Barely a week has passed since my migration to Italy from France. I make my way down to Rome at what will later seem to me to be the perfect time. News of bombings and individual executions with AK-47s come to me hours after I visit the Musei Capitolini. The trains aren’t working; I don’t know if it’s related to the Paris attacks or if it’s just garden variety Italian inefficacy. There is tension in the air, but not from the tourists, just the Romans themselves, who rightfully fear that their city could be next, especially after the Vatican’s open siding with France. Illegal immigrants still sell selfie sticks and Asians still aim to take the perfect photo, but there is less enthusiasm behind it–almost a faint guilt, but not faint enough to truly mourn. People claim this is because it would give the terrorists too much satisfaction; I tend to feel it’s due to a general self-involvement that can’t be avoided as a twenty-first century human being. Because the train is only going as far as Piramide on the B line, I decide not to go back to where I’m staying, instead walking the entire way to the Spagna stop rather than waiting to transfer at Termini to the A line.
After making the vague mistake of visiting the Caffe Greco– where Keats and Shelley once haunted–thinking that it will be hallowed and inspirational, I find it overrun with people who have no literary bent, just a desire to be somewhere old and close to the Piazza di Spagna. I go to the bathroom to relieve myself in more ways than one (being a half vagabond often makes one reliant on public toilets). There, now I can say I’ve shat in the same place where great men have written. I leave the cafe in a reverie, finding myself in front of the Anglo American Bookstore, where an array of titles I’m interested in are being sold, but very few at prices that I’m sold on. I finally decide on two quintessentially American authors: Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Sure, I could opt for Umberto Eco or Leopardi, but these are more expensive to buy in English for some reason. Maybe I’m damned to never learn the pillars of Italian literature apart from Moravia and Morante. I go with a certain theme, purchasing Hemingway’s Men Without Women and Fitzgerald’s All The Sad Young Men. I have a fixation with being okay with being alone, possibly because I’m not really okay with it anymore. I think that these books might help me in this aim for some reason.
When I walk outside again, the loudness comes. Tourists of every kind meandering about even at this off time of year. Some are in couples, some are in families, some are in friendships. I’m the only one ambling about as a solitary entity. I can’t tell if this makes me more or less noticeable. Lost among the crowd, I pass by various clothing stores of Italian prestige: Gucci, Armani, etc. I finally decide to join the cluster of Americans headed to the steps of the piazza. A horde is gathered in front of a row of Italian women dressed as though they are in a beauty pageant–legs out, breasts protruding, the whole gamut. Cameras click away, mostly on the part of ogling men. I roll my eyes as I sit on the steps. I find it ironic that aesthetics are of importance in a country with such minimal beauty industry amenities.
Since I’ve decided to take up smoking more seriously now that I’m in Europe and the cost is cheaper and the practice more acceptable, I light one and open another book I’m reading at the moment, Two Adolescents, by, who else, Moravia. The book is divided into two stories, one telling that of Agostino and the other of Luca. The latter’s trajectory is far more resonant for an American person, as Luca comes to terms with the fact that he hates his parents. Agostino’s story is a bit more in keeping with the stereotype that Italian men are in love with their mothers, and therefore end up despising them because they can never find another woman as good to take care of him.
I can’t really concentrate fully on Luca’s loathing, however, as I’m too consumed with my own. I need to walk farther, longer. So I rise from the step and head back down Via della Fontanella di Borghese (I’m getting used to the verbosity of the street names–not since I lived in Los Angeles have I encountered such flowery monikers) and take the long journey that will get me back to the edge of the Tiber River, on the Lungotebere dei Tebaldi. I pause at times to take in the vastness of it, as well as briefly balk at the couples situated nearby, kissing or taking pictures with one another. At least I’m not in Paris. Then again, maybe I should be. At least there’s no romance there right now. I continue on after rearranging the laces inside of my grey Supergas, which have grown quite worn of late.
Once I turn down Via Ostiense, I will take it for about two kilometers (I’ve shed the mentality of miles now). But I have to stop around the first kilometer for an espresso to rejuvenate myself. The desolated area I find myself in possesses a strip mall-like aesthetic, and I briefly feel as though I’ve entered an alternate dimension wherein there exists a European Sacramento. I enter Risto Bar to find it completely void of anyone except a middle-aged cameriere who appears to have been waiting for me this entire time.
He seats me toward the back, and I don’t have the heart to tell him I only came for a coffee, plus I try to keep my parlance with others to a minimum so that they can’t immediately detect that, no, I’m not a real Italian, just a half-breed trying to reconnect with her roots. Out of guilt, I order a proper meal, risotto with some sort of meat that doesn’t exist in America. Or if it does, the version there must taste like shit.
I finish the food quickly, feeling awkward and like I’m in an outtake from Mulholland Drive. After I pay at the front and get out of the restaurant without being detected as a foreigner, I persist in my journey, both literally and metaphorically. No one else can walk a kilometer in my Supergas. They can never really know my alienation.