I hadn’t been to Italy in twenty years so even though my stamina for traveling was slowly ebbing, I decided i had to go to Italy so I could practice my Italian and drink the best coffee in the world. i was definitely disappointed in many things but i was not sorry that i went. and I ate the best gelato everyday..
.Week 10 Italy revisited.
As I approached the street leading to one of my favorite fountains in Rome, I was appalled at what I saw. Plastic sheets hung on both sides of the Trevi fountain, and there was no sound of gushing waterfalls. Why the city decided to do maintenance at the beginning of the tourist season is about as absurd as how Berluconi stayed in power so long. When I finally pushed my way through the mob scene, I realized the fountain was dry. But the crowds didn’t budge, they just stood there staring as I made my way down a side street. My next stop was the Pantheon on my way to another favorite, Piazza Navona.
As I approached the square surrounding the Pantheon, I gave up any hope of entering the building. It was like rush hour in New York City. Losing interest immediately, I asked a police woman who was keeping the peace there, for directions to Piazza Navona. When I mentioned that tourism was ruining Rome, she actually agreed with me.
When I finally found my way to Navona, I realized that because of the financial crisis, the fountains in Rome were barely flowing. Without the sight and sound of flowing water, the magic was partially gone. Throughout the center of Rome, there were four to five restaurants on every street with waiters standing outside like barkers at a carnival. I found a small trattoria and had a decent ravioli for $9, an unusual find since many restaurants were charging 12-15 euros for pasta.
I am a big fan of the Renaissance painter Caravaggio and Rome is the best place to see many of his famous paintings. But tourism has turned him into a cash cow for galleries and churches. The entry fee at the Doria Pamphilj palace was 11 euro, a church in Naples asked 7 euro just to see one of his paintings and another gallery was showing Chagall drawings for 11 euro fee. Easily one could spend 35 euro just to see a few paintings. I did go to the palace and gazed at the 3 Caravaggio paintings but there was so much clutter around them, it was a bit disappointing.
Using trip advisor as my booking agent, I found an apartment hotel outside of the tourist area. To the center of Rome on the bus was 20 minutes, to the stazione termini was 40 minutes, costing 1.5 euro. Taxis in Rome seem to start at 15 euro to go anywhere. Hotels in Rome has an escalating scale from day to day on room rates. My hotel was 63 e, 71e and 90e for 3 days.
Two days roaming around alone, the third night I spent with my Italian friend from Cameroon who fortuitously was visiting family. We walked for hours around Trastevere, one of the oldest parts of Rome, and ate at a lovely outdoor restaurant. I was curious where our waiter was from; he was not Italian. An amazing story of a boy born in the slums of Dhaka Bangladesh, who started working at age ten when his father , who he saw once when he was 7, died working as a cheap laborer in Malaysia. He eventually left Bangladesh, worked in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, spoke English, Arabic, and Italian; he spoke so quickly I missed some of the details but he had succeeded in escaping the life he was born into. He told us that if he didn’t send money home every month his mother and siblings would not survive.
The next day I took the train to Napoli. There were not too many tourists here, just too many cars, motorcycles, Vespas and people. Except for the wealthy areas, the city was really dirty.
And I picked an interesting guesthouse, Casa de Monacone, located in one of the poorer areas of Naples. Originally a monastery, it has been renovated into a B&B by a group of 20 something’s who grew up in the area and formed a co-op. They manage the hotel, the catacombs and run programs for young children after school. Once you step out onto the street,the intensity of life is overwhelming and fascinating. There is a sense of belonging, people are always talking, sitting together, smoking cigarettes full time and greeting everyone who passes. As I was standing near a butcher shop the first day I arrived, the owner asked what were my impressions of the neighborhood.
“ it seems as if everyone belongs to a big family and the women are really tough,and stick together. “ A woman in the shop said to me, “ yes we are, we watch out for each other”. I was fascinated by the faces on the street and found it easier to use my iphone to shoot. Getting around Naples from the guesthouse involved a fifteen minute walk through La Sanita, to the subway.
The train stations reminded me of Moscow,located hundreds of feet underground but unlike Moscow with beautiful tiles and crystal chandeliers, the subways here were like the catacombs, dark and depressing.
I wandered around Naples but Sunday the city is shut down so the streets were silent and all the shops closed. I ended up in a park near the sea and sat down on a bench. A young boy came to pick up his ball and asked me in English where I was from. When I said U.S., he said oh America. No matter where I go, there still is magic attached to that word America for many people . His mom came over, and our conversation began. They were from Romania and her son Fabian was being treated for the second time in 3 years for Leukemia. They had been here the first time from 2009-11 and then a relapse in 2013 brought them back again. HIs treatment and lodging was funded by the church and the hospital. They both spoke fluent Italian.. Romanian language has some similarities to Italian.
She came from a small village of farmers in the southwest and had left school in 6th grade sadly because of poverty. Still she was bright and interesting and her son was so full of life and positive. An unforgettable and treasured connection.