OK, fine ... When In Rome ...

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Flag of Italy  ,
Saturday, July 8, 2006

We had a full day of travel before us to make it across the sea and overland from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Rome, Italy, and despite the monotony of lengthy bits of transit, found plenty to keep occupied.  The ferry over to the Italian eastern coast was lively, with the main galley occupied with the singing Italian priest and the aft deck filled with good conversation with the Aussie and Belgian men.  Nothing makes dudes open up like open water.  I sunned, wrote, and chatted all day, could get used to that sorta thing.  As Ryan finished The Elegant Universe, curious dolphins pulled up alongside our vessel and treated us to an acrobatic show seemingly as much for their pleasure as ours.
We were pleasantly surprised upon arrival in Bari to find it not nearly the seedy port town that we'd heard it would be, but rather quite modern and comfortable.  After the easiest immigration ever ("Are you allowed to come into this country" "Uh, yes" "OK, go ahead then") we strolled about town as we had several hours to fill until our overnight train to Rome.  On the way to the train station we saw a filming of the MTVTRL (Total Request Live) Live Tour.  I looked for Carson Daly but was informed that I'm a tool and that was sooo 2002.  Later, aboard the train, we again lucked out to find our own cabin, labeled "Reserved" for little apparent reason, and allowed us to not have to sleep next to another shifty-looking, feet-smelling dude who looked at us as we walked into his cabin initially as a starving man might take in a pizza pie.
We woke up 45 minutes after the train had already arrived in Rome, when the cleaning crew not so subtly told us to beat it.  We had a plan once in town, but not a great one, so we retreated to McDonald's to dine and regroup.  First I had to exercise my big brotherly duty, and was quite proud as I strolled up to payphone that I had remembered and arranged to call my sister right as she was turning 21 back in California.  Not altogether pleased at how clearly gone she already was, not to mention that she'd hung up on me (presumably because something shiny had caught her attention), I was just happy that she was having a good time, and among good friends, and especially not talking to any boys because I know how they can be because I am one.  We stashed our bags at Termini station, as Ryan's sister who we'd be staying with was not able to meet us until after work, and reignited my love affair with real Italian-style pizza.  You can tell them how big a piece to cut and it's not that expensive, both things that are very dangerous to a man with an appetite and little common sense for vacation calorie consumption.
Feeling happy and full of mozzarella, we embarked on our most serious attempt to date to find Rama Revealed, the concluding novel of this silly science fiction series that I'd become obsessed with since consuming the first tome in a Thai bungalow because it was the only book in English that I could find.  The second book I found in Kathmandu as the sole lonely science fiction representative in a used hole-in-the-wall book shop, and I should have known that I'd not find the last book in as obvious a place as any of the English bookstores in Rome.  I didn't know that, however, and that afternoon we tracked down 5 of the 6 English bookstores in Rome.  No dice.  We did keep ourselves occupied with parallelphotodiaries of the quest: one of my Don Quixote running at windmills looking for this book and one tribute to Dan Brown's DaVinci Code Tour of Rome, Based on Angels and Demons, which we would add to during the next few days.  The Citibank compound, and I do use that word rather than bank for good reason, again provided me an example of the strangeness when gigantic corporations, who must be doing something right in order to keep existing at their size and influence, are often incapable of following the simplest directions.
Soon it was time to head back to Termini to collect our bags and head to Megan's.  We did run into a slight problem as my main bag was misplaced and took 45 minutes in an underground lair to recover it behind a bin.  I wouldn't have been too freaked out if I lost it, and it's a wonder that I didn't throughout the entire trip, as I did generally carry mydaypack with my passport, camera, memory cards, and journals, and like usual was wearing my favorite tshirt (1 of 3), magic boxer briefs (1 of 2), and jeans (1 of 1 that hadn't been destroyed).
Property back in hand and on back, we continued to Megan's and were met there by Colin, the boyfriend of Megan's roommate Heather, who worked as a video game designer.  We took a breather until Megan returned from work, had the brief brother-sister reunion pat-on-the-shoulder, and headed out proper for drinks and dinner.  The place where we went knew its food, and they refused on principle to satisfy my craving of meltedgorgonzola on penne pasta with arrabiata sauce.  Ah, European customer service, how I did miss thee!  William, Megan's boyfriend, sauntered up to join us at "7pm in the afternoon", and we all together went to celebrate the next-to-last game of the World Cup, this one to determine 3rd place.  Germany won, which I believe made me happy as it evened out my bracket a little better.  I never thought I'd find myself cheering for Germany, but C.Ronaldo of Portugal is a little punk.  Especially beautiful was his triple jackknife dive in the penalty box with nary a German defender within 10 feet of him.  I love watching soccer players try to take these dives, as a form of guilty amusement.  It's terrible sportsmanship and disgraceful to try to beat your opponent in such a dishonorable fashion, but the acting is superb as they take a massive spill, always grab their shin no matter what part they're trying to say was hurt, grimace for a few seconds, look around to see if the refs are watching, and it not then just spring right back up and keep playing.  Especially C.Ronaldo.  He's a prettyboy, but he's a punk.
