Things I Should Never Tell My Mother. Or: How to Travel Alone in Rome on Spring Break
I went to Rome for spring break and I had the time of my life.
I have so many wonderful stories about my adventures and the people I met that I don’t even know where this story should begin.
So, since I have a twisted mind and soul, I have decided to begin where a normal person would end…or perhaps with the part of this story that a normal person would never mention at all.
I’m going to tell the story of the parts of my trip that I wish had not happened. The dark things that most people would suppress to far recess of their mind and bury with their gravestone.
Because those are the best stories.
As I type this, I pray my mother never reads it. But, given the catchy title, I’m probably screwed on that front. So instead, I’ll just prepare myself for a flurry of text messages from her, all written in angry, capital letters.
To give you some context, my mother is a sweet, God-fearing woman with a generally nervous disposition and an ill-fated belief that she can protect me from the world.
Personally, I think she should be more concerned about protecting the world from me.
But apparently I’m alone in that opinion.
When she first heard that I was traveling to Rome by myself, my mother gasped.
Then, she gave me a lecture on safety and the perils of a women traveling alone.
I pointed out that I was actually not alone. I was traveling with: me, myself, and I.
Somehow, this did not seem to help.
“Don’t get raped and murdered!” she told me.
I keep a list of lectures that I receive from my mother on a bi-monthly basis. This is one of her favorites.
Because, of course, the implication is that I need to be reminded not to get raped and murdered. Or that I have some control over either of those things happening to me.
Sometimes, it feels like she’s prepping for a future I-told-you-so.
Like, “If you had just been paying attention, you would have seen that he had a ‘Rapist and Murderer’ t-shirt on. And then you wouldn’t be in this predicament and six feet under, now would you? Hmmmm?!?”
Which would be, like, the worst I-told-you-so ever.
By the way, my mother gave me the exact same don’t-get-raped-and-murdered lecture before I moved to Barcelona.
I wish I was kidding.
That said, she has also given that lecture to me at many other points in my life – so much so that it is now ingrained in my psyche. I actually sent an email to my friend, Juliet, before I left for Rome. It included my itinerary in case anything went wrong and a list of action steps for her to take in case I died.
In case I died.
Soooo, that’s one way to start a fun spring break trip to Rome.
But I hopped on that plane with grit and determination…along with new prescription contacts so that I could keep a sharp eye out for ‘Rapist and Murderer’ t-shirts.
Like I said, I ended up having an absolutely marvelous and wonderful time.
But that doesn’t mean that it was a completely smooth journey either. There were three events that would have turned my mother’s hair grey.
Or stark white.
***I’m just going to pause and mention that it does get a bit graphic from here, so if you’re squeamish, you should turn back now. Cheers.***
1) Keep Your Dick to Yourself
My first day in Rome was gorgeous. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and everyone was calling me “bella.”
Which I totally dig.
Since I hadn’t made any plans, my Airbnb host, Mario, suggested a few lesser-known touristy areas in the Trastevere neighborhood.
I spent the afternoon scoping out the Saint Maria church, which was filled with art and religion and feeling, and walking to the tallest hill to overlook all of Rome, which was awesome and inspiring and delightful.
I was in an incredible mood, high with vacation attitude.
I was walking down the hill, enjoying the afternoon sun on my face, when I had the prickling sense that someone was following me.
From the corner of my eye, I realized that a car had slowed down next to me.
Which was odd.
After all, I was on the sidewalk so there was plenty of room for him to pass me by. There was no reason for him to slow down.
I turned my head and to move the car from my peripheral vision to my central vision.
It was the shadiest car ever.
In the States, this car would have been a white van with no windows, “Free Candy” spray painted in black along the side, playing ice-cream truck music.
Apparently, the Italian version of that is a beige, beat-up piece of junk, in need of a new transmission.
I barely had time to register the shadiness of the car when I saw the dude inside.
Or – to be more specific – I saw the dick of the dude inside.
This guy had his fly zipped down and his penis poking out. And he was stroking a full-mast erection and staring at me.
