Our return trip to the US began early Sunday morning with a stroll through our village, to the main (and only) piazza where the largest (and only) bar was located. Along the way, we passed low, white-washed homes typical of Puglia, some of which, even at that early hour, had doors wide open. The residents we saw could do little but stare at the stranieri, the foreigners, who had, for some inexplicable reason, chosen their village to take up occupancy. Oh, they knew who we were. Pietro had made certain that everyone was aware that he, and he alone, was a “familiar” of the americani. We were told that his stature in Marinelli was elevated markedly by the fact.
As we walked across the piazza to the bar we saw Pietro and greeted him as best we could, given how few recognizable (to us) words he spoke, and continued in search of our morning cappuccini. The bar was devoid of customers when we entered, the only inhabitant being the nonna behind the counter. When she saw us enter, she became flustered and began to, nervously and extremely rapidly, speak in a Pugliese dialect which took our small knowledge of Italian out of the equation.
“Due cappuccini, per favore,” I managed.
“Si, si, certo,” I think she said, though the syllables were difficult to discriminate.
Jessica and I took one of the tables and spent a few minutes comparing our respective translations of, first, Pietro’s side of our conversation with him, and then what our hostess at the bar might have been saying to us. Our versions were quite at odds with each other’s and, I’m guessing that both were well off the mark. In truth, we had no idea what they had said to us.
Our cappuccini were delivered by our nonna. Coming out from behind the counter, she seemed a woman of maybe sixty years who wore eighty, so common in Italy’s south where hard physical labor in harsh conditions has been a way of life for centuries. She set the cups down gently in front of us and proceeded to take one of the empty seats at the table. She, then, probably to her everlasting regret, began to ask us questions. Had I understood one, I may have been able to cobble together enough Italian to form a cogent, if not grammatically correct answer. Unfortunately, the meanings of her enquiries escaped me, though I did try to respond. I’m afraid that the conversation may have gone something like this:
Nonna: So, do you like our village?
Me: Yes, tomorrow. From Rome.
Nonna: Do you come from England?
Me: We buy Pietro’s house, the white one.
Nonna: Do you come here to live or just to visit?
Me: Yes, the food is wonderful here.
And so on, until Pietro entered the bar and began a new conversation that we didn’t understand. We thought that he said that our coffees were on the house. We nodded appropriately and said any number of grazies. A little while later, though, after saying our good-byes to Pietro and our nonna, getting in the car and heading for Rome, it occurred to us the he may have said, “Come to my house,” and a dread fell over us thinking that he ran home to his wife and told her that the americani were coming for lunch.
“We have GOT to get this language thing down,” I said to Jessica.
The plan was the usual one: drive the rental car back to the airport, check into the Hilton – Rome Airport Hotel, take the complimentary hotel shuttle into the city and spend the day enjoying the treats of Rome. Most of the plan worked.
The drive was uneventful and we were on the shuttle by two o’clock. What we hadn’t counted on was the numerous protests planned for that Sunday in concert with Italian national elections that same day. Among the initiatives on the ballot was the sale of some national assets, the banning of nuclear power generation in the country and a law that would delay the prosecution of a public official for up to eighteen months or until he is out of office. Coincidentally, frequent Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was, at that time, being charged with a list of improprieties, including supporting many of the young women of Italy, in a direct financial way, in exchange for their attendance at his private parties. Bunga bunga.
Because of the protests, the hotel shuttle bus, rather than going into the central part of Rome, would drop us off on the outskirts of the city where we would catch a train into central Rome. It was a small inconvenience and, before long, we were climbing the steps from the metropolitana, the subway system, to just outside the Colosseum. We knew this part of the city well and headed immediately toward some of our favorite haunts.
I am not a bit embarrassed to admit that, when in Rome, we do as the tourists do. There is a reason that, for centuries, places like the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and St. Peter’s Square have drawn people to them. The reason is that they are testaments to human expression at a level that touches everyone in some way. It is for this reason that I love being in Rome and I will not deprive myself of the opportunity to experience the emotional catharsis it offers just because someone might hurl the epithet “tourist” at me.
And, so we wandered along narrow streets and wide boulevards, stopping here and there for a look in a church, a prosecco at a cafe, a peak in a couture shop window on Via Condotti, and a late lunch at a ristorante on Piazza del Popolo. Nowhere and at no time, did we see any sign of a protest against anything. It was “business as usual” everywhere we went.
As evening came on, we decided to head back toward the Colosseum and the subway station. As we walked down the Via dei Fiori Imperiali toward the station, we saw directly in front of us, a huge and very dense crowd of people and could begin to hear loud music and drums being beaten.
“Oh, crap,” I said artfully. “The protests.” And the crowd was directly between us and the subway stop. “Let’s just make a run for it.”
We held hands, so as not to be separated, and headed straight for the big, blue “M” off in the distance indicating the location of the stairway down to the platform. It was no use. There were now vehicles in our path.
“Wait a minute,” said Jessica. “This isn’t a political protest. Look at the rainbow flags. This is some kind of gay pride parade.”
And, indeed, it was. In fact, it was the annual Europride celebration when all of Europe’s LGBT communities convene in a selected city and revel in their freedom. The parade that was cutting us off from reaching the station was filled with floats that were themselves filled with all ilk of the alternative lifestyles for which they advocated. The route of the parade began at Termini, the main train station in Rome, and ended at the Circus Maximus where, later that evening, Lady Gaga performed “Born This Way,” an anthem to diversity and tolerance. Everyone was celebrating, though a few references to the Pope’s position on homosexuality could be seen on the occasional sign, and joy, dare I say, gaiety prevailed. I was a little confused, I confess.
“I just saw a bare breast,” I whispered to Jessica. “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be titillated by it or not, though. I mean, it could belong to a guy.”
Everything was so crowded that, in order to get to the subway station, we had to join the parade. We jumped into the procession between two floats. In front of us was a group of about thirty lesbians from the UK. Right behind was a band of Spanish transexuals, at least I think that’s what they were. They may not have been Spanish, but I’m pretty sure they were transexuals. We joined right in, body and spirit, enjoying the festivities, the music and free-wheeling revelry until the mob began moving toward the Lady Gaga concert venue at the site of ancient chariot races, the Circo Massimo. Concerned that we might miss the last shuttle back to the hotel, we pushed our way through the crowd and into the subway station.
“Only we could get caught up in the European gay pride parade and think it’s a political rally,” Jessica said as we rode the bus back to the Hilton. “You have to write about this.”
“I will,” I promised.
Next: Our First Harvest – Part 1