Saturday, October 10, 2009

The moneychangers are in the house

posted Sun, 26 Sep 2004

It is truly amazing considering the proud history the Italians have in science -- da Vinci, Galileo, Fermi, Marconi, Fibonacci (and those are the ones I just thought of sitting here in a Roman internet cafe where half the keys are blank because the ink has worn off)-- that they seem incapable of now grasping one of the basic principles of science -- that is, that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

When I walk down the sidewalk, if I see someone approaching, I veer to the right, expecting that the approaching person will veer to his right.

But no. The approaching person -- let's call her (the women seem to be worse about this than the men) Lucia -- will veer to her left. If I feign left, she follows. It is as if she is determined to force a confrontation -- or determined to make the American yield. It turns into a giant game of chicken, just like driving here.

I think the key is to pretend not to see Lucia. I have experimented with this. If I look at her, she will not move from her path. But if I look up -- "Look at those neat pediments!" -- and make myself incapable of seeing her, then she will move.

I can tell the other Americans and the English -- they will step politely to the right so that all might enjoy the sidewalk together.

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Jenny and I have come to the conclusion that one week is long enough for a vacation in Europe. I had come to that conclusion on my last trip, but had forgotten it. I implore you to remind me -- hit me over the head if necessary -- of this the next time I plan a trip.

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The plan this morning was to go to the Vatican Museum. It is free on the last Sunday of the month.

Apparently, we were not the only ones with this idea. We got to St Peter's Square at about 10:30 a.m. -- and the line already wrapped around the Vatican and was almost to the square -- several blocks of people five and six deep in line. We took one look at the line and decided we would rather pay $15.00 apiece than stand in the line.

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Two mullets today, one attached to a mohawk. Lock up your children -- do not let this hair tragedy happen to them.

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I saw a seventh way to flush a toilet today -- you depress a pedal on the floor next to the toilet. Those wacky Italians. Where will it end?

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I stopped at the grocery store (named "The Drugstore" -- go figure) in the train station. I bought -- or tried to buy -- some grapes and plums. But when I got to the register, the clerk demanded to know how much the fruit weighed. "I don't know," I said, figuring that was HER job. She rolled her eyes and threw the fruit to the counter behind her. She wouldn't sell it to me.

It then occurred to me that I had seen a scale by the produce, but there was nothing there -- like a sign saying, "You need to weigh and tag your own fruit" -- to indicate what I should do. I'll bet if the owner knew that produce -- a perishable -- was going unsold because tourists did not know they were supposed to weigh it themselves that he would put up a sign.

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The moneychangers are in the temple. Al the tourist shops near St Peter's were open this morning (Sunday). One store had a calendar that should have been titled "Hunks of the Vatican."

For every month, there was a photograph of an exceptionally handsome priest. I asked the clerk if the calendar carried the imprimatur of the Vatican and he shrugged. Hard to believe a country that can encourage that sort of capitalism can also support a communist party. (We walked into a few stores that I later discovered were selling communist memorabilia -- Che banners and shirts, hammer and sickle flags. I told Jenny I refused to shop in any such establishment and walked out.)

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At lunch yesterday, I smelled cigarette smoke despite the presence of a "No smoking" sign. I asked a waitress about it, thinking that perhaps there was a smoking section in the next section -- two tables from me and down by a few stairs. She shook her head no, then returned in a few minutes with a new handmade "No smoking" sign that she very carefully placed so it was visible in the other section. My heroine.

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We have decided that the reason neither of us have been able to shake our sinus headaches is the ubiquitous smoking and the pollution in Rome. This city does not have the litter that Naples has, but it is filthy.

It is also horribly crowded. Near any tourist attraction -- the Spanish Steps, St Peter's, the Coliseum -- the crowds are huge and dense. I have never seen crowds like this. When Lenore and I were here 12 years ago, there were light crowds at best. This is AWFUL. Maybe I'll just wait for the movie next time. Now I remember why I don't do this sort of traveling anymore -- the kind where you go to all the tourist attractions. The problem is that there are other tourists. Ya basta.

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