Friday 2nd April, after cycling home on the D-Day Landing-esque nightmare of frayed nerves that is via Christopher Columbus (busiest A-road in all Italy) I noticed a magnum of State Police near the church of St.Giovanni, about 200 metres from my house. They saw me attempting to take my usual short cut through the forecourt and one nudged another who stood in my way. He pointed out that the road was closed and when I asked why it turned out the Pope was visiting “at any minute” to do a Mass for his gathered flock, who were milling with ecclesiastical glee, round at the front entrance. I moved further up the barrier, lent my bike against it and chatted to a couple of other Police officers while waiting for his holiness to arrive via the back door (jokes on a postcard please).
Italian cops are VERY elegant (with the notable exception of the Traffic police). They wear tunics most of the time and the two opposite me, a male and a female, had dark blue ones with grey trousers and the requisite cap. They have gold buttons and other gold bits on the jacket and carry a gun and a pair of handcuffs on a white leather belt. Courteous and yet professional they were happy to chat but remained serious throughout and when some wierdo with a 40” waist and an atrocious wig began shouting incoherent twoddle at them they cut our chat short to tell him to fuck off or get nicked.
I asked them if it was true that in Italy, Italian cops (in both the State police and the Carabinieri) CANNOT fire their pistols unless first fired upon. Depressingly, it is. I asked how that could be plausible if I was pointing a gun at one and the poor sod couldn’t fire until I first put a bullet in his skull. I pointed out that even the politically correct disgrace that is the English Police have the right to shoot someone IF they won’t put a lethal weapon (or something believed to be one) down.
They shrugged and confirmed that this was indeed the case as to fire first, even with a gun in your face would be “excessive” and “above justification”.
I asked if they are taught to do the “Bullet Time” limbo dance from The Matrix before returning fire. They giggled and replied “that’s just how things are”.
Turns out they don’t carry pepper spray either. Only handcuffs, baton and a gun (that they are shit scared to use).
So…the next time you watch Tom Hanks in Angels and Demons and there’s that bit with the Cardinal getting drowned in the fountain…DON’T think it’s that unusual that the assassin was able to take out those two armed cops so easily, it's coz they had to wait to get shot first.
Anyway…I waited and waited for his Popiness to arrive and after about an hour (and being told twice “he’s left Vatican, he’ll be here in 10 minutes”) SUDDENLY they closed off the road behind us with steel barriers and a cavalcade of vehicles with Vatican State flags on the bonnet drove up the now empty 400 metre stretch while a helicopter buzzed protectively above them.
I didn’t actually see the Pope but DID see his silver limo glide past while other people squeaked with excitement that the pontiff was in it.
That’s something to tell my grandchildren.
My next door neighbour has two adorable little girls aged 3 and one and a half. The baby screams nearly all the time when they are at home and her shrieks compete with the ambulance sirens in the street outside for supremacy of volume (I live near a hospital). The older sister is quite talkative and the first time I met her I was unlocking the door to my flat when her and her father came out the elevator.
(Translated from Italian).
Little Girl: “Hi”
Me: (nodding to the father). “Hi, how are you?”
Little Girl: “Fine”. (She looks at her front door and puts her hands on it). “You can’t come in my house!”
Me: “Fine, you can’t come in mine”
Little Girl: (pouting). “It’s my house!”
Father: (looking weary and shaking his head then extending his hand): “Hi, my name’s Carlo”
Recently I saw them again when I was on my way to work. The baby tends to clam up if facing people she doesn’t know and just stares at you with big blue eyes. The older one loves a chat and as I stepped out in all my cycling gear on and she said hello and told me she was on her way to school. She then asked me me if I liked her flashing trainers.
Me: “Hmmm…very nice. Could use those on my bicycle”
Little Girl: “Look!” (banging her foot on the floor to make the lights flash on the heel).
Me: “You off to school? I’m off to school too. I’m a teacher.”
Little Girl: (After contemplating this for a few seconds). “I don’t like teachers. I’m not talking to you any more!”
Finally I came back one afternoon and the baby obviously thought it was her father coming home when she heard me turning the key in the door (and like most Italian front doors this takes a couple of minutes as they are a security conscious race and it’s like opening a bank vault).
