Community of strangers, on one last night in Rome
Before coming home, I tend to eat my last dinner at a sub-par restaurant, invariably in a city known for its delicious cuisine. Pizza by the slice in Paris. A pasta place in Rome that waits until I sit down to begin breaking my rules. (The non-Italian hustler talking people into coming in must have been in the WC when I arrived.) After weeks of great food, I have to stumble at the finish line.
I get up on time, with eagerness in limbs not fully rested, and take a thorough shower. I’ve saved one entirely clean shirt, like gold by that point, an aspiration for the most pristine pre-travel hygienic state possible. I will NOT subject my neighbor to Traveler Armpit, nor arrive stinking and disheveled! Then I walk to public transit, and arrive soaked in sweat, ready to ferment for 12 transatlantic hours, wearing my soggy garb and a rueful smile at the familiarity of it all.
I also book an extra night’s accommodation so that I’ll have time to go over end-of-tour paperwork and processes with the other guide, only to watch them depart immediately for their next gig. So I spend a day with myself, listening to the music of my headphones and the recriminations of my head at further delaying my return to the arms that are waiting for me. And I walk. I walk past the sights I will someday show, and the sights I have not yet seen. I find a museum I should know about, and a restaurant I can comfortably forget.
With fealty to no schedule, I stop and watch the chestnut vendors, islands of desperate stillness among the casual frenzy of the crowd. I stroll the intermittent museum of city walls and subway tiles, their art that says things more modern than most masters. Feeling minimal membership with the tourist mob, I find myself harboring feelings of kinship with the vendors, milking a living from the gargantuan teat of tourism. They flick their flimsy lights and hawk their imitation purses, ready to run if they see the gray uniforms of the Guardia di Finanza, having already run from the camouflaged terror and violence of their homelands.
They have a community, these men, since men they nearly always are. (What happened to their women? Where were they left?) They have formed a new edition of an ancient tradition, society’s subtext of foreigners who do not pertain, but belong anyway. I find these men fascinating, annoying in their machinations and beautiful in the tragedy of their existence, maybe hopeful in the pursuit of their own salvation. I can not imagine their lives. And I assume they cannot imagine mine.
When my eyes have seen enough, and feet have walked too much, I return to that last night of foreign home, on sheets I won’t have to wash, and sleep my waiting sleep, filled with gratitude for the Home to which I can return.