Rome—The Throat of the World
Dotted around the marvelous and massive stone playground lies the ever timeless S.P.Q.R., signifiying that you’re now standing in a very ancient place: Rome. Traversing the sprawling network of milennia-old roadways and routes will seriously impress upon you the haunting majesty of the former seat of the world’s most ambitious empire.
We arrived by bus into the very heart of Rome’s web of transportation, Termini (Italian; “Termination”, or “Finish” in English). If all roads lead to Rome, then all roads in Rome lead to Termini. Overwhelming seas of doe-eyed tourists and disgruntled Italians shuffled endlessly out of the glass and stone station, overpowering anyone or anything standing in their path, cars included. We had only moments to scoop and drag out of the airport shuttles’ cargo bay our luggage before a fortissimo of horns erupted from the one-lane two-way street; which was all motorists had to navigate through one of the world’s most populated cities.
My first impression of Rome is that anybody who lived here would absolutely despise travel, and anyone who did it. Firstly, because clueless tourists obstructed locals in almost every way possible—during their breakfast, lunch and dinner, even—by photographing them, asking them for directions (and you’ll need them to navigate Rome), or simply staring at them, gawking, like an anthropologist studying them and their ways.
Although, such bulging waves of people beget complexity, and complexity begets danger. Because every web has its spiders, and Rome is no different. Sliding through the cracks of the law, at every major tourist junction in Rome, you’ll find two things: military, and criminals. The two groups seem to mutually ignore each other—all while an underappreciated and understaffed police force struggle to maintain order in the chaotic network. You see, in Italy, there are two police forces, the Polizia di Stato (Italian; “State Police”, in English) and the Arma dei Carabinieri (Italian; “Arm of Carabineers”, in English). Though the former boasts an impressive 100,000+ sworn members, they are infrequently present in hot spots in Rome, partly due to the lack of training, equipment, and manpower required to handle the eight million citizens and the seven to ten million tourists which pass through each year (which even reaches twenty million in Holy years). The latter, the Arma dei Carabinieri, are a branch of the military. They’re a secondary, militarized and motorized defence force, which bridge the gap between police and military. They even have their own emergency number (112, whereas regular police are 113).
The Carabinieri are military-trained fighting force. Do not ask them questions, for directions, or how their day was. DO NOT EVER try to take a photo of them. They’ll confiscate your camera (if you’re lucky), or ask you to delete it (if you’re luckier still).
Though all this firepower is necessary, because Rome is certainly no stranger to spiders. Usually strangers to the city themselves, these are impoverished individuals seeking to further their standing financially through means that fall outside the rule of law in Rome. How far outside, however, is determined by who they deal with when they get caught, or if they simply slide under the radar. These range from the drug runners and terrorists, of which the Carabinieri will crush with impunity, to the pickpockets and petty criminals, who the police tend to handle. Then, finally, there’s an abundance of scammers. Scammers of every kind. More than any city I’ve ever seen, and even more than Paris, France had (an order of magnitude more, actually. With the exception of when you’re standing right underneath the Eiffel tower.) At literally every point of interest, I noticed at minimum one, or two “Sweetheart Rose” scammers.
A ‘Sweetheart Rose’ scam is where a scammer carrying a bouquet of roses (or other beautiful flower) goes up to a couple and hands a rose to the woman, usually announcing that they’re incredibly beautiful and the rose is simply a gift, free-of-charge. Likely, the woman will take the flower. The scammer will then quietly turn to the man and ask for payment. If refused, the scammer will demand the woman return the flower, in turn making the man look foolish or cheap.
At one point, we had our own approach us. A rather petite, and somewhat elderly Nepalese man. While we didn’t fall for the ruse, he was so incredibly kind when refused we, in this instance, didn’t mind.
Despite the numerous drawbacks of such a dense population, there are a myriad of benefits, too. For instance, while there was an overabundance of sleezey street urchins targeting tourists, sometimes aggressively, there were a surprising number of genuinely entertaining & thoroughly enjoyable purveyors and entertainers which truly added to the experience in Rome, rather than subtracted from it.
One such of these performers had a massive rope net fixed between two wooden poles. He would dip the net in a barrel of bubble-producing soap, and with a little help from Rome’s naturally windy streets, shower the town square in bubbles of various sizes. Truly, a unique sight to see dozens of Roman children dancing and laughing as this cascade of bubbles loftily drifted around the square, reflecting and refracting light, scattering rainbows in all directions.
Another such performer we encountered later in the evening at the Pantheon. Equipped with his tote bag of gags, an endearing hat and various striped accoutrement. This painted-faced mime would spook dogs and unsuspecting tourists, shine bald men’s heads, and place miscellaneous balloon objects in the bags of shoppers. Before long, crowd formed in a semi-circle around him to enjoy this misfit’s pranks.
In conclusion, my time in Rome could only be described as magical. I’ve been absolutely blessed to experience the rich Italian culture of food, to stroll through the milennia-old streets, and to meet & talk with many Italians, all of whom held an impeccable sense of humour, a bountious spirit and swelling pride for their home.
Though, I’ve also got to write about Frascati and Rainbow MagicLand, so these won’t be my final thoughts on Italy.