If I may just say right off, I had a hell of a time titling this blog post. And I am so proud of what I finally came up with. Now back to your regularly scheduled blogging...
I am not a well-traveled person. I didn't get a passport until I was 27, and my first trip out of the country was to Mexico, which many people hurried to inform me didn't count. I must admit to not quite seeing their point; as far as I was concerned, English was a second language, I had a stamp in my passport and I really didn't see what else might have been required. However, this May, I left the country for Italy: the land of 50% of my ancestors, the land that no one could claim did not count as an international trip, the land where Jarred, one of my very best friends (and who, at 6'6", is officially the tallest person in the country), worked for Wine Enthusiast Magazine. And as I sit here on a Saturday night, stuck at work, frantically trying to figure out a way to sharpen a plastic knife and put myself out my misery, I realize that there is no more putting admitting that I am back in New York, and no longer in Rome. Hence, I find myself able to write about it.
There are many wonderful things about Rome. The gelato, for one thing. Never again will I scoff at the people who say that gelato in New York simply doesn't compare with the stuff in Europe. The gelato in Italy is perhaps the most delicious thing I've ever had, clearly having been made with equal parts butter, cream and rainbows. I had it for lunch at least 75% of the time, and miraculously never felt sick from it...it's as if Italy is magically giving the gift of gelato to those minorly lactose intolerant. If you are there, may I suggest a chocolate, coconut and pistachio mix...it'll make a grown man cry.
Furthermore, the entire city of Rome shuts down at approximately noon, and stays indoors until 4 pm, in an attempt to escape the oppressive heat. I've heard of a siesta before but I didn't realize a) that it was popular anywhere but Spain, and b) the complete, unflinching, city-wide commitment to the practice. Perhaps it's a product of most buildings in the metropolis having a metal drop down gate, but at twelve o'clock sharp every day, every Roman retreats inside to have a tremendous lunch, a glass of wine and escape the heat. Which leaves outside...the idiot tourists who don't realize that there are no more Italian people to tell them how to get around. It literally becomes an overly hot ghost town; I wouldn't have been surprised to see a tumbleweed roll through.
Meanwhile, if you do happen to walking around while there are actual natives around, God forbid you walk at a pace faster than a leisurely stroll. Jarred and I spent a good portion of the trip trying to perfect what we termed the Roman Swagger. It involves bringing your weight slightly back, a kind of hip roll that I needed another few days to really nail down and a real macho arrogance. If one can really conquer it, all signs point to the fact that it will put an end to perspiration. I was in Italy for 7 days and never once saw an Italian break a sweat. And that's not the only benefit, because the walk is quite sexy, much like the Italian language itself. Everything you say in Italian sounds like an invitation to something...lusty. So while I don't think anyone said anything actually dirty to me while I was there, I was completely titallated when someone requested the time.
The Swagger, of course, also bleeds into one of the more difficult parts of Italian culture to adjust to...their inability to do anything in a timely manner. Rome is the Eternal City mainly because the Romans can't be bothered to change anything about it. Case in point, upon arrival, one of the bathrooms in Jarred's apartment had been gutted because of a leak. It was supposed to be done early in my stay...perhaps it's needless to point out that upon my departure, the bathroom was still not functioning. The most amazing part was that no native Italians seemed to think this was odd...the plumber and his team were there sometimes, and sometimes they weren't. I imagine a call to an Italian plumber would go something like this:
You: "Hi, I need help, my shower isn't working."
Plumber: "Oh, no! It's shooting acid, instead of water?"
You: "No, of course not-"
Plumber: "Oh, I see...it's actually spitting lightning bolts?"
You: "No! But there's a leak."
Plumber (pause): "I see. Low priority then."
Overall the trip to Italy was huge success, with a few standout experiences. On one day, Jarred invited me to come to his work with him...at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Being a rabid wine enthusiast myself, I jumped at the chance to spend time in a place where people drank for a living, hoping that somehow, the practice would rub off on me, and I could convince people in the US to take it up. Upon entering the offices of Wine Enthuisiast Magazine Italy, I realized that the small buzzing in my ear I had been experiencing since deplaning in Leonardo DaVinci Airport was the insistent beckoning of the mothership calling me home. Picture walking into a room full of wine. I don't mean there's a wine rack full of bottles. I mean a room FULL OF WINE. Wine on the wine rack, wine on the table, wine on the floor, wine on the stairs, wine on the desks...oh, what's that in the bathroom? That's right, it's wine! Bottles upon bottles of fermented grape juice, available for the taking, and, more importantly, drinking. It was then that I realized that the only thing that could make the day better was if Jarred and I were able to dress up like Lucy and Ethel and frolick around in a vat full of grapes; I figured two bottles and we would both be up for a re-enactment that would be the talk of youtube in about 12 hours. And that's when I found out what we had to do.
It seems that when the magazine wants to put out an article, they solicit wines that relate to the topic, in this case the wines of Sicily. Makes sense. It also seems that in soliciting Sicilian wines for review in the article, Jarred and his editor managed to acquire something close to 80 free cases of wine, all full of the Sicilian wineries finest vintages that they hoped would make the pages of Wine Enthusiast. Exciting! Finally, it seems that all vineyards send two bottles of each grape, one for review, and one for back-up in case the first should be corked or in some way have gone bad. So for those of you doing the math, that means that almost 100% of the time, Jarred and his boss are left with a bottle of wine that they have no use for other than their own private enjoyment. Which means that Jarred lives life in Italy with, for all intents and purposes, his own private wine store, in which everything is free.
