Night of the Italian Road of Pedestrian Death Hazard

I have just survived one of the stupidest acts I have ever committed in a foreign country. This is precisely the sort of thing that my mother is trying to avoid ever hearing about when she says “With Matt, no news is good news.”

Dinner ran late. I was in Rome in the Travestere neighborhood. I could have rushed back across the river and over to the Colosseum Metro stop, but worried that I’d miss the last train. Having spent the day walking around the city, I had a pretty good sense of my map’s scale and it looked like walking back to the hotel wouldn’t be too far. I just had to take this big, wide, main road that happens to have park land on both sides. Possibly a sparsely populated, but there would be lots of cars and it would surely be well lit. No problem. Off I went. The early parts of those parks turned out to be pretty cool. I saw a couple lesser monuments and a big fountain.

I hit a snag when I reached the main stretch of that big, wide main road. You see, it sorta dropped into a groove in the ground with 20 foot walls on either side, with no shoulder on the road. At first, I thought it would only last through the next curve, so I barreled along. After 50 meters, I thought twice and doubled back to ask the opinion of two Carabinieri standing guard in front of some gates. They were charming and friendly. We fumbled through their limited English and my wacky Italio-spanish. They looked at my maps, I looked at my maps. One of them put on his glasses to read my map, which makes one think twice about the fact that he was wielding a loaded machine gun without his glasses on.

After some discussion, the Carabinieri concluded that the path I had chosen was my only way. I still had my doubts, but when two handsome guys with machine guns tell you ‘go for it’, it’s hard to turn back.

Let me tell you, there was no shoulder. At all. The road was really curvy too, so I was constantly on the invisible side of a bend in the road. Had this been a Saturday night, I certainly would be dead by now, splattered on the road by some drunken dude in a Fiat.

Worse, not only was there no shoulder, there was nothing along that road for hundreds of meters. Talk about a walking target. Over a hundred cars must have passed me. After thinking “what kind of idiot walks on this road? At night no less?”, any one of them could have then thought “huh, he’s got nothing but 20 foot walls on either side of him for hundreds of meters, and I’ve got a car/vespa. I could easily take advantage of him.” Well, actually, they probably thought something like “Ho potuto facilmente approfittare di lui.” (thanks google translate).

Eventually, I emerged on the other side of the Italian Road of Pedestrian Death Hazard. If you still don’t see why I have dubbed this one of the stupidest things I have ever done in a foreign country, let’s add a couple of facts to the list:

  • It was drizzling. I failed to think about the road implications of that.
  • I was wearing a dark sweater, dark shirt, and dark jeans (though I did consider taking my shirts off for sake of visibility.)
  • I had just arrived in Rome for the first time ever merely 24 hours prior
  • Did I mention that I was walking alone down a dimly lit, unpopulated roadway in Rome at midnight?

On the other hand, there was an old Roman aqueduct running along one side of the road. That was pretty cool.

Musings & Adventures

Mangio Solo

07 March 2009
Catania, Sicily, Italy
Grand Hotel Baia Verde

Day two of traveling alone in Italy. Mainly I only notice that I’m alone at mealtime. Today I went to the Hotel’s centro benessere (Wellness Center) for a massage and a facial. I felt alone there too, soaking in the sea salt therapeutic pool and exploring the row of “emotional showers” that take turns changing colors, intensities, temperature, and scent according to a programmed succession. (Think of a cross between night clubbing, Twister, and musical chairs, add water and aromatherapy.) I wanted someone to giggle in amusement with.

Has it been only two days? I’ve been traveling solo since November. At every stop I’ve had some mix of old friends to visit, new friends to dig into, and family to catch up with. I didn’t think of myself as being alone all those weeks. Roughly 100 nights and I rarely dined alone. I would be challenged to list all of the wonderful companions with whom I’ve shared bread in these travels. None of it has served to dispel the solitude.

In Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa describes the Bodhisattva path as being deeply lonely. I feel as if I have achieved the loneliness while completely neglecting the spiritual point.

I’ve been avoiding restaurants in order to dodge that moment when I tell the host tavolo per uno (table for one), and he inevitably says “solo.” (alone.) in a declarative yet questioning way, as if he hopes I’ve spoken wrong.

Paradoxically, a powerful part of me seeks even more solitude. There’s so much writing, reading, contemplation, and མ་སེམས་ (ma sem, non-thought) that I yearn to immerse myself in. I would love to go on a month-long silent retreat right now. Nothing sounds more appealing than slow yoga under a tree somewhere – rain, sunshine, or otherwise – and a plain mat to sleep on.

Yet here I am in Sicily in a four-star hotel. Tomorrow I will move on to Rome, a capital of civilization for thousands of years. I’ve been flung here by circumstance over which I have little control, though I do choose to engage and I did dictate the terms of engagement.

I could have passed this one by. Could have skipped the conference, or simply flown home after the conference ended. Round trip to Sicily for three days of networking and then straight home .. it just sounds too stupid. My whole life, I’ve intended to come here but never found the right time. Thus, here I am. I eat the tasty food, I drink the vino della casa (house wine). I stumble through the national tongue, learn the local mass transit, and wander their streets gradually constructing that visceral mental map of each city – the one I absorb through my feet, bound to my eyes and annotated by my other senses.