MY DOLCE VITA: Week One

In a nutshell, the arrival was relatively uneventful. Landed at Leonardo da Vinci Airport, located my bags and hopped into a taxi. It being a bright and beautiful Roman winter afternoon, with temperatures of roughly 70 degrees, I allowed a cheerful "Buona Sera" to trip off the tongue. Determining that I was obviously fluent, the driver then launched into a full-on discourse about God only knows what. I nodded from time to time and said, Si, si, at regular intervals, so as to demonstrate interest. For all I know, however, he was revealing how and where to find Osama Bin Laden.

Ah, yes, life in a country where one does not speak the language...I begin to understand why people told me I was very brave to do what I am doing...

Okay. I get to the flat and meet the landlady. I am living in an early 16th Century building --- one that once housed Voltaire during his visit to the Eternal City. Trust me, the plumbing pre-dates the monsieur...ditto the refrigerator...

Anyway, the landlady (Fiorella) regretfully informs me that the plumbing is in a state of disaster, the plumbers are coming "domani" (note the use of the inverted commas) and I will need to stay somewhere else for a day or two...She says she will pay for a room at a hotel or, if I’d prefer, I can come and stay at her place near the Vatican. I opt for the latter, having made a firm commitment to do the opposite of what I'd usually do.

Okay, onto Fiorella's place. Turns out she's a sculptress. Evidence of her work abounds in the apartment overlooking St. Peter's. Because Fiorella has a small studio, she keeps much of her "better" stuff in the spare bedroom. As a result, I share a room with 15 or 20 extremely large, extremely graphic terracotta vulvae. Hey, I said I wanted new experiences.

Finally move into the flat four days later. That's when the real fun begins. You will remember that said flat is roughly 500 years old. There is no central heat (one uses electric radiators, instead) and the electricity is, well, tempermental. If you turn on the WRONG combination of appliances or lights or radiators, you will blow a fuse. In truth, it isn’t all that complicated...ONCE YOU KNOW THE MAGIC COMBINATION. Think of it like a word problem from math class:

Maria, Paolo and Angelina share an apartment in Rome with 8 lamps, 3 electric radiators, one bathroom fan for heat, one refrigerator and two overhead lights. Maria has an iBook. Paolo has a hair dryer and a mobile phone charger. Angelina has a television set. Maria turns on three lamps and one radiator, then goes to use her iBook. At the same time, Paolo decides to take a hot shower and goes into the bathroom to switch on the hot water heater. Angelina, ex-BBC, decides she MUST know what is happening in the world, and switches on the television set.

Which of the three causes the fuse to blow?
Extra credit question: Which one dies of electric shock?

'Tis trial and error. And extremely funny. Unless, of course, you're stark naked, soaking wet from the shower you just took, and blind without your glasses...and then the fuse blows. Ha ha ha. Tee hee hee. Molto hilariouso…

Looking back over the week, I would have to say that my biggest accomplishment was the successful purchase of a new, fabric (non plastico) shower curtain. Now, I say this as someone who has, in the past, negotiated large deals with companies like Reuters and travelled to Russia with a USAID fellowship. Trust me, NEITHER OF THOSE EVENTS compares to the sheer, abject joy and sense of accomplishment I experienced last Saturday morning. Here's a recap:

The flat came with a shower curtain. That much must be admitted. To say, however, that it resembled something from a room you rent by the hour would be giving it far too much credit. Trust me, I could have hung a plastic sandwich bag and gotten better protection. Anyway. I figured out how to say shower curtain. For those who are interested, it's tendina per doccia (ten-DEE-na pair DOH-chee-uh). You could go to Berlitz classes for a year and never get that one. I then walked the whole of Rome in search of said item. Blank looks. Finally, one lovely guy took pity on me and pointed out on a map a street that looked to me to be just south of Wales. "There," he said, "there you find shower curtain." Here's the trick, however: stores close for three hours during the lunch hour.

I had exactly 20 minutes in which to get to the store. Now, I'm not a person who considers jogging a rational form of transportation. I'd rather eat tripe. However, I also wanted that effin’ shower curtain. So, in a sprint rivalling Carl Lewis at his peak, I tore past the Vatican and got to the Via Candia at four minutes to one. Bought the shower curtain (I was lucky --- they had two in stock!!!) and then nearly cried from the thrill of it. Can't remember a more rewarding moment in my professional history.

Next week, I will address the burning question: Where is that girl’s bum? In other words, is there ANYONE in this entire country with hips of ANY consequence???? I fear my trousers may resemble upholstery to these unbelievably minute and fashionable people.

Stay tuned. La vita e una aventura. That's what I'm learning. I have ups and downs, of course, but I continue to pinch myself and say, My God, I did it. I'm here and it's pretty extraordinary.

© Copyright Amy Selwyn 2004