Monday, February 14, 2011

Arrivederci Roma

Rome-- Caput Mundi.

If all it took to rule the world was great food, beautiful panoramas, and a lust for life then the Italians would have a collapse-proof empire. Unfortunately, it takes a bit more than a killer lasagna to run the show and the Italians haven't had their shit together since Marcus Aurelius. Keeping that in mind, here are some Do's and Don't's for your next visit to Rome:


- Expect any sort of travel within Rome or out of Rome to be easy. The Metropolitana, Rome's subway system (although system may be an inappropriate word here as it implies a certain level of organization) has a mind of its own and seemingly works when it wants to. Don't get me wrong, it is serviceable. But if London's Underground is Ted Williams than the Metropolitana is Lou Merloni. Delays and filth are par for the course. Sadly, it may be the most efficient mode of public transport within Rome.

Buses, as you might expect, require tickets that can be purchased at any news stand or often times on the buses themselves. Most Romans, however, do not pay, as there is nobody to check. You see, the Italians have a sort of Guerilla warfare means of keeping their public honest, as uniformed inspectors will occasionally board buses to check tickets. To make matters even more complicated, tickets must be validated upon boarding, and if not, it as if you haven't bought a ticket at all and may incur a 100 Euro fine. If you are over 25 and consider yourself a responsible adult, make sure you buy and validate the ticket because once the more agile 18 year olds abandon ship upon the first sight of an inspector, you'll be the first one to get screwed.

Trains aren't a lot better. In fact, I'd say at least 50% of my Italian train experiences have ended in disaster. I don't ever recommend booking your ticket ahead of time, as there are so many things that could go wrong between your purchase and the arrival of the train. Buy your ticket at the station, and once again, make sure to validate it on the platform (the validation is especially key as there is essentially no signage).

Planes. Perhaps this most recent story will sum it up:
Got to the Alitalia International flights terminal only to find out that flights to LONDON are not out of that terminal... Why would they be? So off to another terminal... where the clerk proceeded to give us two of the same ticket (both in Jessica's name). After another wait for her to correct the mistake she handed the tickets back to Jess, my tall, perky, long blonde-haired girl friend, and said, "Have a nice flight, Sir."


- Take your time in Rome. There is SO much to see and even if you are there for one week (which people seldom are on vacation) you wouldn't be able to see everything. With that in mind, make sure to find the time to simply roam (ha) the streets and take in the sights. An espresso, cappuccino (or even better a cappuccione, cappuccinos that come in cups large enough for a small child to bathe in) or drink in a piazza is worth the trip alone. Something as simple as a gelato in the Piazza di Spagna or some pizza at the Trevi Fountain can be as lasting a memory as a tour of the Colosseum.


Buy souvenirs with pictures of saints on them, even if it is at the St. Peter's gift shop. It is tacky and unworthy of such a beautiful place. You're better than that. Trust me, you'll have other opportunities to spend your money.


Feel free to drop a coin in a church coffer, especially the ones that are free (i.e. most of them). For example, a MUST do in Rome is the Crypt of the Capuchin monks. Admission is only 1 Euro but the small crypt could use the extra coinage. Plus, the postcards from there are the shiz. If you haven't heard of the crypt before, it is a series of four small chapels completely decorated with the bones of deceased monks. You know... a vertebrae chandelier here, a rib bone crucifix there. It is both sublimely beautiful and Hannibal Lecter creepy. To quote the woman who worked there, "Have nice dreams tonight."

If you are into morbidity, a tour of any of Rome's 63 catacombs is a must. The catacombs of Priscilla, Callistus and Domitilla are less busy than the ones in the Vatican and don't require a reservation. As far as I know, everything is done by guided tours, which is a good thing because one wrong turn and you could EASILY get lost in this seemingly never-ending network of underground tunnels. Totally worth it.


Wear the jersey of a rival soccer club (the local team being AS Roma) and for that matter don't wear Yankee's merchandise... the latter of which has nothing to do with Rome or Italy--- just don't do it.

As we sat on the runway getting ready for take off, I noticed a young woman next to us was crying. I suppose her tears could have been brought on by practically anything: leaving a boyfriend behind, salt in her eye, haunting flashbacks of the Capuchin Crypt, leaving family behind, a random sad memory...

But whatever her pain I liked to think that it wasn't something that specific. I liked to think that... maybe she was just sad to leave a place where the people are so passionate... so alive.

There is an old Italian proverb that probably best sums up the Italians complete lack of organization and their all out zest for life:

Siccome la casa brucia, riscaldiamoci/ Since the house is on fire let us warm ourselves

Arrivederci Roma.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Shortage

America used to the be the home of heroes. Larger than life figures that captured the world's attention. Icons that battled injustice wherever it was found. Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, the X-men... we had a monopoly on virtue. To quote Wikipedia, THE authority on such matters, "Superheroes are authentically US-American,spawning from The Great Depression era." But no longer, nowadays the ability to bend steel, climb walls, and battle evil villains is strictly an English-thing.

Recently Warner Bros. revealed that British actor, Henry Cavill, has been cast to play the Man of Steel in the upcoming Superman redux. This follows the latest news that Social Network star, and English raised, Andrew Garfield, will try on a pair of web-slingers in the upcoming Spider-Man film. Throw in Christian Bale's portrayal of the Dark Knight and we have the English superhero trifecta.

What happened to the great American superhero (and I'm not talking about William Katt, who is actually doing quite well as a voice actor if you must know)?
When did we lose our swagger? Our Machismo? If only the Duke(John Wayne for the non-fans) could see us now he'd roll over in his grave... then make... disparaging remarks about minorities to Playboy magazine....

But back to the topic at hand. When did the English become so tough and cool? With the exception of James Bond, name me another rugged British hero? Captain Britain, the JV version of Captain America? Danger Mouse? Who, despite his "rakish" eyepatch, hardly counts. Harry Potter? Who may, in fact, be responsible for this whole phenomenon. PLEASE.

Don't be mislead, despite the Kent surname, Superman is from Smallville, KANSAS! He grew up with tractors, overalls, the Jayhawks, and repressed libidos! He doesn't drink tea unless it comes out of a pitcher filled with ice, given to him by an old mid-western woman whose cat he saved!

Yet here we stand, on the precipice of another British invasion... and with no heroes to save us.