ROME, ITALY

The Trenitalia queue at Termini station twists all the way around a glass bookstore past the escalators and out the front doors into the sun shining on scuzzy Via Marsala.

It is ten times longer than the line for the Sistine Chapel and much less ebullient. People are sitting on their suitcases, listening to their iPods with faraway looks, combing through their guidebooks, crowding the Info kiosks, making distraught calls and snapping at each other. The trains are all booked until Thursday and so are the buses. The people in line today are buying tickets for three days ahead. Travel within the country is near capacity but there is some space. So you can sort of move around Italy but leaving it is difficult. Getting all the way back home is not an option for some of us.

I’ve been travel stranded before, mostly by blizzards. It’s useless to call the airline or cop an attitude. Find a hotel room and call home (in that order). Rome has more hotel rooms than frescoes but a lot of people who’ve checked out and gone to the airport find they need to turn around and come back. So I’ve been moving around each day to a different hotel. It’s kind of fun to have to do that.

Being stranded in Italy is like getting locked in a closet with a person you want to kiss badly at a party you need to be leaving.

I understand people have babies to get back to, medical school board exams, job interviews, sick relatives and other urgent matters awaiting them. But if you have none of that, the volcanic ash cloud has handed you a magnificent gift. With a guilty glee, relinquish a credit card and go with it.

The bulk of the tourists in Italy seem to be French and Spanish. Though they arrived by low cost carriers like RyanAir they are opting to get home by train since flights keep getting cancelled. It feels like the only people truly stranded are the English speakers – Brits and North Americans. We aren’t going anywhere. Possibly the Brits will get back by warship from Spain if things don’t improve by the weekend.

The English speakers bitch in small clusters wearing grim expressions and waving away sellers who want them to buy hop on/hop off bus tours of Rome for twenty euros, special price for you.

Through all this, the stazione Termini homeless people go on sleeping and a smiley promo team hands out sample size cans of Coke Zero and police in handsome uniforms chase fake bag sellers from Morocco down a shady alley. A scoop of chocolate gelato falls off a German man’s cone onto his white Lacoste shoe. Church bells pong from a dozen different directions simultaneously and two pigeons battle over what appears to be an exceptionally dusty crust of pizza.

Life stalls for some and chugs along for the rest and you can’t cry for too long because there’s so much to see and it will all be over soon.

So when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Find a table in the sun and order something to drink. Take it all in.


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MEGAN POWER lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Visit her blog: http://meganpower.blogspot.com

16 responses to “When (Stranded By a Giant Cloud of Volcanic Ash) in Rome”

  1. AnnMarie says:

    Ah… I loved this… Was in Rome late last year and would have loved to have been stranded there… forever. Must be a Nova Scotia thing (I’m from CB).

  2. jmblaine says:

    I used to know this
    girl named
    Pony
    lived in Texas
    taught ESL
    at the technical college
    took pictures of sunsets
    from her apartment balcony
    & now look
    Sistine Chapel
    Via Marsala
    overseas MFA
    reporting live from
    smack dab middle of
    world disaster haute couture
    policemen in handsome uniforms
    locked in a closet
    with a person
    you want to kiss badly
    when you should be
    leaving

    go Pony go
    your midnight boy
    is keening

  3. Kip Tobin says:

    Hey,

    One of my best friends lives in Rome. You should contact her.

    Her phone is +39 3466125384

    I am emailing her right now for you to call her. That is, if you’re still there. I just heard on NPR that London is opening it’s airports.

    Will write a proper response once I properly read this, just skimmed it.

    Cheers.

    K*

  4. Kip Tobin says:

    Oh, shit, her name is constance.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    “Being stranded in Italy is like getting locked in a closet with a person you want to kiss badly at a party you need to be leaving.”

    Oh, well-played, Megan. I’m so full of admiration for this line…

    Are people going crazy over there?

    • Yeah, that was the line I was about to comment on… Oh, and the title. Nice title.

      I wrote a blog post about the volcano, too. It was called “Strange Rumblings in Iceland.” I’m such a nerd… Laughing at my own crude jokes.

  6. Erika Rae says:

    Thanks so much for this, Megan. So vivid. Who needs CNN? The person I feel the saddest for is the German man. Poor chocolate gelato.

  7. Judy Prince says:

    Love these stand-out descriptions, Megan: “. . . and police in handsome uniforms chase fake bag sellers from Morocco down a shady alley. A scoop of chocolate gelato falls off a German man’s cone onto his white Lacoste shoe. Church bells pong from a dozen different directions simultaneously and two pigeons battle over what appears to be an exceptionally dusty crust of pizza.” Full of action, colours, flavour and noise!

    Your final paragraph is a peace-bringing foil to all the previous confusions: “So when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Find a table in the sun and order something to drink. Take it all in.”

    BTW, how are your studies in Wales coming along?

  8. Mary says:

    “Being stranded in Italy is like getting locked in a closet with a person you want to kiss badly at a party you need to be leaving.” <– favorite line. 🙂

    This is cool. I’m so glad you’re taking advantage of the situation, and I hope you’ll post more about what you do while biding your time.

  9. Anon says:

    It’s too early for me to be creative so I’ll shoot for succinct. Another vote for “like getting locked in a closet with a person you want to kiss badly at a party you need to be leaving” being utterly fantastic. It is now my GoogleTalk status (properly attributed, of course).

  10. I’m booking a flight… this is just another reason why writers are writers. Because we sit and observe and take it in… Most of the time, anyways.

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    I’ve felt stranded this week too. Only it’s a metaphorical stranding, not a physical one. And I’m not in Rome. I’m caught somewhere far less hospitable.

    This was lovely. It took me out of myself for a while and I needed that badly. Enjoy Italy!

  12. Wolf Lobin says:

    “Take it all in”, that’s what you’ve done here quite perspicaciously: a vivid snapshot of being a stuck tourist.

    You’ve also mastered the cumulative coordinate sentence, which, if you don’t know what is, you should find out about it whenever you’ve graduated from your program. (I will happily instruct.) Most good writers do master cumulative syntax, according to my professor, and use it throughout their writing in order to fatten up the sentences with details and scenic juice, painting the verbal picture as slickly and pleasingly as possible, answering questions that previous propositions and suppositions propose in other clauses, all within one sentence, each one sort of petting the other one, kind of like this sentence here does, without disrupting the flow. (Mind you, I’m not master, and that sentence is certainly not a model, but it should suffice to show you what it is.)

    Yeah, you got that down.

    I can see Cardiff is paying you back handsomely.

    Cheers.

    k*

  13. D.R. Haney says:

    Make sure to throw a few coins in the Trevi Fountain. This could conceivably extend your stay still longer, if you’re still in Rome, or anyway lead to a quick return.

  14. Irene Zion says:

    I love that you looked at this as an adventure and not a hardship.
    I love that you thought it was fun to move from one hotel to another every day.
    I love that you noticed the pizza crust was extra-dusty, but the pigeons didn’t care.

  15. liesel says:

    *gasp*
    I love this !!!
    brilliant clever fun fast frame-by-frame HD crisp colorful writing

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