WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Rome if you want to

ROME, Italy (MindaNews/20 July) — The phone rang at 3:30 in the morning, the LED blinking an unknown Italian number, but there was nobody on the line. Three messages had come in while I was asleep. About an hour earlier, Karl Gaspar sent a text to say he was dropping by my office at 10:00am to leave dinner-for-a-cause tickets. It was almost that back home. I texted Karl that I was in Rome and for him to please leave the tickets with Bless.

Funny man – he texts back something crazy about Rome being a city to remember a love lost.

On second thought, maybe not. A Roman weekend was “me” time. Alone time. Now that indeed is a love I sometimes lose.

Not alone really, but alone with others. The difference is that one can let go of social masks and talk up people you’ll never see again in your lifetime. If you want.

If you need.

Like, when you can’t make out details on the map and need help finding the bus station. Or getting on the right bus. That’s how I met Boyet Narbasa of Buhangin out there on the shadow of St. Peter’s Square.

Which is not a square. Go figure.

Anyway, Boyet says he helps out selling at the souvenir stalls. His wife had been working here in Rome for some years, and two years ago, she petitioned for him to join her. We started with Tagalog, switched to Ilongo, and finally locked on Davao Cebuano. He walked me over three blocks to get to the bus stop and then we posed for a selfie together and exchanged email addresses.

Coming into the gate of my bed and breakfast, a handsome Gambian mistakes me for the owner and asks me for a room. He was a UN peacekeeper who had just gotten off the plane. The receptionist told us they were full up, and that so were all the joints nearby. She takes pity on him and lets him stay for free at the quarters of the hotel help.

Gee. That’s what I call hospitality. No wonder this joint is rated very high on booking sites. It’s cheap and clean and pretty in a bucolic way. The staff is amazing. They run you down to bus station or send a shuttle to pick you up. They wait on you at breakfast and send you off with fruits and cake if you’re going out. Sharing a ride to the airport at noon today, Yusupha told me that the innkeeper’s daughter cooked dinner for him just to be sure that he ate halal. He said that the next time he gets a leave from serving in South Sudan, he really would have to come back and spend a holiday here in this establishment.

Young Jan had taken me in when I arrived. He inquired about my plans, and very kindly wrote down directions.

“If you’re going to see the Pope, tell him Jan says he is doing a good job,” he joked. Jan had worked a bit for a Vatican Museum tour company before he settled on his present job. He says he is from Afghanistan, but would rather be working in Italy as long as he can.

On the sidewalks outside the Vatican Museum, many young Muslims were hawking guided tours. Idris, a UK-educated management graduate, echoed Jan’s sentiments. He’d rather be in Rome than go home to Bangladesh. For six months after graduation, he had tried finding a job in the UK but his luck ran out.

“But why Rome?” I asked.

“There are many of us here,” he said. “It’s a good place to be. There is work.”

Uh-oh. I really don’t want to talk about work this weekend. Time enough for that. So I bade him goodbye and headed out after a very pregnant French woman who was going to be my tour guide. It was laborious. She was huffing and puffing into the audiophone in my ear, I feared she would give birth any time. I decided to lose her at the Sistine Chapel and took in St. Peter’s Basilica on my lonesome.

There. That made me feel so much better.

Sistine Chapel would have been the ninth church for me. But St. Peter’s Basilica made it an even ten.

I got to Pisa too late today for any church to be open. I had every intention of pushing the leaning tower over, but there are security people there and one can’t get near the tower any way. You can take lots of pictures though.

That I did. Pictures are a Pisa cake. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches at the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. She is head of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says)