If that makes you feel shocked or uncomfortable, imagine how I felt.
There are many ways I could have responded to this little show, the most normal of which probably would have been a high-pitched, hysterical scream.
But the reality is that, when you’re in a situation like this, you don’t choose how to respond. You just react.
And my reaction?
It was an extremely chill reaction to a truly shocking event. I have no idea how I remained so calm. But I’m glad my face didn’t betray my true feelings.
Because I figure, if there’s some dude cruising around, doing his version of the PeeWee Herman show, he’s probably getting off on the shock factor more than anything else.
So, I hope this Italian perv was exceptionally disappointed by my lack of a reaction.
All of this happened in the span of a mili-second.
The moment that I turned to look at his car, the guy sped off.
It happened so fast that I actually have no idea what his face looks like, even though his dick is burned into my retinas.
Which is just fantastic.
The guy raced away for about a block and then stopped at the bottom of the hill.
Like he was waiting for me.
Because there is nothing I love more than feeling both violated and threatened.
Of course, it is possible that he needed to stop the car because he would have lost control of it for…other reasons.
Reasons which I try not to imagine because I’m already traumatized enough, thankyouverymuch.
Staring at this stopped car felt like a chest game.
Hmm, Pervert has moved to position B1.
What is your next move, Player 2?
My mind clicked through the different options.
I chose to cross the street so that we were not on the same side. As soon as I did that, he took off and I never saw him again.
I’m not sure if I won the chess game because I didn’t get molested or if I lost because it was actually a silent power-struggle on his end.
What I do know is that I am still kicking myself for not having the foresight to take a picture of his license plate. I don’t know Italian law, but I’m pretty sure Roman police are not down and jiggy with that sh*t.
I wish I could have turned him in and stopped his jerk-and-drive theatrics, but oh well. I handled it the best I could, in the moment. And at the time, I was more interested in quick safety than future justice.
As my heart rate slowed down and I had a few minutes to reflect, I wondered if this shocking and graphic experience would ruin the rest of my trip.
And then I realized that mentality was entirely up to me.
I could let this stranger have power over me. He could live rent-free in my brain space for the rest of my time in Rome and make me feel small, vulnerable, and insecure.
Or I could give the middle finger to him and his little roadshow. I could choose to believe that most people are inherently good, enjoy myself in Rome, and be happy.
A half-hour later, the event was washed from my mind.
I had a fantastic time in Rome and I never thought about him again.
2) The Worst Non-Date Ever
I love telling my first-date stories. They’re hilarious.
Granted, I think life in general is hilarious, it’s got good comedic effect.
That sh*t writes itself.
Usually, hilarity ensues when my dates go completely and utterly awry.
Which constantly amuses me.
But never in my life have I had a non-date go awry.
Before going to Rome, I posted on a meet-up board for expats, to see if anyone wanted to have lunch while I was in town.
I was contacted by a non-expat. A twenty-something kid from the States who was traveling to Rome at the same time as me.
So, we chatted briefly over Skype and, even after that conversation, I wasn’t sure what to think of him.
On one hand, he had an interesting story of how he just survived throat cancer and was now traveling to all of the places that he had thought he would never live to see.
On the other hand, he felt the need to tell me exactly how much money he and his girlfriend were making in their high-powered jobs. Which is probably the most white-trash statement that a black kid from Philly can make.
But I was traveling alone and figured I would like company at some point during my trip, so we scheduled a dinner.
We showed up to the restaurant and it was immediately evident that I was going to suffer through this dinner.
And not in a Luiz Vives sort of way, where “you will suffer and you will like it.”
But in a f*ck-my-life sort of way, where you pray that lasagna gets caught in your dinner companion’s throat and effectively shuts down his vocal cords.
I did not make my assessment rashly. I have several very good reasons for disliking this dude. Here are my top three:
- He had arrived in Italy only a few hours earlier and had already seen eight monuments.
The only way he could be physically capable of doing that is running to a monument, taking a picture, and running to the next one.
Basically, his trip was just really expensive Photoshop.
He had no interest in understanding of the value or the rich history that he was so privileged to witness.
