Mid morning, a clear and hot day, the first of October- I meet Rome for the first time.
London, Athens, Messina, Rhodes, Istanbul, Chania, Bolognia... these were places, cities, towns.
Rome is a woman.
Meeting Rome was like coming face to face with a movie star I had long loved and admired. She is everything I expected- glamorous, vain, distinctly Italian, beautiful...her star quality evident and in tact. Rome wears big Elizabeth Taylor jewels: The Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, the Arch of Constantine, The Vatican. The beauty of these gems fade little for being set against age spotted skin. But the gems, the designer clothes and heavy makeup could not hide her imperfections, the reality of age, heavy drinking and a hard life. The illusion of the silver screen goddess fades. She has yellow teeth and coffee stains. The hem of her vintage Armani dress is torn and dangling. She smells a little.
I landed at Fiumichino airport and made my way through customs, which is to say that I was swept forward by the crush of a crowd along a narrow corridor and through the slim opening between two custom's officers desks, the officers themselves disinterested, half asleep, not even bothering to glance up as I passed amongst a flood of multinational people. We poured out into the Italian sunshine. There is no "Welcome to Rome" sign.
First things first. I must catch a bus or a train to take me in to Rome (the airport is a half hour west of the centre of the city). I walk confidently out of the airport and turn right. I feel confident, cool, a world traveler. I walk a few minutes to the designated bus area. I pull out a sheet from the tab beneath "Bus Rome" in my file folder and glace at it briefly. I know it by heart. I look for the white bus with Terravision on the side. There is no such bus. There are two blue buses. Neither have Terravision on the side. I dont panic. I settle in to wait. I'm confident that one will arrive shortly. A man approaches me. He is wearing a apron with pockets in the front. He looks very official which is to say stern, unfriendly, annoyed, rushed, impatient... his expression says it all. He asks, in broken English, "What you waiting for?"
I say, "Terravision bus".
He seems to roll his eyes, "Yes, Where you want to go?"
I go to say the word on my sheet but falter... I cant remember. So I hold up my page and point at the word "Termini" I dont dare try to pronounce it.
"Ci! Ci!" He cries, "This bus! This bus!" He gestures emphatically at the blue bus and motions for me to get up. "Seven euro!" He holds out his hand.
My false bravado crumbles. In an instant I have become the bewildered tourist: lost, scared and alone in a foreign country.
"No!" I say. "I wait for white bus." I realize that for some reason my English has become as broken as his. This makes no sense.
The man gestures wildly, without even a single word his gesture screams, "Geeze, these tourists! What am I to do! They are such idiots!" I stare at him with wide blank eyes. So he changes tactic. This time he speaks to slowly, pronouncing each world precisely like I'm a dim witted child, "The blue bus is same. Same as white bus. You go to Termini. This bus goes to Termini. Seven euro."
"To here?" I ask, pointing again at my sheet.
He rolls his eyes. "Yes, yes!"
"Alright I say!" Why didnt he just say so? I pay for my ticket and get on the bus. My imagination runs wild, what if he misunderstood? What if he is conning me? What if I end up in Naples?! Venice! A bad neighborhood?! I'll be kidnapped! Raped! Sold in to the sex trade! But wait! I'm fat. It's all good... surely they dont kidnap fat girls! But wait! What if there is a specialized market for fat girls? Oh my God, I'm going to be sold in to a niche fat girl market!
An American couple sit down in the seats across from me. "Excuse me, does this bus go here?" I ask, pointing at my now sweaty crumpled sheet.
"Yes." She says, confidently.
I settle in for the bus ride to Rome.