September 28, 1991
I slept in a crowded couchette compartment
on the train to Venice (Venizia) overnight. At first glance, Venice
is a chaotic mass of tourists, expensive food, and no accommodations.
I quickly ruled out staying overnight in Venice, and will take yet
another night train to Rome (Roma), where I will thankfully spend a
little time in a hotel.
Like Vienna, Venice is beautifully unique
and irreplaceable. Venice lies away from the mainland in the Adriatic
Sea. It lies on manmade supports, and is at the time of writing still
burdened by puddles from recent flooding. Venice was once a Republic,
and a powerful mercantile center. But now, and for a long time before,
Venice is a "museum cum amusement park" - a sort of relic dedicated
to the past with little practical use now. San Fransico is a somewhat
similar these days: a beautiful place to visit but with a tourist trade
that overshadows a shrinking public life. They say now that, "I left
my heart in San Fransico but I do my business in Oakland."
My first impression of Italy was not a
good one. After I had exited the train, I went to use the bathroom
and was not thrilled with what I saw. It was simply a hole in the ground
and there were traction marks on either side where one places the feet,
squats and/or aims, and takes care of business. I was prepared for
a lot, but if I wanted this I would have visited Uganda.
I cannot underestimate how charming the
narrow walkways are here. It is like an aged, charming Italian city
whose streets are made of water. There are numerous little walkways
over the canals that are skillfully navigated by the adroit drivers.
Although the city is a tourist attraction, there are still plenty of
attractive little nooks and crannies in which to escape the crowds.
I cranked out Steinbeck's "To A God Unknown" in a three hour spurt
in just such a sleepy corner. Typical, I paid U.S. $15 for this book
in English! Robbery! (But I paid it anyways)
I find myself meeting all sorts here in
Europe. European teenagers on holiday, Australians and New Zealanders
in packs who drink all the time, and young professionals who let the
stress get to them and decided to chuck it all and travel around Europe.
I've met permanent wanderers and nomads who appear rootless by nature
and normal Americans middle-aged couples who do not adapt easily to
the different (ie. showers, etc.) European ways.
I still find myself hungry to start my
adult life and I think of goals. But I can hear a voice from my middle-age
saying, "Calm down, there will be plenty of time for you to prove your
worth. Relax, and absorb and appreciate." I am getting better in this
regard and am moving with the flow and rolling with the punches that
traveling always delivers.
I think that if I ever should get married...I
would want to have my honeymoon in Venice.
September 29, 1991
Drank too much wine waiting for the overnight
train to Rome. The train itself was tiny (one 2nd class car with no
couchettes) and I was lucky to have a seat in a crowded car with an
Italian peasant family that did not appreciate my presence. I sat there
in the corner crunched in my seat until around three in the morning
no longer drunk while the peasants passed sausage around and chatted
like a gaggle of parrots on methamphetamines. Too exhausted for words,
I took refuge in the hallways outside. Finally, I spent most of the
night on this infamous (for thievery, that is) train laying and sometimes
sleeping on the filthy floor of the hallway between trains. It was
disgusting, people kept walking over me, I could not watch my stuff
and neither could I ever fully stretch out. It was still better than
being cramped in a that tiny room with five other sausage stuffing
At any rate, I had not slept in a bed or
showered in two days - and I was indeed ready for both when finally
we entered Rome. So far, Italy's southern mediterranean climate resembles
that of California. The semi-arid fields and sparse gentle trees are
a nice change from the heavy drama of Northern Europe's forests and
Rome is busy and chaotic. I met the famous "zingarelli" (Gypsy
children) who attack you in groups with petty thievery in mind. It
is absolutely brazen, they come up to you with cardboard in their hands
and grab for loose items. They are poor, young, often with children,
and they kind of laugh at you as if the whole thing were a joke. The
Romans threaten bodily harm on the gypsies, but I managed to simply
avoid them altogether as if I were zigzagging down the football field.
