Envisioning your trip to Rome, you may picture yourself swanning around from swanky club to fancy party, devil-may-care, looking like this:
…when in a city where even the police uniforms are impeccably tailored and you’re from the country that invented the X-Treme Gulp, they picture you like this:
That’s the unfortunate reality in Rome; no matter how hard you try, you are a tourist. It’s surprising how similar New York City and Rome are in that respect; many people who live and work in both cities come from somewhere else, and yet the constant influx of more temporal visitors turns the ‘locals’ against them. New Yorkers are more defensive about it; one of the rudest insults you can say to someone who lives here is they’re acting like a tourist. It’s why most people who pay too much to stay in NYC still haven’t seen the Empire State Building or Ellis Island, and avoid Times Square like the plague. ‘That’s not New York’, they say, and yet it is. If I went to Rome and studiously avoided every famous landmark, would that mean I’d really gone to Rome somehow?
Being from the city where genuine excitement equals lameness made being a tourist all the more acutely painful – now I was the out-of-town yokel impressed by the 45th street Sunglass Hut (true story; the whole beflip-flopped family stopped dead in their tracks and pointed like Jesus just appeared). What’s worse, I was surrounded by thousands of the above stereotypes in the flesh, sandals, socks, visors and all. Were sharp-dressed Romans looking at the swarming mass and lumping me in with them? Probably not because they were on their way to work and/or didn’t care. My ego competes only with my paranoia in scope and size.
Still, the New Yorker in me shuddered to think, and remained irritated by the slow-moving, gawky crowds despite being one of them. One of our early stops was the famous Trevi Fountain:
Surprisingly not pictured: A MILLION PEOPLE, including numerous Nigerian and Indonesian men selling balls that would splat and reform, glowsticks, and something you could stick in your mouth to make irritating duck noises. I have no idea how every single person vying for a photo opportunity with lenses rivaling the Hubble’s sticking hither and yon managed to avoid my framing. And this was at night, during moderate rain; I hate to imagine what the crowd’s like on a pleasant day. I was going to say the surrounding circus cheapened the fountain’s beauty, but look at it. It’s a giant, over-the-top baroque fountain. If anything the circus atmosphere sort of heightened its original intent of being a ridiculously ornate fountain.
As stated previously, it felt useless trying to capture well-lit images, forget the emotional grandeur, of most tourist areas. Instead I focused on smaller, more tangible details like these love-locks. They’re usually found in abundance on well-trod bridges; romantic couples click a lock on something and toss the key into the water to symbolize as literally as possible their eternal, undying, thief-proof love. These were tucked far up in a darkened corner of an ornate wave-swirl, hidden away in plain sight.
Seriously. Baroque. Let’s just have the sculpture look like a jagged rock with a root growing a shield with a lion on it as one tiny fraction of the whole shebang, because why not. And throw some tassels in there while you’re at it.
A few days later, Angry Jim and I decided to brave the crowds at the Spanish Steps.
Jim was not impressed.
And understandably so! They’re steps. Maybe if they weren’t covered in a thousand tired families yelling to each other I could perhaps walk down them quietly musing on the famous footsteps that once trod the same. Or I could buy a fake PRADA purse; there were plenty enough sellers shouting about that too.
Now THIS is a fountain. It’s also a half-submerged boat! Whee, baroque!
And what awaits you at the top of the fabled steps? More fake PRADA-pushers. Also a church, because I think Roman law states it’s illegal to go 10 steps without being able to run in somewhere and confess your sins.
Inside the church confused tourists milled about, perhaps expecting some sort of light show about the steps they just walked up. Per historical custom important members of the church were buried as close to the alter as possible, so everyone walked over decades of Medieval Roman high society, not that many seemed to notice.
Not noticing was fairly understandable; the markers were of the same marble as the rest of the floor and most were worn down to illegibility from thousands of feet shuffling over them every day. I’m sure there’s something very deep to write about the juxtaposition of tourist feet wearing away that which marked a local’s hopes for the eternal, but that’s why a picture’s worth a thousand words.
What do you think, horned Moses?
We missed the Bocca della Verita the first few times around, as I expected it out in the open (as seen in ‘Roman Holiday’). Where a buck can be squeezed, so it shall be, and the Bocca was no exception. Hidden at the end of a gated atrium, tourists can queue up and ‘donate’ a few euro to take their picture in front of the face, and if they feel like it check out the church it’s attached to. Jim and I were so peeved at this blatant tourist tax we took pictures of other people taking pictures instead. This greatly confused the man directing the line.
The church itself was no small shakes; the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin is an older church (which is saying something in a city featuring the Coliseum) in a mostly Byzantine style, with layers of history visible on its walls from the various era’s restorations.
Plus, for another euro, you could check out a crypt where they kept…someone….someone important…I forget, maybe Constantin? Hey, there were a lot of crypts and saints and historical personages to remember.
AAAAAAAAH! DEAAAAAAAATH! Oh, it’s just Jim.
AAAAAAAAAH! DEAAAAAAAAAAAATH! Yes, look over your guidebooks young ladies. There’s nothing in there on stopping the inevitable reaping of each and every one of you.
And right across the street from all this history, more history! This is a Roman mini-temple to a minor deity. The god of proper turn signals or something.
As we delighted in walking past crumbly ruins in the bright sun, a noise so vulgar and familiar I didn’t even register it snuck up behind us. Yes, this is why that caricature above is how Italians see us: a pile of American tourists zipping by on SEGWAYS shouting at the top of their lungs.
To forcibly prevent me from lunging at them, Jim suggested we walk around soaking in some more history. After a bit, we knew we were in the vicinity of the Pantheon but were shocked to see it right there after turning a corner.
(It’s right there!) This church has been in constant use since Roman times, with the only big change being a statue rotation from Roman gods to Catholic saints. IT’S SO OLD! Also quite well-preserved, and filled with famous folk, but more on that later. This was one of the few places so stunning on its own the horde of shouting, shoving, cell-phone waving tourists from all parts of the globe couldn’t diminish it.
Out in front, a Tom Waits fountain.
NO HANDRAIL?!?! Oh, Il Vittoriano, that is the least of your tacky, tacky problems.