Meanwhile, while I was discovering this, Jarred was regaling me with the story of how, the week prior to my arrival, he had spent 5 days in Tuscany, at a "Prosecco Event," hosted in an ancient castle by the Princess Isabella of Belgium. No, I am not making that up, and no, I don't know how I resisted slaughtering him on the spot. He informed me that the princess was completely enamored of his charms, demanded that he sit next to her during the dinner, and extended an open invitation to him to come visit her vineyard in Belgium. Luckily, I look good in green, because I was so envious I probably could have gone on for Elphaba in Wicked without a make-up job. At the end of the day we tottered out of Jarred's office, each with a case of wine under our arms, and a spring in our step as we looked forward to reviewing them.
However, my main priority in going to Rome was to have a gay old time. I have been on a few vacations now, and somehow I always wind up not going to any gay bars, and/or being surrounded by nature. This time, I was going to an urban center, and while I know Italy isn't exactly on the forefront of the gay liberation movement, I was determined to unearth the seedy gay underbelly I knew was seething just beneath the surface. Jarred, always a willing partner in crime, was more than happy to guide me on my explorations. On our first expedition, we went to an establishment that he had actually never patronized before, but was walking distance from his apartment. I was secretly appalled that he had a gay bar within walking distance in Rome, and I didn't have one in Brooklyn, but I swallowed my pride and we walked over to Frequency.
As we walked up to the bar, we knew we were in the right place from the tell-tale bass thumping through the large metal door. As we walked in (mind you, we had naturally already had a bottle of wine at this point), the gentleman at the desk and Jarred exchanged a few words in Italian, and then the doorman said, and I quote:
"Oh, you're American? Do you know it's naked night?"
After a short pause, I said "You mean, like, NAKED naked, or underwear naked?" and a helpful British couple leaned forward and leered "NAKED naked". Jarred and I allowed the eager Brits to cut us in line while we regrouped, and as the couple passed through the curtain, let's just say that we were met with incontrovertible proof that naked meant completely in the nude, plus a pair of sneakers...we must protect our feet, of course! Overcome with a fit of the giggles, we stumbled back out onto the street, and I couldn't help but point out that 1) it really wouldn't be hygenic to sit down anywhere in that bar, and 2) I was not nearly drunk enough to take off my clothes in front of a group of strangers and not be getting paid for it. Jarred got us into a cab and off we went to Hangar, another bar in city.
Hangar was slightly less seedy than Frequency, at least insofar as we were allowed to enter fully clothed. Once inside, the bar mostly resembled a normal New York gay establishment, with a few notable exceptions. For one, the lone go-go boy was ensconced on a platform high above the audience...and had a rampant case of varicose veins. Now, I'm not one to judge...oh, wait, yes I am. Hey, if you sit at a desk all day and wear pants, and you have a little vein bulge going on, it's none of my business. However, if you are presenting yourself as an object of desire, then I believe it is your duty to take care of yourself, and get a little minor surgery. What's next, porn stars with back hair? Furthermore, Hangar also gives you a card on which the bartenders mark what drinks you have ordered, and then you hand the card to the doorman on the way out and pay. Is anyone reading this aware of how easy it is to spend money when no one is taking it? They basically hand you a credit card that you are only able to charge alcohol on. Two vodka/lemons in, and I probably would have tried to use that card to pay my cable bill.
However, the main difference between Hangar and the bars that I am used to was the presence of a dark room. Allow me to inform you right now that a dark room in an Italian gay bar has absolutely nothing to do with photography. It seems that many bars in Italy have them; the reason for this being, as Jarred explained it, is that most unmarried young people in Italy continue to live with their parents. Since they can't bring their evening entertainment home, they need another venue, which Hangar is only too happy to supply. A small, pitch black room in which two young lovers can romantically do their business and then happily walk out into the evening just as heterosexual as their parents would want. It's a bit sad...unless you're drunk with your best friend, and then it's almost unbearably hilarious. We closed Hangar that night, and wound up back home at 4 AM, made ourselves pasta and collapsed into bed at 5 in the morning. And, thanks to the influx of carbohydrates and water, managed to wake up without hangovers. Magical.
There were many other adventures while I was overseas. I found out at Il Circolo Degli Artisti that I am just as good a wingman in Italian as I am in English. Granted my methods are bit cruder, and basically amount to shoving Jarred into a hot guy, but hey, I got the job done. Jarred and I met a lovely signora at Cafe Fantini who served us hot, chocolate-filled croissants on the mornings that we actually saw AM hours. I learned that Italian men, while for the most part quite attractive, a) almost always smoke and b) cannot dance for beans. It's a horror. I discovered that Italians mostly view public transportation as a pay-what-you-can proposition. I saw the Trevi Fountain, and spitefully refused to set foot in Vatican City. I even heard an Italian man coin a phrase in English...when asked if he was dating a guy he responded "I am...frequenting him," like the guy was a corner store for orgasms. But most of all, I had a blast for a week with my friend Jarred, so all I really have to say is...viva Italia e ti amo, Jarred!