Italy was the last country on my itinerary during the Great Big Trip to Europe, 2005. In order - Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, and then Rome again briefly for a Ryanair flight back to London. I can safely say that my week and a half in Rome was one of the weirdest, most bizarre experiences I have ever had and probably ever will have. I was keeping a LiveJournal as well as a paper journal at the time. The paper journal is packed away in one box of many, but the LiveJournal is, amazingly, still available online. I debated with myself pasting some of those entries here because they capture the flavour of what was going on very well, but the relevant entries are too long. Look for Sept 30 to Oct 02 if you would like to read the whole thing. I'll try to summarize as briefly as possible.
I arrived in Rome somewhere around Sept 26 with a reservation for the Navigator, a hostel booked online (the arrow in the title image is pointing to it). 2005 was an interesting time from a technology perspective. The internet was very well established, but smart phones were still a luxury. I didn't have a phone at all with me, and could only get online at a net cafe or a hostel set up. That meant booking hostels in advance and writing down how to get there from the train station, relying on the owner's directions. The directions to the Navigator were particularly bad (take that, Alanis!), and so I was sweaty and irritated when I finally got there. I was even more irritated and worried when the owner, Mario, answered the door so drunk he could barely stand up and told me to come back in three hours. Thus began my dark adventures with Mario. Me'n'Mario, a journey into self destruction.
(The X marks the door to the Navigator's building. We were on the third floor,
if memory serves.)
I did manage to get him to open the door and let me in, and somehow I helped him get through the registration process. A lot of mumbling. What followed was around three days of relative enjoyment. The hostel was empty except for me, Mario, and a couple young, fun Japanese guys. I'd go out during the day, walk around, take hundreds of photos, then back to the hostel for food, drinks, and burning photo cards on to cds. Mario was always around and always very drunk. More than a couple of times, he sent either me of the Japanese guys out for wine because he was too blasted to do it himself. He would pay for our wine, too, so this seemed fine for a little while. The second night I talked to Lisa and she told me she was pregnant, something we were not surprised about and so was very good news. I told the guys about it and we celebrated.
Before too long, though, the extent of Mario's alcoholism became worrisome. The Japanese guys left, and either there was a lull in reservations or Mario was turning them away. The result was on about my fourth day in Rome, it was just me'n'Mario in the Navigator. His booze consumption increased sharply, and now he was more or less bedridden. Turning yellow, pissing either the floor or the bed, with too-long fingernails brown-crusted from scratching various scabby sores.
He became a petulant and demanding child, calling me in to his bedside over and over for more wine, or crackers, or his phone, or whatever. The stench of old urine floating out of his room became intense once the two young women hired to clean the place left and didn't come back. One day early during this period, I was using the hostel's computer to do some emailing and whatnot. I turned around when I heard a slight noise and saw Mario shuffling towards me. He was naked except for a hernia truss from which his hugely enlarged scrotum had escaped, swinging like a small cantaloupe between his hairy, yellow thighs. One arm was raised above his head, brandishing a black handled kitchen knife with a four inch blade that I knew from personal experience was not very sharp.
Well, what do you do at that point? I knew that this was just drama, Mario was as weak as a kitten, and some nerve I was previously unaware of made me scold him. I treated him like a three year old, took the knife away, and ordered him back to bed. Any veneer of courtesy or even basic manners had burned away by that point. Ten minutes later, the incident repeated, this time with a knife in each hand. Again - scold, admonish, disarm, banish.
About an hour later, the intercom buzzed. Mario bade me answer it, and I found myself talking to a chirpy young American woman who was really excited about her arrival in Rome. Who could blame her? Mario was way too far gone though to deal with any new bookings, telling me to get rid of her. I went down to the street to talk to her by the door. She looked early twenties, a little funky, big ole backpack and additional small bags, and just so happy to have made it. I had some bad news. She was perplexed and resistant when I suggested this was not a good place to stay for a young woman, or really anyone. The phrase "shitfaced owner naked with a knife" got through to her though, and she left. She was very unhappy, but I can absolutely guarantee that she was happier than she would have been had she dragged all her stuff up those stairs and checked in.
(I have remarkably few photos of the Navigator's interior; when I was there, I think all of my energy was consumed with the management of the situation. This photo is of the building's interior courtyard. I stared at this scene for a long time when I was initially trying to check in. I think I walked around down there once to check it out.)
Around this time, Mario began to be concerned about his physical health, and for extremely good reason. I had been advocating getting help for a while, and finally he agreed that an ambulance must be called.
So begins the next phase, "Local Paramedics Grow Increasingly Pissed Off and Exasperated with Mario." Over the course of two days, they were called and arrived at least three times, four burly guys because of the three flights of stairs and no elevator. Each time Mario refused to go to St. Giovanni. Each time they said St. Giovanni was the only place they could take him.
The final time, I made Mario call them himself, and that time he did go. He gave me the keys, the alarm code, and a feeble wave as they bundled him down the stairs on a flexible hand-carried gurney.
That's the end of Part One. More to come!