Maybe my half-mad, grubby, exhausted look (remember my last time in
a bed) had something to do with it. At any rate, they have left me
At first glance, one cannot say the Italians
are very orderly people. There is more than a little of the peasant
in them and their cities are a cacophony of scooters, bad drivers,
crowds, etc. Especially in Rome, one cannot say that these cities are
relics devoted to tourism - they are vibrant, living places. Yet Rome
is charming on its own terms. There has been little planning and upon
walking around the classical the city center one is constantly surprised
by the beautiful piazzas and squares. In the classically ascetic sense,
Rome is not beautiful: it is crowded and busy, there is a dark dirt
and general grubbiness to the city. But it actually is built among
hills and it is more a group of cities than one big city. The beauty
of Rome is the fact that the crowded sharp grades that suddenly give
way to breathtaking dramatic views of the compact city. The views are
not especially sublime or distant but they afford a perfect view of
populated, moving Roma going about its business.
Rome is lived in and perhaps this accounts
for it's grogginess. Although the obvious Roman and papal monuments
stand, they are more or less ignored as Romans "embraces the present" and
crowds throng the piazzas and parks. The priority being the other Romans,
not the statues or monuments, which are often have graffitti spray
painted on them.
The crowds are full of couples (both young
and old), brazen and cocky Italian men trying to pick up girls, their
female counterparts acting shocked, shy and demeure in groups of threes
and fours, police everywhere (looking tough and vigilant), swaggering
Soldiers everywhere have a cocky step and
a proud bearing, but these Italian soldiers strike me as more than
a little ridiculous. Firstly, none of them look very tough. Secondly,
there is the Italian's pathetic performance in WWI, WWII, and even
recently in the Gulf War - to many the Italian armed forces and incompetence
are synonymous. And the Italians are our allies in NATO! The British
soldiers looked tough and formidable and the French seemed at least
competent and professional. Although they were everywhere, the Czechs
I saw in military uniforms were mostly kids. The Italian soldiers look
like they prefer strutting around in their uniforms to fighting.
Although they are both expensive and classy,
the French and Italian looks are different. The French woman is maybe
blond, thin and wearing jeans (leather or denim) and a tight sexy or
baggy silk shirt. The Italian woman is more shapely, with jet black
hair and is wearing high heels, a business like black mini-skirt and
a sports jacket and (a must) designer sun glasses on a face with puffy
lips and lip stick. The French look as "bon chic bon genre" world-weary
as they can in the sidewalk cafes while staring down with appraising
looks passers by outside. A thick cloud of cigarette smoke is imperative
to this scene. The Italian woman scoots around on her scooter and walks
like a treasure to be earned - her nose in the air; busy, preoccupied.
The French men have a resigned look as if nothing in the world could
surprise them. The Italian man can be rudely suggestive.
September 30, 1991
I am writing here in the Navarro Piazza
in front of many playing Roman children. The highly social piazzas
are one of Rome's best features - at night they are electric with activity.
It is fun to watch the would-be-Romeo Italian men. Another enjoyable
aspect of Europe are the weddings. It seems a custom to wander through
public areas with the wedding
party and many have passed me by. The inherent joy of a wedding is
a thing in which no translation is necessary.
The water fountain/sculptures of Bernini
stand resplendent throughout all the piazzas of Rome, usually depicting
some highly emotional epic Greek sea god drama.
I have never seen traffic so incredibly
disorganized as that of Rome. Add to a nasty swarm of cars a small
army of lawless scooters, and you have the chaos which are Rome's streets.
Here, one definitely does not have the right of way on a crosswalk
and it is necessary to kind of sneak by a gap in the traffic. Roman
drivers throw highly-animated temper tantrums in traffic disputes but
they never seem to come to blows. The drivers here make the strangest,
most dangerous, illogical turns into traffic that I have ever seen!
I have seen numerous near accidents that compelled me to hold my breath
but somehow everything works out OK. Still, what a mess!
As I already stated, Rome's charm is in
the dramatic walking down an old back street with no view of anything
and all of the sudden one stumbles unexpectedly on a spectacular view
or friendly piazza. There is a Roman look of olive skin and a broad-cheeked
charm. There is a subtle romantic lure to Rome which defies description
and is surprising, considering the amount of urban blight her endemic
to all big cities. To my surprise, I find Rome an incredibly romantic
Over the millennia, Rome has seen Caesars
and Popes come and go. At one time, the name of Rome inspired fear
as the symbol of undiluted strength, power, and ruthlessness. This
was followed by the realm of the Popes and their "temporal" rule. Rome
of today shows no such political puissance and although there are monuments
to Caesars, Popes, Cavars, Garibaldi, etc, the last 100 years have
been an absolute blank. The Romans were famous for their ability to
find compromise when it counted and effective government was their
forte. But the Italians today are better at fighting among themselves
than at finding political unity. Mussolini, who has no monument in
present day Rome, is the perfect example of modern Italy: flashy, cocky,
with a lot of talk disguising little discipline and more than a little
of the spirit of anarchy. But the Italians seem a kind people who are
quick with a smile and a congenial, "Bonjourno!"
