The sun was high in the sky and baking the thousands of people lined up to get in to the Vatican. It was a little after mid-day, and I was meeting my friend Dave and his ex-girlfriend Amy. To clarify, in a few other stories I mention my friend Dave. My program in Spain only had 6 guys, three of which were named Dave. One preferred to go by his middle name, Ryan. Though both of the other Dave’s had beards, one had an SLR digital camera, causing everyone else to start calling him “Camera Dave.” The other Dave became known as “Bearded Dave,” and was the person I was meeting in Rome on this April day.
I’d been traveling From Venice and Florence, and was going to spend the day in Rome with my friend who was studying there, but it turned out he was busy and couldn’t hang out. I knew Dave was in the city for a couple more days, so I called up his hotel and we agreed to meet at the Vatican in an hour.
Waiting by the entrance, sweating and burning, I thought back to the first time I’d been there, 3 years before. The place looked exactly the same, as it probably has for the last few centuries, with thousands of visitors lining up to get in. When Dave and Amy realized they’d have to wait in line for at least an hour or two, they decided to say screw it.
Sneaking around some ancient, back alley behind the Vatican, we jumped a couple of fences and found a nearly abandoned walkway down to a neighborhood with a pizza shop, where we ate some food and figured out what to do. It was some national holiday, so a lot of things were closed and the streets were packed with people. We wound up just walking around and looking for things to do, which is very easy to do in Rome.
The heat was formidable, wearing us down and leaving “pit stains” on everyone we passed by, as well as us. Stopping by the Pantheon, Dave decided he wanted to try to chip off a piece of the column to take home. Vivid images of Dave taking out a harmless pebble as the entire structure tumbled into dust worried me, and I reminded him that it was a crime to steal something from a heritage site such as that. Still, Dave was determined to loosen a piece of rock that was sticking out. I stood guard as he chipped away inconspicuously, and as a few pieces crumbled to the ground, he finally decided it was pointless. Just in time too, as some policemen started to walk by.
We finally got to Trevi Fountain, packed with hundreds of tourists and scammers alike. It was only about 3 in afternoon, but with nothing else to do, I suggested we get some wine and start drinking. Everyone agreed. One of the beautiful things about Italy is that wine is not only fantastic, but cheaper than Coke. Also, you can drink in the streets in the middle of the day, and though you might look foolish, no one bothers you.
We each got our own bottles and went back to the fountain, where we started to drink in plain sight of families, children, and anyone else who was looking. Simply sitting and enjoying some wine in a beautiful setting was harmless enough, but drinking out of the bottle seems suspicious to many. Finally, the heat and humidity reached a breaking point, and we could see dark, troublesome clouds coming in fast. Only an hour earlier there hadn’t been any clouds in the sky, so we were completely unprepared. People started to notice and started to get away, trying to find a place to hide.
Now, if you’ve never been to Trevi fountain, you can’t truly appreciate this scene. But at any given time, there are 50-100 gypsies or other immigrants trying to sell anything from roses to stupid toys that light up and make noise. They can be annoying, but all you have to do is tell them “no thanks” and they’ll move on to the next person. I don’t know where they keep their supplies or how they can move so fast, but as soon as those clouds appeared, suddenly all of them had umbrellas ready to go, charging an arm and a leg.
As the rain started coming in hard, we ran looking for cover. Dave wanted another slice of pizza, so we stopped in a shop off to the corner. Even though he got two slices of pizza and a soda, the bastard shop owner wouldn’t let us stay inside unless we all got food. We begged and pleaded, asking him if he had a heart, but he wouldn’t hear of it. With no choice, we went back out into the brutal thunderstorm which had now started to bring in rain drops like a waterfall.
Running around for cover, we found a small awning from a door post leading up to an apartment. We all cuddled up underneath, just barely being covered. We’d found safety, but many others were no so fortunate. We could see dozens of people running with no where to go, dripping wet. We’d found the only place on the street to hide.
From our safehouse we were able to watch a tremendous thunderstorm that was taking the city without mercy. Drinking our wine, we told stories, laughed, and waited it out. Every once in a while a guy would come by trying to sell us umbrellas. At first they wanted 20 euro per umbrella, so we told them to get lost. Slowly, the storm was letting up, and when they came back I tried to make a deal with them.
“20 euro for umbrella.”
“No way, look at the sky, my friend. The storm is ending. Your market is crashing. I’ll do you a favor and buy two from you for 10 euro, otherwise you aren’t going to be selling any.”
“No, no. 20 euro for two.”
“How about we trade you two umbrellas for her?” I said and pointed to Amy.
She seemed pretty surprised, but the gypsy loved the idea. He was pretty disappointed when she wouldn’t commit to the trade. Amy wound up buying an umbrella for 10 euro as the storm was all but done, and we yelled at her for not holding out longer. With the storm now finished, we hung back under the awning, now enjoying the spot we’d been forced to take refuge in.
Amy had to pee, so she went to a restaurant across the road. Now that Dave and I had finished our wine, we both had to go also. Amy said all you had to do is walk as if you were already in the restaurant. Dave went first, and when I saw him coming out I made a move. We didn’t say a word to each other as we passed, just gave a slight nod of the head and wink with a dry laugh; the unspoken understanding between people who know they’re breaking the rules and getting away with it with no possible repercussions. The bartender looked like he wanted to say something to me as I walked in, but I didn’t give him the chance.
It’s one of those rare moments in your life when you can take a simple thing like riding out a storm and breaking into a restaurant to use their bathroom that make it all worthwhile sometimes. You don’t have to spend the day seeing the sights in Rome, you just have to spend it with some good people. Shenanigans and other tomfoolery make it memorable, but it’s all about the company.
After we finished out bathroom mission, we got more wine and walked around some more, the sweltering afternoon temperature having dropped considerably to a now pleasant, cool evening. Feeling funny, I took a picture with some Carabinieri as I drank my wine. We still had the thrill of drinking near the cops in the street and not getting in trouble.
We headed up to the top of a hill near the “Wedding Cake” building and watched the sunset, finishing our wine and admiring the setting sun over the city, where for thousands of years people have been enjoying their wine and watching the sun set, just like us. The day was ending, the trip over, but the pleasurable memories just beginning to take their places in my head.