So I’m out here. In Europe. Doing things like “riding the train back from Rome” just as casually as you please. I’m going to come back saying things like “when I was riding the train back from Rome” and acting all hoity toity because I can now.
No I’m not.
But I wanted to remind you guys about the whole “I’m in Europe” thing, because the fact that I haven’t blogged much other than to report my Grandfather’s death is I think minorly freaking people out.
I realized later after I posted about Graddad’s passing that I forgot to mention the manner in which he went. He went out like a total gangsta. The guy did everything he felt he needed to do with his life and at the end he looked death in the eye and said, “let’s do this,” and in the process told a whole bunch of doctors to go to hell. So it wasn’t an occasion for hung heads and sore feelings. I’m just kind of pissed I missed the party, but I’ll get over it.
Other than that, I’m good.
I’m in Europe. Remember that part of the story?
And you know what? It’s nice. It’s nice in Europe.
It’s kind of hard to write about, really, because it’s such a minefield of clichés.
One thing I’ve noticed is that nine tenths of the big European “things you should see before you die” are totally underwhelming and anticlimactic. There are only three reasons why anybody should ever tell you that you have to see the Cistine Chapel before you die:
1. They’re just the kind of assholes who love to say things like that.
2. They are assholes who got suckered into waiting for two hours in line for a chance to see the Cistine Chapel for like 8 minutes before deciding that they’re hungry and they need to go to the bathroom, so they feel compelled to tell you to see it because that’s how things work when people willfully do something that makes them miserable (see also: married people, people who have children).
3. They’ve never actually been to the Cistine Chapel themselves and they’re playing a hilarious joke on you that’s basically a two and a half hour long wedgie for your brain.
And guess what? I beat the odds. I didn’t go to see the Cistine Chapel. But. But I saw the outside of the Coliseum, the Pantheon, Trevi fountain, The Forum, and The Relic of St. Valentine (and pointedly not the Mouth of Truth) in Rome today. This was sort of the “cool guys way of seeing things in Rome that are not cool” tour because I didn’t have to wait in line for any of them.
Guess what? With the exception of the Forum, which is just really pretty in a way that a postcard couldn’t possibly communicate, they’re all boring.
You might have one of three reactions to this:
1. You believe me. Or you don’t really believe me, but it’s not like you’re going to go all the way to Rome just to prove me wrong. You get it. It’s just a blog.
2. You know for a fact that I’m right but you want to yell at me because you spent all kinds of time and money going to Rome and seeing things and you want to pretend that you found all of it “amazing” so you don’t feel bad, plus you feel like you have to tell everybody how “amazing” everything was so you can rub it in people’s faces that you’ve actually been to Rome because you have low self-esteem, or else you can’t wait to point out my mistakes and say “well, duh, you never want to go in the afternoon on a weekday during this time of year, that’s the stupidest thing you could possibly do” for reasons previously mentioned and also because you’re just the kind of asshole who loves to say things like that.
3. You will just quietly consider me ignorant because you’re like a real deal Hannibal Lechter kind of dude who really cares deep down about this type of thing and your favorite thing in the world is to listen to Wagner at full volume and wear latex gloves while eating frozen Lean Cuisines with an immaculately polished silver knife and fork because you’re totally batshit crazy.
Now I don’t mean to call anybody an asshole, here, and I think it’s pretty clear that if you’re in category two or three you’ll consider me an asshole for not understanding the finer points of why it’s amazing to see an old building full of the most intensely concentrated crowd of digital-camera toting sightseers I’ve ever seen in my life. Maybe I was just tired and cranky for some reason. Maybe my aversion to crowds is getting the better of me. I don’t know. All I know is when I see a big crazy fountain of Zeus on a rock and there’s all kinds of other dudes on rocks and there’s Latin writing everywhere and it’s huge and beautiful and surrounded on all sides by a thirty person deep throng of aggressive maniacs who act just like junkies, but for seeing a thing, then I think “nothing in the world is beautiful enough to justify my staying here.”
And I feel pretty confident that I’m right. I happen to believe that beauty is most often found in certain distinct, quiet moments that take you outside of yourself without you expecting it. Those moments do not exist at Trevi fountain. At least not the way it was this afternoon.
