Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

September 20th, 2006
Italy Diaries I: Oh Shit, It’s Roman Mardi Gras…

I couldn’t figure out why I was so nervous about this trip. It wasn’t nearly as exotic as any of my recent travels, and I was even going with friends. Sitting in the airport waiting for my flight, I realized the culprit as a loudspeaker blared over and over again: "We are at an orange terror alert, orange terror alert."

The news, the new travel restrictions, the unknown…it had all wreaked havoc on my psyche. My travel companions reported similar anxieties. Traveling definitely sucks these days.

Because I was no longer flying to Romania for my Dracula tour first (I was too ill to fly), I had scrambled to find a last-minute ticket and was lucky to get one at just $1000 on British Airways. The catch? A 10 hour layover at Heathrow. I followed the signs for Flight Connections and found myself in security hell. The lines reached to infinity and beyond. Not only did we all have to go through a security screening, but the hand baggage size allowances had completely shrunk. Unless I found a magic mushroom fast, my carryon was not getting through the looking glass.

Let me try to describe Heathrow’s carryon luggage size limits: picture half a grocery bag or a biggish briefcase. And you are allowed ONLY ONE carryon, period. No purse plus briefcase. I watched backpackers and Americans used to plump totes full of goodies trying to cram their bags in the tiny size-o-meter metal bin in front of the airport guards. For most, it was useless and they were sent off for some unknown punishment.

Later, on the baggage carousel in Rome, I would see pink backpacks and fortified shopping bags circling around with their gargantuan suitcase cousins. The world had gone mad.

I grabbed my fleece jacket out of my tote, wrapped it around my shoulders and shoved my purse down into my bag. I smiled at the guard and tried to shove my tote in their testing bin. It did not fit. He looked at me and I shoved again, hard. Miraculously, the tote fit and I got to go through to Terminal 1. Whew! After that insanity, there was no way I was popping out for high tea at the Savoy.

Now what? I picked up an airport guide. Harrod’s was here, of course. But there was something new: a spa. Spa? Upstairs from Burger King was a spa that had just opened over the summer called Rejuve, "a revitalizing place for your well being." 

It was gorgeous, a true oasis in the bustling airport. I learned that for a small fee, you can become a member for the day and escape the bat race (bats fly and rats don’t!) and relax and restore yourself. I booked a massage and facial treatment (they use fabulous Jurlique products!), exclaiming to the lovely woman helping me, Sam, that this was the first time I’d arrive looking and feeling better than I’d left! The massage and facial were geared to rehydration and circulation, and soon my face was hydrated and my blood was moving. What a fantastic find!

Relaxed and revitalized, I made my way to Roma. I got in at about 10 pm and my driver was there waiting for me. I had booked it and my hotel online at InItaly.com, and so far it was working out great.

As we drove towards Rome, my young driver began flirting in broken English. Then his phone rang. He turned to me, frowning, and said, "Trouble." What was the problem? Apparently it was La Notte Bianca, or White Night. No, Italy’s a little too far south for sun-filled nights, but they don’t care. It was White Night anyways. This meant that my hotel’s street, as well as all the streets downtown, were closed to cars. Which meant that I had to get myself and my suitcase to my hotel on my own.

Though he wanted to sleep with me, my driver did not want to escort me. He pulled over in the total mayhem—cars circling the town center trying to get in and throngs of millions of people on foot, and said, "Your hotel that way, through the piazza, first street. Maybe 100 meters."

I grabbed a hold of my suitcase’s pull handle, tipped it onto its wheels and made for the Piazza del Popolo. It was now about midnight, there were a zillion people on the streets, most of them drunk, and there was music and a laser show coming from somewhere. Even museums were open. I trudged through the piazza. I was wearing a green velour jogging suit, a sweatsedo, and it was humid as a mother. Sweat began to bead delicately on my forehead. Now I was on Via del Corso looking for number 126, and I soon discovered that on one side of the street, the numbers ascended, while on the opposite side, they descended. Whatta the fucka?

This street was slammed packed. People were wasted. They stumbled over my suitcase; I ran over toes. There was no way to be civil and I’d stopped muttering ‘scuzzi’ twenty meters ago. In the distance were some big flags hoisted outside a doorway—it looked promising as a hotel front. But like a mirage in these dunes of humanity, it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. People blew fierce notes through big plastic horns and screamed all around me. The crowd was a sludge and I couldn’t move. The flags waved to me down the street but I literally could not move. Picture trying to get to your hotel through the Mardi Gras parade with all your luggage. I wanted to cry.

Finally, I made one last merciless push through toes and elbows and purses and shoved myself through the hotel door. Yes, it was the right hotel! I was shown to my room, a pitiful closet of a thing on the first floor. I wanted a day to myself in Roma so none of my friends arrived until the next day. I took a deep breath, changed into a Viva Tango Diva tank top and miniskirt, and went back downstairs, into the crowds, the melee, the mystical Villa Borghese park, the White Night…

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