*Warning: this next bit may contain spoilers regarding amalgamations of Dan Brown's exceedingly similar pieces of fiction*
We woke up the next morning to William's fantastic culinary skills and a prepared succulent salmon pasta.  Not only shall I giveBillyboy massive credit on a dish well prepared, but also Ryan continued to impress with his even further broadening eating range.  Fish before was likeKrypronite to my boy, but, well ... When in Rome, huh?  Oh haha, I far misused that joke while we were there.
It was all so lovely and idyllic that we had a late start on our SanGReal hunt.  I'm not going to go into the full background, but suffice it to say that we loved discussing creepy Dan Brown passages nearly as much as we loved arguing about soccer, and further, I can't read or remember in which cities entire books are set.  Though we did go out of order (to confuse the Illuminati Hassassin trailing us), we managed to kill my Oski bobble head doll as many times as we needed to make an amusing photo slideshow.  We began at the Pantheon ... but it was the wrong Demon's Hole!  Ryan was not impressed by the done.  But gets weepy for a 6-piece ChickenMcNuggets.  To each their own.  Then onto Piazza Navonna and Bernini's fountain of 4 rivers for WATERetaw.  Colin and Big Willy Style quit the grand quest to go look for facepaint.  We soldiered on, they were probably Council of Shadow moles anyhow.  St. Maria della Vittoria for FIRErif.  Ryan got mad at me for flicking my small lighter on in a church.  I say, how else did they light that incense, hmmm ?  We needed a break.  Went to the Spanish Steps to meet Big Daddy Tuck Coop, my boss from the Lair, and his wife Nancy!  It was so cool getting to kick it with that bigol' teddy bear, I could talk with him for hours and hours.  Especially was awesome was us together spilling Chianti all over Ryan.  The quest was abandoned for the day as it was World Cup Final time.  Ryan, Megan, and the Hallahan party train went to a local bar to scope the scene.  I headed over towards the Coliseum to meet my IHS track buddy Mario Bassani!
Though difficult to find each other in the massive crown headed for the massive sunken oval that is Circo Massimo to catch the game on one of the three truly massive screens they'd erected, we found each other and his other friends and joined literally half a million people in this one place to watch Italy try to rise back to the top of the football world.  I was wearing myItalia shirt, and despite myself, was swept up in the festivity of the situation and was cheering right along with the crowd.  It helped that Button wasn't so cute anymore, the coolest thing Henry did was flash ashakabra, and Zidane did something or the other, I can't quite remember what.  In short, the French out-Italianed the Italians.
The game was exciting, made more so by the half-man half-demon that was standing near us and felt the urge to scream painfully whenever there was any French player on the screen.  This happened often enough.  I wanted to scream and cry and was mesmerized at the same time by theTotti-stache, which was as thin and molester-like as ever.  Though, in the espirit of the corps, I did learn to love ... even Totti.  Zidane did his head butt.  While badass, it was quite clearly poor sportsmanship and I did not begrudge the enraged crowd their cuckold hand signals and their vafanculos.  I took a note of pride that, when Italy won, the United States of America was confirmed as the only team in the tournament not to lose to them.  That makes us second-best in the world.  After all, France couldn't even tie them!  Had to hand it to the Italians, I was waiting for one of their guys to Baggio the penalty kicks, but they all struck true.
The town went nuts, as might be expected after a 24-year World Cup champion drought.  The crowds were teeming, the liquor was flowing, each voice was chanting something, whether in unison or not.  The city became a playground for the soccer-loving, with the denizens climbing over and on top of buses and swimming in the fountains with gargled strains of The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army (sung to the words of Duh-Duh-Duh-Duh) escaping as glorious aural bubbles to the surface.  Piazza Venetia was packed near beyond the ability to move, though wedged in the swaying throngs of jubilant humanity, where else would you want to be?  Well, probably not by the French embassy anyhow, there was a special med tent set up outside in anticipation of some anti-Franco sentiment that never truly exploded.  Perhaps a few Jacques were treated for Giovanni-shaped head bruises to the chest, but nothing serious so far as I could see.  We played a game with the hooligans were you toss a ball in the air and whoever catches it gets tackled.  Everybody wins.  Scooters streamed by waving flags and honking horns, or in other words simply acting as though they were in Hanoi on any given day.  Out till 4, and only returned because I was about to be locked out.  GoAzzuri.