Another thing that’s weird is there’s this constant straining for some unattainable degree of authenticity in every action. Like you’re only going to be in Rome for just this one day, so you feel an abstract pressure to get it “right.” This is absurd because when you’re in Rome everything you could possibly do there would technically be authentically Roman. Like you could have a Big Mac at McDonalds in Rome and it would be more Rome-ish than anything you could possibly do in America. Because you’re in Rome. You don’t have to try harder than that. But it doesn’t feel that way.
I’m not immune to it. I’d like to think I am, to the point of blogging for pages and pages about how the Pantheon is a crock of shit, but I can’t beat it. I’m blogging for pages and pages about the Pantheon being a crock of shit because I couldn’t help but feel like when I was in the Pantheon there were other more authentic Roman things I should have been doing. I’m really no better than the crock of shit tourists I’m making fun of who run around taking pictures of everything so they can go back home and brag about their authentic Roman Holiday where they waited in line behind a million Japanese families who are so loaded down with technology it’s like they’re wearing a scarf made of cameras to put their hands in the Mouth of Truth. I’m the same. Maybe worse because I’m being pretentious about it. I know it.
But still, it’s hard to shake. Every part of every town I’ve been to so far feels like the type of touristy business district that hipsters from that town would brag about not having been to for months. Like how you only ever go to the museums in your town when you have out of town guests. I can’t help but think the real town, like where the real people are, is a little bit further away and the only way to get there in by a secret bus that only comes for Italians.
I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on all these pretend versions of places that I made up in my own mind for the purpose of torturing myself. I don’t know. Like Rome. I pictured Rome being this bustling dirty place with basement jazz clubs and bookshops full of old dusty newsprint and empty beautiful parks next to modern art museums and everybody’s drinking espresso and wearing scarves on a scooter and saying “Ciao.”
I was pretty much right except for the Jazz clubs. Couldn’t find a Jazz club in a basement anywhere. And the modern art museum never presented itself to me during my stumbling through the “Things you’ve got to see before you die” district. Plus none of the parks were empty except the scary ones that had junkies in them. So I just felt like I was doing the whole thing wrong. And of course I wasn’t. I still saw plenty of scarves and scooters and espresso and ciao.
What’s my deal?
This brings me to the part where I attempt justify whining and complaining about being in Europe on somebody else’s dime.
A cruise ship is no way to see the world. I’ve met people who have worked on ships for decades and have been everywhere you can possibly go that’s anywhere near an ocean. These are smart, educated people. People who speak nine languages and read every book that’s ever been written (in the original Greek, or whatever), but all their actual doing-things-in-a-place worldliness is ship-based. So all of their vast, vast knowledge basically amounts to knowing a pretty good place to go for lunch. Anywhere. It’s like they’re the ultimate 4 hour layover travelers.
That’s the best you can possibly do when every place you’ve visited, you’ve experienced only by poking around between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm on several occasions. Don’t get me wrong, those are fine hours. Those are hours of pleasant shopping trips and tea and a crossword puzzle and listening to your iPod on the train and looking out the window and seeing the sun poking out from behind the clouds in the distance past the skyline. Fantastic hours. But they’re pretty much the same here in Autumnal Italy as they are back home.
To sum up: Europe to me has been so far just a place. Not some magical fairyland full of things that have taken me aback. It’s got pretty stuff, old stuff, new stuff, old pretty stuff, new pretty stuff, ugly stuff, old ugly stuff, new ugly stuff, restaurants with both good and bad food, stylish clothing boutiques full of things I can’t afford but want to, rinkydink places full of Chinese knockoff Ronaldinho jerseys and ripoff international calling cards, etc. Pretty much the same variety you’d find in any major town back home.
It’s all pretty much the same. At least form 9 to 5. After that it could turn into some sort of weird Candyland where houses are made of cookies and fake-titted strippers emerge from every alleyway to give you money for no reason and the mayor is a cartoon tiger. For all I know. I don’t think so, but maybe. The point is, I’m pretty sure it’s very similar.
I’m not trying to say “oh man, I’ve got it rough.” It might sound like that. I’m trying to say, “oh man, everybody has it great.” You’ve got it great. Just look around. You basically live in Europe from nine to five every day. Except you have the added bonus of English and things being open between 1pm and whenever the hell the Italians wake up from their midday naps that have the self-fulfilling effect of making everybody sleepy because nothing’s open so it seems like it’s 5 in the morning. Other than that and a few other things, you live in Europe right now. Just pretend that every 90th building is a castle and instead of mini-malls there are big empty squares with fountains in them where Zeus perpetually pees into a giant clam. You’re there.