It was so at odds with my own values that it upset me. I wanted to reach across the table and smack him on the nose with his own camera.
- We were in Italy, in an Italianrestaurant, which was recommended to us by my Italianfriend.
When the waitress arrived, this guy said, “Nice menu…but do you have any chicken?”
It was like asking for a McDonalds cheeseburger at a five star restaurant, run by Ferran Adria.
I was so embarrassed for him – and for myself, by association – that I could not meet our waitress’s eyes.
- He was incapable of making decisions.
I would say things like, “There are two options. I would like to do x, but I understand if you would prefer to do y. What do you think?”
And he would shrug his shoulders and say, “I dunno. Whatever you want to do.”
Duuuuuude, I already told you what I wanted to do. Just make a decision, for crying out loud.
Then, he tells me that he and his long-term girlfriend just moved in together.
“She knows that I’m the boss. She knows I’m the alpha male. I said, ‘No, my toothpaste has always been there and that’s where it’s going to stay because I said so.'”
First of all, way to pick your battles. You are such a man.
Second, you are the most beta male I have ever met.
It’s fine to be a beta, but don’t call yourself to an alpha when you are literally incapable of making a single freaking decision.
We finally parted ways, much to my great and utter relief.
By the way, I later told my mother this story and she flipped out.
“Rachel!” she screeched over FaceTime. “What are you doing meeting up with strangers? He could have been a murderer!”
Trust me, ma, that guy had a lot more to fear from me than me from him.
3) Midnight Motorcycle Ride
In the short time I was in Rome, I build a friendship with my Airbnb host, Mario.
He was a wonderful and delightful human being, and he completely changed my experience in Italy for the better.
When I first arrived, Mario gave me a map of the city and marked his favorite, lesser-known tourist places.
On my last evening in Rome, I tried to find several of these places, but I got lost. And that night, I had dinner with Mario and had to admit that I could not find his favorite monuments.
So, he invited me on a midnight motorcycle ride around Rome so that we could find them together.
Before I knew it, I had hopped on his bike and we were flying down Roman streets in the middle of the night, the wind in my face.
For a (brief) moment, my mother popped into my head. After all, I had only known Mario for three days.
But I checked out his outfit and he wasn’t wearing a ‘Rapist and Murderer’ t-shirt, so I figured I was good.
Plus, my friend, Angie, worked as a Corrections Officer at a prison and she always told me, “When in doubt, the eyes are the groin of the face.”
Which I figured was all the martial arts training I would need to defend myself.
Together, we visited:
- Face of Truth
- A hill of clay pots – In order to pass through Rome on the river, boats had to bring the Empire gifts to gain passage. The gifts were usually in clay pots. The Romans would take the gifts and then cut the pots into perfect, tiny squares and stacked them until it made a hill. When the Empire fell, vegitation grew over the clay, so we didn’t know about this practice until it was uncovered several years ago. It is such unusual phenonmenon for vegitation to grow on this kind of clay soil that scientists came from all over the world to study how it could possibly have happened.
- Ruins of the Bath House – the origin of the Roman orgies
- Keyhole – There is a building that is owned by the Knights of Malta. You cannot open the door, but you can look through the keyhole. And on the other side is St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s dome glowing in the dark.
- We flew by the Colosseum, which was even more grand and imposing when light up against the night.
- A random street – Mario took me to a random street where we could see St. Peter’s Basilica at the end. From our vantage point, the church was huge. Its dome was like a massive moon at the end of the street. Then, Mario revved the engine and raced us towards it. The closer we got, the further away it seemed. Then, we raced in the opposite direction and it grew larger, seeming to chase us. It was an optical illusion. I asked Mario how it was possible, expecting to hear about the elevation or the design of the lines of the street. He refused to give me such a dull response. “It’s the magic of Rome,” he said instead. It was the perfect answer.
During my trip to Rome, I survived a disturbing dick display, my worst non-date ever, and a midnight ride around the city.
I wasn’t chopped into a thousand little pieces, but still…these are probably things that I should never tell my mother.