I met Virginia in the airport terminal during the hour and a half wait for my flight. She was an aging bubbly British woman and our conversation took off fast. She was from a little town in England that I can’t remember, sixty-one and “making her rounds for the first time.”

Virginia had already been to Rome and handed me some free advice concerning the city. She asked if I was catholic. My belief and practice has moved away from organized foundations over the years, but I knew the general mind of people and said, “Yes.” She told me that if the Pope is at the Vatican, he says a mass at St. Peters’ Square on Wednesdays. Though I no longer practice, I think it would be one of those experiences that would be great to have, so I made note of it.

Virginia opened up about the death of her husband, her mother and cancer-ridden brother. She realized after her husband’s death and with her children doing fine she would take some of the money she had saved and see the world. We spoke of worldviews, consumption and money and I was truly warmed by her speech and tone. It left me with a want to visit England some day soon.


The differences

between us, people

are what make everyone

and everything

so very beautiful.


Listening to music, my eye catches a girl walking through the airport who was watching me. I am suddenly aware that my confidence and way of being must be preceding me. I realize that I have suddenly forgotten all about the troubles and frustrations associated with my arrival. I am calm and settle into watching the people in the airport terminal and their comings and goings as I am… to Rome.

It doesn’t seem like it has been eleven, twelve, or however many hours ago that a car dropped me off at LAX. It was too early, but it turned out to be fortunate. I experienced the shoes off, bag checking, and deep terroristic paranoia surrounding the people of the world. I waited, and then took a plane, a tram, another plane, another tram, and now a train at 10 PM the following day. Of course there is the earth rotation to consider. Once I reach the station I will be on foot patrol to the hostel. I made it! I’m in Rome!

It was all strangely easy after the hullabaloo and I find that other travelers are friendly for the most part. Airline workers are accommodating, but no more or less than necessary.

The huge train window only gives glimpses of fast moving objects and yellow/orange dots of light in the distance, beyond my reflection, against the dark window and everything shrouded in a black Italian night. I am reminded what Dennis Hopper said about Sicilians in True Romance. I wonder what the next few days have in store, who I will meet and the things I am going to experience.

Now that I have arrived with no chance of backing out, I can tell about all the rumors and warnings I received from friends whom I believe all suffer from some degree of xenophobia. They all concerned the fact that I am an American and that supposedly Europeans hate Americans. Mind you I don’t think many of these people ever traveled further than Tijuana, but never mind, they certainly knew what was in store for me. 

It occurred to me that though I am American, I am multiracial and given the fact that most Americans don’t even know what to make of me, why should Europe be any different? I have never been a real “tennis shoe” kind of guy and I heard that is the one defining factor of Americans. The other is obnoxious and last is fat. Okay, so the last one has got me. But I am not a loud, boisterous or pompous American. I am fat but my personality and style add to itself. My big guy look may say Samoan to some, light olive skin and then there is the shaved head… you get the picture?

The real surreality of the foot patrol from the train station hits me when I step out to cobble stone streets. It reminds me of old time Chicago, only I never imagined Capone with narrow cobblestone lanes, smart cars and mopeds.

I check my bag and then realize, I don’t have my maps. I have an address, but I can’t see any street names. Everything is in Italian and deserted. It is 11PM, and everything is wet from a recent rain. I have been studying the layout of Rome for months and now that I am here I have no idea where my hostel is.

It takes me a moment to come up with a solution.

The map in my head shows the train station and the layout of the tracks. From here I remember that my hostel is a few blocks in this general direction. I know the name, Hotel Des Artistes. There are few streetlights and all of the side streets are pitch black narrow lanes, but no matter, I am in Rome.

I reach a narrow dark lane and I see a light and a sign. Is it? It is. I locate my hostel, and release a breath of relief that I now have a home base and a bed. I had reserved a dorm room because it was a cheap twenty-euro a night, but I think the end result added to my experience a hundred fold.

I must ask some forgiveness for the rest of this piece as I am a person that is in fact terrible at remembering names. Other than Virginia’s which I wrote down, I have no others for the remainder of the trip, even though their faces are each burned into me.

I did not expect bunk beds. The picture on the website was different than the room I received however it was a minor inconvenience. What I expected even less was to open the door to my dorm room to find twelve sixteen-year-old German girls in their underwear and pajamas sitting in the middle of the floor and having a powwow.

Published by James Gabriel