She shouted quizzically “Dada? Dada?….DADDY!!” and began hitting the other side of her front door. This went on for two or three minutes as the kid was convinced the person in the corridor was her papa and indignantly shrieked “DADDYYY!!!” while thumping the wood enthusiastically.
I have started hosting Couchsurfers again. I hosted one last year after months of enjoying the social life that this website has generated (the Rome group alone has about 9000 members). The guest was a very sweet backpacking French woman from La Rochelle and the stay was made all the nicer by the fact that I got to shag her.
So, feeling that one must give as well as receive I made my flat available again and the first person to request the €10, self-inflating mattress was a Bangladeshi guy who was backpacking over from the US. I was about to reply “yes, no problem” when I checked his profile and he had stated that when you stay with him you have to share his bed.
Thanks, but no thanks. Sorry, couch unavailable that day.
Next request was a Taiwanese lad named Mike who was the perfect gent. Bought me some tea and a box of cakes and kept himself to himself. I even made him dinner and gave him a spare set of keys to use and we parted as mates and the understanding that if I’m ever in Taiwan I can look him up for somewhere to crash.
Two days ago I hosted a Muslim guy named Moumad who was fairly pleasant but seemed to think that he was on some kind of fixed itinerary. I specifically stated on the e-mail acceptance to his Couch request that he should text me as he was leaving the central train station in Rome so I could get to the meeting point down the street. I was just settling down to watch some porn at about 3pm when he messaged me to say that he was waiting at the end of the road and where was I?
Better still was when I arranged to meet him at 10pm after my gym session the next night and specified that we would meet outside the flat. I got there about five to so just went in and sat using the computer, holding off on having a shower waiting for him to call or text and stinking out my bedroom with the sweat of an hour’s hard workout. 40 minutes later and I was wondering what had happened to him when he texted to say “I am here still, are you ok?”
He had stood in the pouring rain for over half an hour rather than having the intelligence to check I was in the flat.
Still, some Russian bird asked to stay from end of April so we'll see how that goes.
I bought a bicycle in January and have spent the last 3 months on it, thumbing my nose at the congested and filthy underground service and the congested and "full of thieves and perverts" bus service (at least routes 62 and 64 anyway). Decathlon sold me a Rockrider for about 120 Euro with a pannier rack (17 Euro), mudguards (9 Euro) and 3 locks (saddle to frame, front wheel to frame, frame to lampost- 12 Euro).
Only problem was that the most direct route to work from my place is the dreaded, aforementioned via Cristoforo Colombo which is 4 or 5 miles of pissed off, Highway Code-inept road hogs. The Roman authorities attempted to build a cycle path either side of it but it's farcical as the bastard thing stops and starts and even completely dissapears for up to half a mile before re-emerging like some Python-esque escape tunnel.
I was contemplating designing a badge of a skull in a cycle helmet with the words "I survived the CC bike trail" when one day my faith in the perseverance of the human spirit was restored by Amando and Pepe.
Amando is an old geezer who rides a bicycle. Pepe is his cat and Pepe sits on his master's shoulders while he pedals along Colombo.
I was at traffic lights one morning feeling especially shitty when I glanced to my right and saw a ginger tom cat glaring at me. Barely managing to retain my balance through stifled guffaws I followed and shot a video of them. Pepe wasn't even remotely arsed at being perched on Amando's shoulders and seemed more pissed off at me waving a camera near his whiskers than the lethal danger he was potentially in.
Problems with the bike were solved on April 6th when some visa dodging, motherless cunt stole it from outside my house. I just hope whoever took it falls off in fast moving traffic and gets their skull crushed.
My ex still thinks I'm a complete bastard. I counter that while I may be a bastard, I'm not a fucking bastard. She still refuses to believe I didn't shag my friend Anushka who stayed here just after Christmas and took umbrage at the fact that my Facebook photo is me with my arms around two birds, one of which is kissing me on the cheek. Usual routine when we meet is we have a meal or a coffee and then she says she can't come home with me because she knows I'll try and get her into bed.
A couple of hours later while getting dressed she again tells me I'm a complete bastard.