April 20, 2010
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.