About Us

Contact Us



Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

Hacktreks World Journeys - Italy

A Roman Awakening
Richard Palese

When traveling in foreign countries, many of us expect to arrive in a completely different world, bombarded with different customs and languages at a relentless pace. For good reason we feel insecure in strange places; not knowing who to turn to and who to trust in a sticky situation weakens the nerves and tramples the spirit. Bearing all this in mind I ventured to Rome. I have to admit, knowing that the city itself was thousands of years old and would not stop running if I had a problem made me a little uneasy. However it was in Rome, among some of the oldest and most coveted works of architecture and amidst a gloriously aged and still-flourishing culture, that I realized something very important. People are people. No matter where we live or what language we speak, no matter what food we eat or how we smoke our cigarettes, we are intrinsically the same.

A few hours after our departure from Madrid International, Nate, Joe, and I arrived at Fumacino in Rome. The scene churned chaotically, as expected, with people of all nationalities rushing here or there with high stacks of luggage loaded onto large grocery store carts. The first sign that assured me of my location came from the terminals loudspeaker; Italian words streamed out of it. We slowly made our way to the baggage claim, passing by the noisy food court and restroom area, where we would encounter our first obstacle. Fifteen minutes after the carousel became active, and most of the passengers we shared the flight with had already left, I still did not have my luggage.

Standing nearby, alone, stood a young Italian girl of about twenty. I can particularly remember her sunglasses because I had never quite seen a pair like them. The lenses were tinted slightly red and seemed rather large, covering a huge portion of her small, well-defined face; she wore them well. She approached us with confidence; and with a swift toss-back of her thick, lustrous, black hair and a hand on her hip, began to rattle off at us in Italian. Although we could not understand a word of her animated speech, we all knew, judging from her obviously agitated attitude, that she too had lost her luggage. When we told her that we could not speak Italian, she simply giggled and motioned us to follow her towards the information desk. Medusafied, we stood and listened to this beautiful Italian girl converse with the information representative much faster than we could have had we been communicating in English. Soon enough the young lady behind the desk said in a thick Italian accent, "Your bags may be mixed with the Flight 1176," and pointed towards the left. So we followed the long black hair to the carousel for flight 1176 and sure enough all of our luggage was there, slowly turning round and round waiting for us. After a mutual look of relief, I said goodbye to my new friend, and we parted, probably forever.

Following other tourists, mostly Americans, who we could understand, we eventually arrived at the correct train. Our destination, the Termini Station, would require a forty-five minute train ride. Our train hauled into the station and came to a slow, grinding halt. As we approached the front car I became aware of the presence of the conductor; he was a portly man with a thick black mustache that made him stereotypically conductorlike. My eye fixed upon him because he smoked a rather large cigar that created billows of smoke rising unusually high. I followed the smoke up as it wafted in the light breeze. Higher and higher I peered until all I could see was the sky; grey and colorless, like the inside of a marble, with indiscernible shapes swirling in and out of each other. It captivated me. So much so that I almost forgot where I was. I remember feeling the cold breeze on my neck and smelling that right-before-a-snowstorm-smell, common to my home back in New York. Indeed, I could have been anywhere; it didn’t matter for those few moments as I gazed at our common sky. Recovering from my reflective trance, I gathered my bags, proceeded to the third car and boarded the train.

In about an hour we reached Termini Station in Rome. More crowds and hurriedness awaited us outside the train’s doors. Like salmon swimming upstream my crew and I braved the oncoming crowd that seemed to be flowing entirely against us. From across the hangar-like, open-air terminal I remember hearing a remarkably miserable wail; one that reverberated through the unforgiving crowd and begged a response. As the distressed moaning grew closer it became clear to me what had been creating it. A woman of about 40-or at least she appeared so, she could very well have been 30-was crouched into a ball against the wall with her hand extended. Her position was not unlike that of someone who had just been kicked hard in the stomach, and she wore nothing on her bruised and dirty feet despite the biting, November air. When I passed her everything slowed around me; the sounds of the crowd and the motor scooters outside all seemed to fade away. The only thing that remained was this wretched figure and the horrible wind blowing in from one side of the terminal and exiting the other at great speed. I felt for her. Her unhappiness surrounded us like an aura, capturing all who ventured close enough to pass through it.

I reached for the map that the information people gave me a few minutes earlier and began to get my bearings. It seemed that our hostel lay very close, only a few blocks down on Via Milazzi. We left the crowds and the poor homeless woman and found ourselves on a genuine Roman street for the first time. Across from us on the other side of the street a young couple waited to cross. They were arguing vehemently. Words streamed from their mouths as if in one long strand, completely foreign to our ears. Although I could not understand their words I knew from experience how they felt. The buildings we passed were mostly other hostels and small cafés. The grey stonework matched the gloominess of the sky I had noticed earlier. We navigated through crowds of tourists, mostly people our age in a similar search for cheap sleeping quarters. After a fair amount of meandering through side street after side street we located Hotel Planet. Small and rather uneasy on the eyes with no decorations, it was easy for us to leave in a hurry to start our day.

Without any knowledge of the city and armed with a mere tourist map the colorful kind with night-club advertisements-we decided to head for the most widely publicized historical sites. After some small discussion the decision concerning exactly where we would go that first day was made. The Trevi Fountain sounded peaceful and entertaining to the four of us so we started out. After about a dozen requests for directions we encountered the magnificent masterpiece... Tiny, winding streets riddled with cafes and small shops suddenly converged and formed a wide-mouthed opening to the ancient Piazza de Trevi.

The Trevi at Night
There, almost entirely against the face of the Palazzo Poli and amidst an otherwise average section of the historical city, lay the captivating cascading fountain. Over one hundred people had gathered to view the baroque structure, all equally stunned by its beauty and glory. The main artist responsible for its construction, Nicola Salvi, succeeded spectacularly in creating a breathtaking stage of characters. In the center stands the mighty Neptune, boldly commanding a chariot powered by two powerful sea-horses known as the "agitated" horse and the "placid" horse; both seem to be bursting out of raw stone; all but movement and coloring separate them from living creatures. Following the legend we threw three coins into the shimmering pool and secretly hoped the miracle would come true.

We sat along the sides of the pool until evening descended and the fountain lit up in all its splendor. Gazing off into the distance, unaware of the crowds and hurriedness, I began to reflect upon the time I had spent in Rome so far. I remembered the Italian girl, who shared my feelings of anxiety and helplessness in the airport. I recalled the homeless woman, and how she pierced my soul. Here, at this magnificent structure which drew so much attention from so many different people, I began to feel as if part of some unexplainable whole, just on a different side of it.

I knew I would always remember that cool evening sitting by the fountain, and that peaceful, somber feeling that came over me. I’ll remember staring up into that never-ending, grey, swirling sky, the same sky that swirled over my hometown. Then I focused my attention on the people. They were everywhere. All of these people, these tourists from all areas of the world had gathered there that night to see the very same thing. It was inspiring. All of our differences melted away and we were bound together by some unexplained force. Maybe it was the sheer beauty and reverence of the fountain, or maybe something more than that. As unexplainable as it may be, it happened, and it was visible on every single face in that crowd, stripping them, balancing out the variations and leveling the slate.

© Richard Palese April 5th 2003

More World Journeys on Hacktreks


© Hackwriters 2000-2003 all rights reserved