Sunday, December 4, 2005

When in Rome

When I came to Rome on Friday, I was telling myself, this time I must go out and be a tourist, and not remain closed in the meetings. But when I arrived it was raining. Our meeting was in a place run by nuns close to the circular road, la circomvallazione, that runs all around the city, not too far away from the Vatican city.

As often happens in the old cities, streets may be narrow with high walls of houses huddling together, yet as you enter the gates of an old house, suddenly you find yourself in big open spaces, sometimes with beautiful gardens. I had that experience a couple of times in old Delhi. This place was like that. Really huge with different buildings, gardens and a church hidden inside the high walls.

Yesterday (saturday morning), I woke up early, with the idea of going out and doing some sight seeing. Terme of Caracalla, I had already decided that this time I wanted to see to the old spring bath of Caracalla built in second century DC where more than 1300 persons could take bath and relax. I had a hurried breakfast, making plans about how to go there but when I came out, it was raining heavily. Unwilling to give up my plans, I opened my umbrella and set out resolutely. It was cold and there was lot of strong wind. In a few minutes, inspite of the umbrella, I was drenched and shivering. So I had to beat a hasty retreat, literally with my tail between the legs.

In the end I did manage to see some spring bath ruins, from the outside, not of Terme di Caracalla but of Terme di Declezio, right outside the Termini railway station, before I caught the train back to Bologna today. These spring baths were even bigger than those of Caracalla. Till some months ago, they were occupied by poor emigrants, who would squat around, cook food, talk with friends. Now the whole place has been fenced and closed. To enter, you must pay a ticket.

The whole street in front of the Terme was jampacked with vehicles and pavements were full of people from some east European country, probably some part of ex-Yugoslavia. The vans had brought the east European beer, vodka, dried fish and other delicacies from Eatern Europe and had set up makeshift shops on the pavement. All the homesick east European emigrants had gathered around to chat, to smoke, to drink their home beer, to talk in their own language and perhaps, for a few hours imagine that they were back in their homes. I am using the word "east European" to cover my own ignorance. They could have been Serbian or Polish or Czech or Romanian. It was strange walking in their middle and listening to their Russian like language.

A little further, a woman vendor from Peru was complaining in Spanish to some latin American tourists about people selling counterfeit cheap coke and other drinks. A little ahead, a Chinese woman had set up her noodles shop and chinese couples were buying it and then sitting along the side of the pavement, to eat it with evident gusto. They chattered in Chinese.

Small pleasures for the often denigrated and despised emigrants! Each in the safety and security of their own language, food and company.

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