The next day was a glorious day in Rome, the weather truly mirroring the feeling of the people there.  In part II of our quest, we first stormed Citibank who, wouldn't you know it, got it right this time and blessed me with a debit card for the first time in two months.  Without Ryan's card and record-keeping, I don't know what I would have done.  Then to St. Maria d.Poppolo for EARTHtrae .  Please note and pay close attention to these anagrams ... even the most advanced computers of the day cannot replicate them, unless you'reDGB's college roommate.
I kept up my tradition of buying knockoff aviators outside the Vatican, and we blustered inside to be somewhat less impressed byWINDniw.  Inside St. Peter's, however, was lovely as always.  We wandered up to the roof, and also found passeto il pietro bones.  We were atop the world after scaling the dome, with just the most killer view of gorgeous Roma.  We saw St. Angelo, and I got a feeling like the Hassassin was watching.
The last bookstore on the Rama quest also struck out, though the fella did let us know about the Italy World Cup celebration that night.  We went back to the apartment to collect Megan, and headed back (along with 500,000 others) toCirco Massimo for the biggest party that day on the planet.  We were impressed that they were able to put something together so quickly.  Megan assured us that nothing in Italy works that fast, this was a special case.  It was meant to start at 7:30pm, we got there at 8:30pm, and got to listen to Brian Adams and watch the same replays again and again on those massive screens until 11pm when the team arrived.  To be fair, their bus winding its way through the city had to very very slowly work through absolutelyjampacked streets of well-wishers and presumably stop for gelato or something several hundred times.  Ryan and Megan, just slightly more tired than I was of trying to keep up with the renewed Italian excitement the 37th and 38th time they showed the replay of the PKs, said that they were out at 11pm.  The players arrived just one minute prior.  Thank you Totti.  More and more flares shot out of the crowd as we all craned to see the heroes through the smoke and flag filled sky.  We saw the World Cup itself from maybe 50 feet away and to be honest it is glorious, even if you didn't know what it represented. Totti is dumb as a stump, and his interview was quite funny.  To his credit, he plays along with the public perception of his denseness and they released a book called Interview With Franceso Totti to raise money for charity.  Here's how it begins:
Name: Franceso
Last name: Totti
Born: Yes
The next day I got up early to meet Nina the Touring Scot at the airport.  The nicest Nigerian man from the bus helped me figure out how to get there and even had me on his calling card to straighten it all out.  She was only in and out for a day, so we made the most of it, walking all about the city and even semi-randomly running into her uncle right outside his place for a few glasses of wine upstairs.  We proved that the columns at the Vatican really do resolve into a single column at thefoci of the ellipse, searched for the elusive best cinnamon gelato on earth, went for coffee in Jenny's old neighborhood, and just relaxed all day, full of my favorite gnocchi covered in gorgonzola, walnut, and pear.
It was goodbyes all around the following morning, and we left a mess behind to get to the cheaper airport, Ciampino, waaay outta town.  I took the subway-bus to save a few euro while Ryan took the tourist bus.  That is not a hugely relevant detail except to illustrate that, even though Ryan is one of my best friends in the world and I love him to pieces, it can be hard spending 24/7 with someone for half a year.  More and more often there had been little flareups of disagreement, which is perfectly normal and healthy between two grown up and confident men who are good friends, and more and more often the disagreements in strategy would actually lead to different actions taken.  I couldn't have asked for any better a travel companion than Ryan.  We were the right blend of sensible/crazy/introspective/fun/adventurous to have oneheckuva wild time without anyone getting killed.  As our time together wound to a close (he'd be going home after our next destination to satisfy his grad school advisor while I'd be on the road for two more weeks), those little differences did pop up but I'm so blessed to have a friend like Ryan at a time when we were both mature enough to deal with the challenges of getting along with anybody for that long in that intense an environment.
Thanks buddy.
Soon we'd be running with the bulls.

Moral of the Story: Totti is as dumb as Ryan is as cool is pizza is as delicious as the Italians are as lucky that the US wasn't with them in the final cuz we'd have cheered our boys to victory!
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