Rome VIII: Odds, Ends, and Dilapidated Christmas Garfield

Micah Osler, copy editor

And so my time in Rome is coming to an end. It’s been quite a wild ride, not unlike, say, a highly unsafe rollercoaster, or maybe the backseat of a run-down Microbus driven by a recently caffeinated four-year-old through the Rocky Mountains. While the last few days were pretty great – a day trip to a hill town and a world-renowned museum were among my pastimes – I’d rather use this space to get to a few things I’ve somehow neglected to mention over the course of this column:


1. Our New Shower: A Bipolar Asthmatic Demon-Appliance That Probably Symbolizes Our Own Inevitable Demise Somehow

So, my family switched apartments a few days ago, since we’d only rented our previous one (remember, the one with the great shower?) through the 26th. This new apartment is, for one thing, much better air-conditioned, which is an enormous plus. Also, it doesn’t have any goose-down pillows, which were really inappropriate to Rome’s super-hot climate and also gave everyone in my family allergic reactions. It’s smaller, but on the whole, it’s like the nicest hotel room ever…

…with one exception. The shower here is the worst shower I have ever experienced in my life*. I think that this is the sort of shower that Kim Jong-Un would refuse to allow into North Korea for fear of starting riots.

To turn it on, you have to lift the handle VERY gently. This is incredibly important, as if you pull it up with even a tiny bit of force, frigid water sprays everywhere (and yes, I mean everywhere, because the showerhead is broken and apparently directing water “down” is beyond it in its advanced age) and the showerhead, which isn’t anchored to anything, falls off of its base and starts flailing like a rabid woodchuck. The bathroom is tiny, so no matter where you placed them, the clothes you brought to change into are pretty much soaked after that. So, gentleness.

Then wait a few minutes for the water to heat up. You might be tempted to keep the door open, because how else can you check the temperature? DO NOT DO THIS. Remember that thing about the showerhead spraying water out its sides? Yeah, leaving the door open for more than about a half a second can soak the bathroom, too.

Once the water is sufficiently hot, cram your tired body into the tiny space provided. This is probably the point that you realize that the shower has three bottles of shampoo but no soap. Gently open the door and then shut it quickly while you grab soap.

Once you have soap, wash yourself as quickly as possible. If necessary, bite the soap in half so as to wash twice as fast. Washing hair is optional, if you can get over the shampoo selection**.

Turn the shower off as gently as you turned it on. The handle can rebound to the “on” position and soak the bathroom (again, not advised).

When you exit the shower, two types of towels will greet you. There are crunchy towels, which will be abrasive against your skin and feel like you’re drying yourself with sandpaper. However, they are preferable to the clammy damp towels. Dry towels apparently do not exist within the vortex of abject horror that is this bathroom.

Dress yourself, comb your hair, leave the bathroom. Then weep softly.


2. Roman Graffiti: Not As Cool As You Think

Unfortunately, Rome is covered in graffiti. It’s not a new thing – in the Colosseum, there are some bleachers where people carved graffiti during ancient times on display. However, the graffiti in Ancient Rome was actually pretty good – the quality of art was better than something in a comic strip (barring Calvin and Hobbes, obviously) and, since graffitoes back then sketched the fights they were watching, what they left is really informative.

Not so with modern Roman graffiti. It’s mostly just words scrawled on buildings. They’re not tags or anything – they’re just words, like “Fun” or “Barf”, written in Crayola marker on stucco. Maybe they’re gang signs, but if so, these are some hilariously named gangs.

The one well-done bit of vandalism near our apartment is beneath a bridge that spans the Tiber. Unfortunately, despite its artistic merit, upon close inspeaction it seems to read “Blart”. As in the film my family has dubbed The Worst Ever, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”. Maybe that has gang cachet in Italy. Kevin James might have a secret second life as a Roman delinquent, scrawling the names of his long-forgotten films under bridges at night, hoping that maybe some traveler will see it and remember his comic “genius”. Actors – you never know.


3. Public Transit: Great, With One Exception

Trains in Europe are great. Yesterday, for less than $10 a person, we took a train 70 miles north of Rome. It saved us the indignity of trying to drive in Italy*** and it was actually pretty fun. Well, not the ride back – the A/C was broken in the car and it the heat was ungodly – but the ride there was sort of like a three-year-old’s fantasy. Then, to get up to Orvieto from the station (it’s a hill town, built on a gigantic bluff), we had to take the funicular railway, which is like a three-year-old’s acid trip. It’s a train on a cable that goes up a super-steep incline and almost crashes into its downhill counterpart but, thanks to a little look-around and the magic of counterweights, barely avoids it.

