Full-length Feature: Tracing the Mediterranean (Part 4) – Lost in Translation (Part 2 of 2)

Romanticising about Rome is not the same as loving it. That’s something I wanted to clarify, given how I have waxed lyrical about the Eternal City in my previous post.
Beautiful though it may be, there were times I felt a little lost in translation. Prior to visiting Rome, I have been warned by many friends and family about pick-pocketing and bag-snatchers. I personally witnessed at close proximity a Roma (gypsy) woman try to put an arm around a girl (who’s probably no older than 20) while with her other hand, attempt to reach into her handbag. And this incident took place a few steps from the grandiose Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. DSC00795_blogDSC00911_blogThe irony of it all really, when you take into account that to get into the church, you would have to pass through security and bag-check. Here, a few steps behind the church, petty crime like stealing and pick-pocketing go on, unchecked.DSC00723_blog
DSC00377_blogI also notice the tight security at major attractions like the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums and the aforementioned church. That’s the new norm, unfortunately, in a world forever changed after the events of September 11. For some strange reason, I actually felt reassured when I see soldiers patrolling the streets.
DSC00844_blogBut, in this new world, there’s also a sense of frustration, of isolation, of apathy. I saw many beggars on the streets, mostly Roma men and women, both young and old, but also Italians as well. Lured by the promises of a better life in a big city perhaps, these people came here in search of jobs. But, with no authorised permits and high unemployment among the Italians, they took to the streets, prostrated with a cup in hand.DSC00691_blog
On one night when I had to make my way back to my hotel from the Spanish Steps (because the metro stopped operating after 10), I passed many homeless on the streets, swaddled in dirty blankets (their only piece of ‘furniture’). Perhaps out of fear, I avoided their eyes, and ignored their mumbled utterances in Italian.
DSC00514_blogAnd then, there are the African migrants. They mostly hang around the Colosseum and the road just outside the Roman Fora, dangling bracelets at passerbys or selfie-sticks. Some made an attempt at some small talk before delivering their sales pitch, although I’m not sure comparing the colour of their skins to mine counts as a genuine attempt at PR.
DSC00419_blogAt the hotel where I was staying, a new breed of economic migrants were present – that of the educated, Italian speaking Asians, working at the hotel reception. They hailed from countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. They greeted me with a forced smile, their manner of speech professional but ultimately hollow and cold. DSC00900_blog
So, beautiful as Rome may be, the familiar trappings of a big city are obvious everywhere you look. Immigration is a global issue, and one that my Italian room-mate at the hostel-hotel I’m staying was not keen to discuss, although he dryly admitted that many Italians do not have a job.DSC00808_blog
Fortunately, my pockets had not been picked, nor had my bag been snatched. But, suffice to say, I didn’t feel at ease in Rome. I felt like I was constantly on guard. I flinched when someone brushed against me. After which I would hastily swing my bag around and check for any open zippers. I clutched my camera close to my chest as I walked past the alley behind Roma Termini Station, littered with African peddlers selling fake leather goods and football jerseys.DSC00802_blog
Beautiful as Rome is, I was lost in all these lamentations. Then again, I suppose Rome is just like any other major city in Europe, not any different from Barcelona, Milan, London or Berlin. And I’m sure the same feelings / thoughts would surface again as I continue my exploration of other Italian cities. I just have to explore the city with my eyes (and mind) wide open.     LSDSC00324_blog

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