Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Rome is Rome, but there’s no place like home
Monday and Tuesday, March 28-29
Lucy has been wanting to attend a meeting of Bible Study Fellowship, which exists in Italy only in Roma, and only on Monday evenings. Roma is about four hours away by train, which means we will have to stay overnight, as trains do not run to San Salvatore at night. A further obstacle is the cost, about 50 euros each way. However, by playing around a little on the trenitalia.it website, I discover that by changing trains at various stations, we can take regional trains, the kind that stop at small stations, and cut the cost in half. It means the trip will take about five hours, plus additional time waiting in stations, but we will gladly trade a few hours for the saved money.
We fill up our backpacks with our overnight kits as well as snacks, books and Italian class homework. When we are not occupied with these things, we love to stare out the windows at the hillside cities in the distance. We wonder what life is like up on those isolated hills, and we marvel that these cities would have looked much the same if we had passed through these valleys 500 years ago. Some may have looked even more impressive, since in an earlier age it was important for anyone of means to build a tower to show off one’s status and wealth. I don’t want to disparage these early tower owners, however, because I would definitely have wanted to build a tower if I could afford it.
Bible Study Fellowship meets in a Baptist Church near the Spanish Steps, and we find it easily after checking into our room. I eat a leisurely dinner while Lucy, who has grabbed a quick meal at the station, goes off to the meeting. After dinner, I stroll back to the steps for some serious people-watching. Surprisingly, by walking slowly, confidently and purposefully, the immigrants selling toys and trinkets ignore me, because I have fooled them into thinking I am Italian instead of some foreign tourist looking for souvenirs. This gives me a small sense of satisfaction, though I know that if I were to open my mouth, my accent would betray me.
I meet Lucy at 8:30 p.m. and we go to have a drink with Mary, an American that Lucy met during the Bible study who also recently obtained her Italian citizenship and arrived in Rome with her mother only three weeks ago. We exchange stories for a while over tea and hot chocolate and are amazed when we get the bill. Each drink has cost five euros, or $7.04 at today’s conversion rate. And the hot chocolate was not even traditional thick and creamy Italian cioccolata calda but a thin Americanized version. We ask if there is a mistake, but no, that is what it costs.
The prices, the noise and the professional beggars we encounter on the streets and in the train station make us thankful to be living in Toscana. The historic sites here are unsurpassed, of course, but in short time we would run out of money and yearn for the quiet of San Salvatore and the welcome order of peaceful Lucca. In the morning, we decide too late to see the crypt of the capuchin monks. We would arrive there at noon, the start of the three-hour lunch break, and since our train leaves at 2:45 p.m., we go to lunch instead, where even there we are approached by a pair of beggars, a mother and her son, who looks to be about thirteen years old. Lucy sees them from afar, and the son looks relaxed, casual and even a bit bored, but once they get to work, his face is sad and imploring, and the mother is able to bring tears to her eyes at will. Somewhat grudgingly, I give them a tangerine and a coin that was my change from buying lunch. The boy pleads for more, but I tell him no. Lucy and I confess that we are both rather relived to get back on the train and look at the hillside cities and the countryside again.