For me, Italy is the beauty and the beast. He makes you wait – late as ever – and then shows up with a marching band and flowers.
You can see Italy, but you cannot know it. Its history is in constant public display but current Italy is hidden behind flat, nondescript doors. Italian life is wrapped up in colloquial language that would take years to master; anecdotes, similes and metaphors. In this country, things are seldom as they seem to me.
From a distance, it is beautiful, romantic, but up close it is peeling and cracking, mortar crumbling, fraying at the edges, suffering from unemployment, corruption and decades of narcissistic leadership.
On the way to the airport today, I boarded my car after I walked under the ancient walls of Rome and beside the Borghese Gardens. We drove down Via Veneto (where La Dolce Vita was shot). We passed the Quirinale (allowing me one last peek at Sant’Andrea al Quirinale which houses a masterful sculpture of of Gian Lorenzo Bernini – upon whose work I have a giant baroque crush), skirted Trajans Column and the Campigdolio then circumnavigated the Forum, passing through the Jewish Ghetto and swinging up past Palatine Hill and Circus Maximus.
But such is a day in the life of a Roman commuter. I can see how one could become inured of this, to become so melded into history it becomes a numbing present.
It’s so engrained in Italian ethos. I find most Italians to be natural historians and literary experts. Most can tell you where the entrance to Dante’s hell is. They quote Pericles. They know the story of Apollo and Daphne and can tell you they’re characters of Ovids (from the Metamorphosis, no less).
On the flip side, we drove through an auto wrecking yard to get to the highway.
The constant press of international travelers – often ignorant and demanding – have caused some Italians to be calloused and short tempered. “We have no record of your reservation. I don’t care that you have a visa statement with charges billed. You’ll have to sort this out with someone else.” And so, I’m short €31 AND missed out on seeing the Last Supper, feeling ripped off and short changed.
Paradoxically, I watched a woman on public transit try to validate her bus ticket. When the machine refused to work, she pulled out a pen and wrote the time on the ticket herself so that was validated for 90 minutes.