The buses aren’t bad, either. It’s disconcerting riding something going 50 mph over cobblestones – it’s sort of like being inside a washing machine – but the drivers are competent, the fares are reasonable, and the other passengers are nice. Well, except for one woman who had a long and involved argument with someone who I think was acting as the driver’s proxy (as the driver was, well, driving) regarding whether smoking on busses was acceptable. From what I could pick out of the rapid-fire Italian, she thought that it was the right of an Italian to smoke wherever she so chose. But she lost the argument, and for that I’m forever indebted to you, Mr. Bus Guy.

The exception to these awesome public transit options is the Metro. You know something is bad when your guide book, a book whose sole function is to convince you to travel to a given location, describes it as “pointless”. Today, we found out why. Coming back from a museum today, we decided to take it home. First, we descended a surprising number of escalators and found ourselves in an unmarked hallway. We meandered down the hall for a while, not knowing what to expect. We took a few turns, and found ourselves hopelessly lost. We wandered around for upwards of twenty minutes, following signs, trudging down corridors, and once accidentally wandering into what amounts to an underground shopping mall, before we found a map, which was equally unhelpful. The street(?) musicians playing accordion at every turn afforded the whole thing a fittingly phantasmagorical air. Eventually, we emerged at the Spanish Steps. We had walked halfway across Rome underground without once running into the Metro that supposedly was the reason for the tunnels.

My brother has posited the theory that the Metro is actually just an urban legend meant to fool tourists into a false sense of hopeful complacency. I think he may be onto something.


4. The Return of Christmas Garfield

Fear not, gentle Reader, for I have saved the best for last.

Last night, my family was having dinner at a pretty nice place in Trastevere. We were eating inside, to keep ourselves away from the nebulous clouds of smoke exhaled by the diners in the street. The dinner was going pretty normally until halfway through my pizza, when my brother shouted:

“Oh my God! It’s Christmas Garfield Guy!”

He did not lie. For lo, I looked out the open door at the front of the restaurant, and there, in all his dingy glory, was Dilapidated Christmas Garfield. The same guy we’d seen earlier was now shoving it in the faces of poor diners outside the very restaurant we were eating at. Everyone demurred, of course. He soon wandered off, a lost soul forever cursed to try to unload a mildly offensive and majorly greasy animatronic cartoon character.

It was great seeing the guy, but this brief sighting only excited me. Because if I know one thing about Christmas Garfield Guy, it’s that once he’s in the neighborhood, he never leaves.

I was right, of course. As we got gelato later that night, I spotted him, trying to sell the toy to a young couple. I moved in closer and managed to see the whole exchange. Here is what happened:


Christmas Garfield Guy: [dangles cat near couple] “You want buy kitty?”

Young Guy: “No.” [returns to pouring his date some wine]

CGG: “No? Is great!” [sets Dilapidated Christmas Garfield on the couple’s table]

Young Girl: [not even looking at CGG and actively averting her eyes from DCG] “No.”

CGG: “Look!” [pushes DCG’s paw; DCG breaks into borderline-profane dance] “He do sexy dance!”

Girl: [looking down, shaking head, giggling under breath] “No, no, no, no, no…”

And at that point, I had to leave, because I could not contain my laughter any longer.

“He do sexy dance.” Goodbye, Roma, city of wonders and city of forever. I will always remember your charm, your food, and – most of all – your modern Sisyphus forever damned to wander the streets of Trastevere, trying and failing to palm off upon tourists his dingy, unseasonal, probably unlicensed sexy-dancing cat of doom.


*That’s saying something. My extended family on my dad’s side is known for its absurdly crappy showers. Water pooling around the poor showeree’s feet, a single jarring moment when the hot water switches off after maybe thirty seconds, and utterly bizarre towel distributions are just a few of their hallmarks.

**This is because the shampoo provided begins its front-of-the-bottle tirade about why it’s a great product with the phrase “drench your strands”. That sounds gross and also profane at some level, and it definitely doesn’t sound like it’s talking about hair.

***Roman driving is, as I’ve said before, essentially Mario Kart with Fiats. And not competent Mario Kart, either.