Before I departed for Rome, I was warned about a certain strain of pickpockets who will toss an infant at you, and then proceed to rob you senseless while your arms are baby-laden. Consequently, I’ve trained myself to sidestep all soaring newborns. Also, apparently, swarms of thieving children are common. Thus, I mastered an elbow whirlwind that will decimate any and all faces at waist height.
From the words of others, I gathered that scam artists abound along Rome’s cobbled avenues, so I turned my cynicism up a few notches. Street vendors were painted as chary folk with naught but ill-intent; thanks to hours in front of the mirror, my default face has never been more dour. I was ready.
At least, I thought I might be. Despite my misgivings about the city’s occupants, I couldn’t help but be swept away by its rustic grandeur. Sitting on my airport shuttle with Rome flitting by had me amazed, bewildered, and a bit humbled. Between regular backward glances and pocket-checks, I had a chance to take in the sensory nuances that are Roma.
The scent, somewhere between moldering stone and ancient, brittle parchment. A steady hum, the flow of traffic (I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the overabundance of Fiats). And the light; though still the same star as ever, our sun seems different over here. Wizened, almost, as if witnessing the rule of the Caesars granted it preternatural properties.
The shuttle shuddered to a stop. I took another moment to breath in the details before phoning Mary, my only connection in Rome (and someone who I’ve never met in person). You see, I’m not facing this journey entirely alone; though my flight and arrival were solo experiences, a friend from my home school will also be attending John Cabot University this semester. Jefferson is a fellow English major at Cal Poly, and, fortuitously enough, has a cousin who lives and works in Rome.
After reaching Mary (the serendipitous cousin) with my Italian cell, I was instructed to walk towards the Vatican, where she and Jefferson were to meet me. Simple enough, right? Confident in my sense of directional mastery, I breezed past the bus driver without so much as a question. I descended the steps, nabbed my suitcase from the shuttle’s underbelly, and began to walk in what I believed to be the right direction.
After popping my luggage across a few blocks of uneven cobblestones, my false sense of direction dried up. I found myself on a street corner, staring perplexedly into a piazza that arose seemingly out of nowhere. Here the street had fanned out, like the delta of some asphalt river, making the continuation of my “walk straight” strategy rather ill-advised. Too stubborn to seek help, I gawked and dawdled until a kind Peruvian woman proffered her assistance.
The only problem? She spoke fluent Italian and Spanish, but not a peep of English. My first encounter with the language barrier, and I cracked against it headfirst. Rosetta Stone is a great way to get acquainted with a language, but the extent of its functionality is questionable. Unless, of course, asking someone how many plates they are currently holding becomes an everyday function.
Anyways, after a few minutes of excited syllables from her (and helpless gesticulations from me), I decided to take what I deemed the safest path: I lied and told her (via thumbs up) that I’d figured it all out. Silence is golden, so they say. And, bless the woman and her kind heart, the silence was indeed a precious nugget to my jet-lagged, travel-weary mind. She left me standing on a street corner, waiting for more comprehensible assistance.
This is about the time Jefferson and Mary came to my rescue. The pair’s first words were to tell me how ‘morose’ I looked, so I counted my anti-scam face a success. A short walk took us through Saint Peter’s Square to Mary’s apartment, where a much appreciated shower and glass of wine were provided.
There’s not much else to say about that first night, beyond some stellar coconut gelato and a thirteen-hour slumber. Thank goodness for melatonin. The trial of my arrival would not by my last or my most difficult, however. Not by a long shot.
The next day saw me dragging a broken-wheeled suitcase two miles through the muggy and metropolitan streets of Rome, towards my ultimate destination and home for the next four months: John Cabot University.
But that, I believe, is a tale for another time. Ciao, alla prossima!
California Polytechnic State University
JCU Study Abroad Fall 2014
Read more about Brody’s experience abroad on his blog.