Before I tell you more about Rome a quick aside: Yesterday I went to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Tradeshow in Oakland where I was invited to sign copies of Sex, Murder And A Double Latte. The event bore a few similarities to Book Expo America (BEA) and a lot of interesting differences. For one thing BEA is 1000 times bigger and unlike BEA, NCIBA’s show has a mellow quality that is reflective of Northern California. But what really interested me was the people who came to have me sign a book for them. BEA took place a month after my book’s release and most of the people who came to have me sign were booksellers who had read my blog or seen my novel featured in Cosmo or the like and wanted to see what the fuss was about. But now my book’s been out for five months (God, could it be that long?) and most of the people at this tradeshow had either read my book or were there on behalf of a friend who had and wanted a signed copy. Those who hadn’t read it had had it recommended to them by a friend. There were several people who told me that they were “excited about meeting (me).” It was wonderful and surreal at the same time. To be able to bring people enjoyment by doing something that I love….well, how can I not be grateful for my incredibly good fortune? I honestly feel blessed.
Okay, back to Rome. Once Brenda and I took a brief nap we headed out of our hotel room to explore. By the way, despite the difficulties we had over the phone the hotel I was staying at (Hotel Primus Roma) was great and in person the people at the front desk were extremely helpful. Anyway Brenda and I hit the streets right at the beginning of La passeggiata, a deservedly renowned daily Italian social custom. Basically the idea is that everyone is supposed to venture out with their family and friends for an early evening stroll. Obviously there’s a lot of walking involved but there’s also a lot of socializing and many people choose to spend the time sipping wine or espresso in one of the hundreds of cafes around.
We were staying just a few blocks away from the Aurelian Wall (a wall built around the city for military defense reasons by Emporor Aurelian in the third century) and The Pyramid of Cestius which is a funerary monument built around 12 BC (shortly after Rome had conquered Egypt and fallen in love with its culture) as a tomb for Caius Cestius.
Rome is by far the most vivacious, romantic and beautiful city I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Over all the people are friendly, welcoming and fun to be with and the architecture…well the word spectacular doesn’t really do it justice. I mean you walk along these cobble stone streets lined with little restaurants and cafes that were built in the twentieth century and then across the street there is a magnificent 16th century church and on the corner are a bunch of Roman ruins. Then you turn that corner and there’s the flippin’ Coliseum!
On the other hand you probably shouldn’t cross the street unless you have a good life insurance policy. If you don’t want to die you should learn the pedestrian rules: Roman drivers expect pedestrians to walk in a straight line at a consistent pace. That way they can drive around you (they don’t actually stop). However if you’re a tourist who crosses the street in a diagonal or who rushes across the road because there seem to be several Italian motorist trying to kill you you’re going to screw up the whole system. It’s kind of like that old video game, Frogger except in this case it’s the cars that get to try to miss the frog rather than the other way around.
Another thing that caught my attention was how affectionate the men were with one another. They often kiss each other on the cheek in greeting and on more than one occasion I saw men put their arms around their male friend’s shoulders or waist while engaged in a deep and seemingly emotional conversation. In the States guys shy away from such public displays of platonic affection because they’re afraid of being labeled Gay. If there’s one thing that Italian men are comfortable with it’s their sexuality. So if there friend is upset they put their arm around him to comfort him and if a female tourist walks by they remark on her physical attributes. Yes, they can be a bit aggressive, but in a playful way. Basically a non-Italian woman should expect to be honked at by one out of every three cars and you’re likely to hear countless suggestive comments and be approached by at least 3 or 4 men on the street on any given day. Italian women get attention too but it’s more subtle (probably because unlike female tourists they're not charmed by the idea of being objectified by their male counterparts).
This leads me to an interesting point; I was harassed (and I use that word lightly) less when I wandered off on my own then when I was with my friend. I figured out the reason for this fairly quickly. Brenda is a tall blonde woman with classic Californian good looks and when we’re together we are usually engaged in a conversation that is predictably conducted in English. We are clearly tourists. However when I was alone the locals mistook me for being Italian. Even when I was with Brenda this mistake was occasionally made. People were always addressing me in Italian and expressing surprise or dismay when it became clear that I had no idea what they were saying (unless of course they were rattling off one of the 5 phrases I learned from my Berlitz CDs). Then every once in a while a Spanish tourist would spot me, realize that I wasn’t Italian and come over to ask me a question in Spanish. I know this shouldn’t bother me but every time someone addresses me in their non-English native tongue with the assumption that we speak a common language I feel like a fraud. I know that’s silly since I’m obviously not trying to look like an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican or a Brazilian but whoever said that feelings were rational. So I’ve made a decision. I’m going to try to learn all the languages of the countries of which I am frequently mistaken for being a citizen of. Well…maybe not Portuguese, but definitely Spanish and Italian.
Anyway there is a lot more to tell but this is a blog not a novel so I’ll stop here and give you more details tomorrow.
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