This morning, I visited the Vatican which
is officially a sovereign republic. They have employed "Swiss" mercenaries
for protection since the 16th century and they are still there in their
medieval costumes. The Vatican Museum is huge and full of priceless
art which produced for me the same effect the Louvre produced: sensory
overload. The tour ended in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. I then visited
St. Peter's Church, which is the biggest and maybe most beautiful church
I have ever seen. St. Peter's cathedral remains highly functional,
and no one is let in there with shorts or sleeveless shirts. The Vatican
is really like the Catholic Church, Inc., with many church bureaucrats
walking around looking official with briefcases. Substitute the priests'
collar with a suit and they differ not at all from the Roman businessmen
outside in both function and demeanor. The Vatican is essentially a
museum in honor of all things Christian in general and Catholic in
October 1, 1991
Today, I am traveling to Naples ("Napoli")
and the ruins at Pompei. I am tiring of Italy and am ready to leave
it for a number of reasons: it is expensive and a rip-off, the climate
is very humid, it is extremely crowded, and one must always be on the
guard for petty thievery. Tourists are screwed more than usual and
change is often returned when purchases are made only when it is asked
for. The sound of a foreign accent prompts totally new rules for transactions
and so I try not to talk at all.
There is a very great difference between
Northern and Southern Italy. The north is more industrialized and not
much different than Germany or Austria but Southern Italy is much poorer
and rural. The Amalfi coast near Naples reminds me very much of the
coast between Tijuana and Ensenada. There is even the same smell of
burning leaves. Both have a narrow shoreline bordered on one side by
a deep blue ocean and on the other side by towering cliffs with light
brown sagebrush (Italy being more lush). Both sea sides are dotted
with small poor villages.
Pompei is towered over by the now dormant
volcano Vesuvius. The Roman city of 20,000 was frozen in time when
Vesuvius erupted and buried the city in ash. It has been excavated
and I am writing this entry in a sort of coliseum. Italy, sociologically
speaking, is most interesting to me for the era of Rome - all the rest
is Catholicism and political intrigue.
I have come to Naples for two reasons:
I want to get away from Rome and because of the Coppola family. Yvette's
parents are from Naples and I want to see it and have a first-hand
look at the city and in order to more fully understand their story.
I always admired the way in which Mr. Coppola emigrated from Naples
in extreme poverty to the U.S. and made a better life for himself and
his family. Towards this end, he became a very successful man although
material things did not always necessarily bring his family happiness.
The whole Italian scene reminds me of the Coppolas and Yvette was here
in Naples only a few months ago visiting relatives. I will send her
a postcard from Naples and I think it will raise a couple of eyebrows
and maybe a smile at her house when it arrives.
There is something about the Hispanic/Latino
cultures that is very authoritarian. Hot blooded, religious, impoverished,
superstitious, flashy, exaggeratedly dignified, patriarchical, Southern
Italy is known for it's Mafia and feuds. I remember reading about Sicily;
a beautiful land conquered again and again over the years and all the
young men dead from feuds ("vendettas") with each other. It is a profoundly
tragic image. The father as God and King of the family bugs me and
I remember during my time in the emergency room all the types who would
defend beating their wives as a right of the husband (ie. the man).
Still, there is an aspect of deep personal honor and dignity to this
which is appealing.
Pompeii was buried, and preserved, in ash.
It was not discovered (discovered by accident) until the latter half
of the 18th century. It is remarkable how well some of the ruins have
survived. Some of the frescoes in the individual rooms have survived
intact. One can still see their art with gladiators fighting one another.
And this is art made in AD 70 (+ or -)! There are hundreds of square
yards of ruins and the streets, houses, and city plan are still clear.
It must have been a horrifying death for the citizens of Pompeii. They
were all asphyxiated - smothered by volcanic ash.
