Ciao, Bella! You are all indeed beautiful for reading my blog, patiently awaiting each post, even when they are delayed thanks to a zapped computer charger (not much of a flier I guess!) This past week, I’ve had the pleasure of staying in a gorgeous monastery in the medieval town of Fabriano. The expansive grounds are carved with impressive stone arches and hugged by lush green vines while the nuns who inhabit this place treat and feed me so well (the need to run has never been so high). It’s everything I could hope for and more but before I tell you about the many wonders of living and working in an Italian monastery let me first introduce you to the Monarch of Italian cities: Rome.
Rome is dressed in ancient monuments and caffeinated by crowds. It’s absolute chaos but the kind that is slapping and grand. Roll into Roma Termini, Rome’s main train station, and you’ll feel both squished and alive. I quickly learned that opposite emotions walk hand-in-hand down the many streets and alleyways here in Rome.
I got to my hostel, sparse of free breakfast but overflowing with friendly travelers, late afternoon. Soon after collecting, processing, and sunburn-inspecting I ventured towards the Trevi Fountain, one of my mum’s favorite spots when she visited close to forty years ago. It was a cool experience to literally follow in her footsteps by a fountain shaded by masses of people armed with selfie sticks (there are selfie stick sellers near every tourist site and they are ruthless!) Close to the Trevi Fountain are the Spanish steps, perfect for people watching and gelato-gobbling but not the best place to avoid the eager rose salesmen.
On the subject of rose salesmen, I do have to admire their commitment, especially considering one joined me for a few steps of my run through the park later in the day. Perhaps I should have taken him up on the offer as I had plenty of time to smell the roses when I got stuck behind a caravan of golf carts (no one runs in the parks of Rome but everyone drives golf carts.)
I finished my first evening in Rome at a small pizzeria close to the Trevi fountain. It was delicious and filling and just a real treat as I got to talk to a friendly Italian woman mixing six packets of sugar into her glass of milk. She spoke only Italian but carried on a whole conversation with me, almost as if she hoped she could just wear the English right out of me. I enjoyed talking to her and could piece together some of what she was saying though at one point I wasn’t sure if she was talking about varicose veins, men, or utensils. Perhaps all three are the cornerstones of Italian cafe conversation.
The following days I meandered around the sites. I was in awe of the Vatican, amazed by the Colosseum which held host to many gladiators, most of which followed a strictly vegetarian diet (go figure!) and I was caught off-guard by a Gambian-Italian man named Osman, who insisted that a life without Osman is no life at all. Live here long enough and I think confidence becomes a basic human instinct!
There were other “Ciao, Bella!” type men but just as any other country, not every person is free of struggles. In a park by the Colosseum I met a man named Simon running a campaign to provide treatment for men with HIV as a result of drug use. Simon himself was a recovering drug addict or what he referred to as an “ex-badboy”. He was asking for donations and when I could only spare five euros, he insisted I donate more because he was very beautiful. He was indeed quite beautiful but more so because he was a recovering addict doing what he could to help others struggling with addiction.
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I try to keep my blogs positive. I want you to want to visit the countries I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in. I want you to see the endless beauty in exploring the picturesque place outside of your comfort zone. For you, my readers, I want all of those things but I also want to be honest. Every place, especially Italy, has its sparkling splendor but there is also sadness, corruption, and lost opportunity peeping behind the shiny stones that line your path of travel.
While I was on the metro, my favorite form of transport solely because its cheap, I witnessed a few things that shocked me into remembering that there is a key difference between visitors and tourists: tourists only see what they want to see whereas visitors see exactly what they need to see.
Somewhere between metro stops Spagna and Octtavia, a man start yelling in quick, huffy Italian while clawing at a woman’s arm. I was horrified, empathetic for the frantic-looking woman, until he started insisting, “she stole my wallet!” A few people responded by cornering her, one man even tackling her to the platform when she dashed out of the overcrowded train at the next stop. The wallet was recovered but the effect was unshakable. It’s hard to pity a thief but it’s important to reel it back in time and imagine the beginning. Was she raised by thieves on trashed streets sparse of promise and forgiving sunlight? I guess when I travel I’m always reminded that you don’t get to choose who raises you nor how they raise you. You don’t get to design your home and decorate the door with a wreath made from your own ideals. Had I been raised by much less responsible parents in a place less forgiving and more hardening, I think I could have been that woman, or the homeless person crying loudly on the street by the Colosseum or the gypsy children leading out-of-shape police officers on a serpentine through the train station. I may be a foreigner but I am also a person made of malleable material, in large part sculpted from the hands of others.
Rome was great fun but it’s a breath of fresh, rose-laden air here at the monastery and I can’t wait to tell you about it next week but for now I’ll leave you with this reminder: you can take a vacation from your responsibilities, your mind even, but you can never take a vacation from the world and nor should you.
Get an eyeful,