Roman Holiday- Quando a Roma
A few days in the Eternal City. Of course the Coliseum, the catacombs, the museums, churches,the Spanish Steps, the piazzas, the view from the Garibaldi statue, 100 types of pasta, and to get around a bus and tram system that is absolutely free. Whats not to like?
Free buses? you cry. Sure the po faced receptionist with her bob hair and cute smile tells you how to buy a ticket and how long they are valid for but then you get on the bus. No one is using the ticket machine, OK one or two in a hundred. But most don’t. So we talk around ,sure,the inspectors have given up, no one pays them . If HM Bateman had visited Rome he would have done a cartoon of Italians rolling around with tears streaming pointing to “l’umo che ha aquistata un biglietto”. So we didn’t . Every day we took the tram. Sometimes the bus. To and from as far away as Frascati. So I checked it out on the internet. Back in 2011 there were one or two reports of fines. Typically some were obviously scams of Italians going up to tourists and fining them, No uniforms, no receipts, and the fines reduced from 100 to 50 euros on the spot.
But while the Roman may feel his buses run on hot air he knows that his local coffee bar must pay its way. On the corner was Gisella. As perfect a place, great coffee, brilliant snacks,on the lira design, here was Italian cool, even the transparent chairs would win awards, the girls had cleavages created by Leonardo himself, ciao bella. Perfecto. It would be easy to walk out without paying. Sei arrabbiato?( Are you mad?)
If you are going to go for a walk it has to be down the Appian. Way. Not quite so interesting now that Spartacus and the other slaves have been taken down but long before you get to Brindisi there are the catacombs and the shrine to San Sebastian. Now St Seb is of course the gay “saint de jour”. Young ,male, unmarried, looking good in a loin cloth and showing with his hands tied behind his back, an arrow in his side, grace in suffering. Ooohh. Tinder is the app for me. You have to be a hetro sexual bank manager not to feel the heat.
And then there are the catacombs where the early Christians dug out the caves for their dead. The Roman Church saw the opportunity and at one point declared all the bones in the catacombs those of saints and martyrs and they were pillaged to fill up the shrines and relic boxes all over Europe.
Putney’s favourite historian Edward Gibbon saw through the whole pretension of Christianity and why it , of all the religions of Rome, became the chosen one. The strong faith,the belief in after life,the miracles,the morality and the organisation gave it the edge. As Gibbon said “All religions are given equal merit by the people, all are doubted by the philosophers and all are valued by the magistrates.”
One the way back from weeping over St Seb the taxi drive from heaven. Pietro started talking to us about this and that. After three words we were lost. We nodded, he continued. He went on. He began showing us pictures of his wife and baby. We fired back Vespa, Tutti Frutti, Victor Emmanuel. He went on ,look at St Peters. We were not cowed Garibaldi, Gucci , Martini, Gina Lollabrigida. It got out of hand. We all were screaming and giggling hysterically. And then it was over. The buses may be free but ,where’s the laughs? Bravo Pietro.
Every Sunday on Via del Trastavere there is a flea market. I always go. I have the ephemera collection of the Musee Festing to curate. Last time it was a statue of Dracula and fridge magnet of Italian comedian Toppo.This time it was a memento of the 1978 Argentine World Cup and a Martini key ring. But what made my black heart soar as high as any Verdi solo was the sight of a three card ,spot the lady ,game. I hadn’t seen one for twenty years. There the little unhealthy huddle stood. Five or six seemingly playing, seemingly winning easily, seemingly cheating with the card sharp seemingly not noticing. Any one can win. And one or two passers by get suckered in. And with the flick of a wrist and swivel of the eye,what happens, guess what, the punter loses. His new friends shrug. Best try again. If he was born yesterday , he will. They do.
I remember watching a game in Oxford Street. One of the gang caught my eye, became my pal, Go on ,why dont you have go. Because you are all in it, its rigged. Suddenly my new best friend trod on my toe and said you smell. I agreed and went home to have a bath.
One black mark. Few public pools, nearest half an hour away and two changes of transport. So Swimming for Putney missed out on the Eternal City. Quando a Roma.