they live doing the things that they only know to do and do well and do for themselves but selfishness is the only way to happiness when nothing around us makes sense, so we drink at the smaller bars every night and the larger bars on the weekends and we walk through the streets stumbling on the curbs and laughing because it never gets old to forget the troubles, the torture, the ordinary way of thinking that comes with being human and being drunk gives us an edge to beat it for just one minute and think something grand, or sparkling, or set on fire.  I couldn’t do this in Rome.  For as much as I tried, the closest I got was drinking wine all day at one ristorante, but even there the Romanian waitress, Alina was her name, spoke English in her jaunty way.  It was cute at least when she tried to explain that a bigger bottle of wine was better only because it would get us more drunk, a motion she made not by saying drunk but by kicking back her head and rolling her eyes while smiling.  I couldn’t do anything else.  Just drink and try to forget that I was in Rome.

In that way maybe I was just like everyone else in Rome.  But I won’t tell you that you too have to go.

Pantheon

“I’m pretty sure I pissed on the Sacred Area here.”

“Your mother… fucks… horses.”