Although it is certainly not the most comfortable
or ascetically pleasing or clean places, it is hard to stay mad at
Italy for very long. They may try and cheat you but will always smile
disarmingly if caught. There is a buoyant attitude and pleasant demeanor
that is communicated through the exaggerated hysterics of Italian conversation.
Italians are emotional and it would seem they are the opposites of
the English and I see now how the opera is so Italian a creation. Italians
seem not to hold a grudge and even if they do steal you blind, they
would never (I think) harm you.
Naples is a lively port town that is really
a valley (with a town and port) bordered by steep hills. Like most
port towns, there is an element of seediness and the mysterious "camorra" is
notorious in Naples. The city reminds me very much of Tijuana and Ensenada.
The main street, Via Toledo, is a mass of honking motorists and death
defying scooterists. I like the honest and down to earth feel of this
city after Rome. Rome has a more formal, fossilized, and older feel
than Naples. In Naples, I feel like I have a better glimpse of the
life blood of Italy. However, Naple's reputation is that of a mean
spirited and violent city.
I met an old man who spoke good English
on the street and he took me on a cable car to the top of the hills
above Naples. I suspect the whole thing was a setup, as when I reached
the top he showed me a jewelry store where some of his friends tried
to sell me some trinkets. Anyway, I appreciated his hospitality but
was not interested in buying anything.
October 2, 1991
Today, my last day in Rome, was spent at
the Coliseum and the Catacombs. The Coliseum was disappointing after
Pompei but interesting in terms of showing how organized the Romans
were. Often, they would fill up the Coliseum with water and have mock
sea battles! I spent most of the day lounging around in the hot sun
reading and walking aimlessly. These absolutely crazy Roman motorists
defy logic and it is a miracle that I have not seen anybody killed
The Catacombs were interesting, in as of
themselves, but they are run by the Catholic Church as a place of the "remains
of the martyrs." Many of the people in my tour group were excitable "pilgrims" (religious,
to Rome) and our guide was an obnoxiously authoritarian priest. The
tour was didactic in nature, interspersed with biblical quotes and
prophesies, and one felt that one was being preached down to and not
instructed in the actual history of these subterranean places. The
Catacombs are on the outskirts of the town, running adjacent to the
Appian Way, and consist of more than 15 miles of tunnels where the
early Christians held meetings there in secret to avoid persecution.
When I asked a specific question about what happened in the Catacombs
with Roman soldiers and raids, the Priest was obviously upset and seemed
to think the question irrelevant and missing the point and proceeded
to make another reference to how God reveals his glory and brilliance
through the history of the Catacombs, etc. ad nauseam. I felt like
asking, "Who died and made you king?" This priest (an American) made
me remember why I always liked the pagans more than the Christians
in ancient Roman history.
Today I noticed a headline in a local newspaper
that the Catholic Church (like in Ireland) is upset about supposedly
losing influence and morality in Italy. I hope it is true and I enjoy
their displeasure. Not that I hope the Italians become immoral, but
I do hope they come to question the moral precepts of the Church and
do not simply accept them as God's truth like lobotomized simpletons.
All Catholics supposedly obey the Pope as the vessel of God's will
on earth, but American Catholics pay lip service and then do as their
own conscience dictates. American Catholics are essentially Protestant
in their outlook - the inevitable product of intellectual individualism
and democratic thinking in the national spirit from Thomas Jefferson
uptil now. This leads to friction between the Pope and American Catholics.
The Pope likes Third World Catholics, such as those in South and Central
America or in Asia. They are gullible, accepting, and superstitious
like children. And like putty in His Holy hands.
Anyway, religious enthusiasm ruined my
trip to the Catacombs. I came to see a historical site and ended up
sitting through a 45 minute commercial for Catholicism. The priest
commanded imperiously from above, "Obey!" I say, "Kiss
my ass - TWO TIMES!" Do not order me around and do not tell
me "how it is!" and I was raised a Catholic myself! It is incredibly
arrogant to assume authority over another because of religious rank
or training, and I am not buying the "when in Rome do as the Romans
do" thing. Perhaps this sentiment is a result of intellectual pride
and vanity on my part. But if so, then so be it. I will respect no
man more than another until he has earned it.
I am homesick and I miss my life back in
the States so much I can taste it! Of course, all these things I am
missing I will soon take for granted again upon returning home. I will
try to jettison laziness when I return and tale the initiative in life,
hopefully getting more out of it.