Reflections From Roma #17
11 agosto 2019
Hello there… Rodger French here.
In case you haven’t seen this latest Italian news item (no, not the one about the imminent - and utterly predictable - collapse of the current coalition government), the city of Rome has decided to crack down on unruly tourists, “including a ban on ‘messy eating’ by monuments, wandering around bare-chested, jumping into fountains, and dragging wheeled suitcases and pushchairs down historic staircases.” Not unreasonable, but…
The new regs also include the possibility of a €250 ($280) fine for sitting on the Spanish Steps. Which is completely ridiculous. Roma is an exhausting place to be a tourist and the picturesque streets of paving stones are a podiatric nightmare, especially for the elderly. A few minutes of respite on some monumental staircase seems entirely acceptable (What, you think the ancient Romans didn’t sit their asses down?), as long as you don’t make a damned mess. This is especially true in the heat of summer.
Personally, I have never found the concept of “summer vacation” particularly satisfying. That’s not to say that, as a kid, I was unhappy to be finished with school for a few months each year. But, while it might have made sense when society was mostly rural and the kiddos were needed to help out with harvesting and other backbreaking farm labor, summer vacation always seemed like something of a cheat to me.
My mother was a school lunchroom manager, so when school was out, she was basically unemployed until after Labor Day. My father, a railroad man, worked 50 weeks straight, with two weeks off for vacation - a brutal business model, in my view. Both my folks worked very hard and deserved a real break, not a frantic fortnight wrangling three aggravating boys into a massive station wagon (with no seatbelts, no A/C, no power features of any kind) and heading down the road to either the “country” or the beach, both of which featured miserable heat, cancerous sunburn, and pestilent insects.
[Nostalgia Sidebar- To be fair, there were many good moments; e.g., playing horseshoes with the grownups behind Lawler’s General Store in Munfordville, KY. Also, walking down the railroad tracks to watch the L&N drop off the mailbag as it rumbled past the depot was a fun daily ritual. And Virginia Beach was much more pleasant when “angels” (cumulus clouds) appeared, bringing shade and blessed relief. That, and more seafood than I could ever seem to get in Louisville.]
But even as a kid, I remember thinking that this ubiquitous leisure system was messed up. What in the world was wrong with vacationing during spring or fall, seasons that are generally cool and comfortable and much more pleasant? And why is the deck stacked liked this? And do I want to let this be the template for my life?
I consider myself most fortunate. Due to a motley synthesis of some actual design and a boatload of dumb luck, I have, for most of my adult life, been able to travel and vacation when I feel like it, more or less. Sometimes you get what you plan on, sometimes you get more than you bargained for, and sometimes you simply get what you get. But it is a gift to be able to see and experience the world on your own terms, più o meno. And if that includes Roma in the summer (FYI, today’s high temperature: 101°F), well, buona fortuna.
And should you feel the need, by all means take a load off your feet. Roma is 2700 years old. Roma does not mind.