Wednesday, January 11, 2006


What I Did in Italy, pt. 2

My second week in Italy was spent in Rome, where we visited the Vatican City, the Coliseum, Sistine Chapel, and every tourist’s favorite stop for a giggle, the Catacombs.
“Come see our historic catacombs, the burial site of hundreds of early Christians who were persecuted unto death with their whole families, including small children!” I imagine the billboard saying in Italian. “And while you’re there, check out our new Pope Benedict postcards!”
However, of all things I saw in the city which was the capital of the world’s greatest empire during Christ’s lifetime, nothing sticks out in my memory so much as: the subway.
Growing up in rural West Tennessee, the closest thing to public transportation is snagging a slow-moving hay trailer when the pick-up breaks down two-three miles from home. Here, there’s little danger your wallet will be stolen or your personal regions explored by strangers*.
I have ridden the subway in Seoul, but that did little to prepare me for Rome at five o’clock in the afternoon. Even at it’s most packed, the Seoul subway system is still mostly populated with Korean people, and the worst thing they are likely to do to a tourist is attempt to take your picture with your camera against your will.
On the other hand, during rush hour Rome’s subway offers about as much space to spare as your average box of Sun Maid™ raisins, except most raisins don’t curse at one another and smell like cigarettes. Twice during that week, as the sun went down we boarded the train, squeezed into our raisin boxes and were promptly touched in places that only a physician known by the family for generations ought to have access to.
I kept my valuables safely inside my jacket, but I did manage to get into a near-altercation with an unshaven, racing-jacket-wearing Italian youth whose name I didn’t catch but will refer to as “Il Morono” (or in English, “Luigi”). He attempted to walk past me on the subway, and I certainly attempted to oblige him by moving as far in any direction as I could, which was about1/4-inch, or in metric, nowhere.
After saying something in Italian, he then said “Let me pass,” then pushed by me while making insinuations about my relationship with my mother.
But Italy is not just a place where you can find hooligans, food and Catholic architecture. It is also a place where you can find snacks for slightly less than a tank of premium gasoline in America, magazines for the price of a CD in the discount rack at Wal-Mart and designer clothes for about two, or a maximum of three or your prime years in indentured servitude.
Just to give you an idea, I visited a clothing store where T-shirts cost 140 Euros. Keep in mind, the Euro is actually worth more than a dollar. So, if you go to any Internet search engine, and type in “Euro to dollar conversion” and you’ll find a chart that will tell you how much this would translate into: Il suo rene sinistro**.
On New Year’s Eve, I returned to South Korea. I was happy for the week’s experiences, but also glad to be back to the peninsula I’m more used to, where the people are friendly and the snacks are affordable, even if I haven’t actually figured out what most of them are yet.
Home sweet temporary home.

*Europeans generally seem more eager to touch than Americans or Asians. Having been frisked now on three continents by airport security due to my metal belt loop, I must say that Amsterdam has the most personal, feeling more like a full-body massage on fast-forward.
**Italian for “your left kidney.”

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