Friday, December 15, 2006
When In Rome
My wife and I recently returned from two weeks in Rome, drinking too much no-so-good Italian wine, eating way too much really good food, and not seeing enough of the sights. Washington and Rome are similar in a lot of ways: half the Romans seem to want to cheat you out of your money, and the other half want to give you free stuff.
Upon arrival at Termini station, we took a cab to our apartment We learned later that the ride should have cost 10 Euros. This guy charged us 30. I paid it, being a bit loopy from the flight, even though I knew I was being rooked. Later that night we were overcharged for pizza and bad wine. It wasn’t an auspicious start to our stay. We’d read about the con-games and pickpockets Rome is famous for, but we figured, hey, we’re from Washington, where even the garbage men expect to be bribed and getting robbed on the street is like a right of passage.
So we decided that if we couldn’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Since we spent most of our first week’s budget on the taxi and one meal, we figured we could make up the difference by robbing American tourists. For the most part, the American’s were easy to spot (or so we assumed): unstylish clothes, fanny packs worn on the front, neck safes and money belts worn outside the unstylish clothes, heads buried in guidebooks while walking: it would be easy pickings.
But all our careful planning came to naught: first, we tried the old “hand gun in the jacket pocket” trick so popular in DC; we approached a promising looking family, all fumbling digital cameras and baseball caps. I pointed my pocket at them and said “you know what time it is!” doing my best DC-thug impression. The man said “why sure!” and then proceeded to, well, give me the time. “No,” I said, “I mean, give it up!” This only elicited a few blinks and a repetition of the time. But we were not dismayed. We found other prey. However, as it turned out, most of the people wearing American T-shirts were Italians, the unstylish clothes and fanny packs belonged to Germans, and the guidebooks were in the hands of just about everyone else. Americans, amazingly enough, were virtually invisible! One couple, I think they were Canadian, did give us a 2 euro coin. I think they thought we were some sort of street performers. Our crime spree sputtered out.
Later, a café owner gave us free champagne, a tour guide gave us a free tour of the Forum, a fruit vendor in Campo di Fiori gave us way too many delicious grapes, and, in an unrelated theme, a shop owner yelled at us for putting garbage in a garbage can, babbling that she didn’t go to London and throw wine bottles everywhere (although I had my doubts). There was no arguing with that kind of logic. On the whole, things seemed to even out on the financial front. Like DC, where I’ve been overcharged by plumbers and electricians, but given a driver’s license even though I clearly failed the eye test, and while I can’t win an argument with the parking enforcement officer, the hearing official usually gives me an out on a technicality. Karma. I think the Italians call if la dolce vita. Or else la curriculum vitae. Or something like that. I’m pretty certain it involves a small bull’s horn made of coral.
When it Rome, we learned, it was best to get drunk and eat too much. Getting drunk and eating too much on a balcony helps. I think the same basic laws hold true for DC, too.
(An aside: in over ten years of living in Washington, my wife and I have never been robbed, and in two weeks in Rome, riding trains and going to all the tourist spots, we were never the victims of pickpockets; both cities suffer from overblown media crime hype. Please don't comment that you've been robbed in both DC and Rome. I don't care. I didn't say street crime doesn't exist. I'm simply saying that people love telling street crime stories, and they make great news pieces, giving the impression that you'll get robbed as soon as you step out your door. End aside.)