What I loved most about exploring Italy when I was 17, was the ability and freedom I had to walk around aimlessly and explore the historic sites. What I didn’t count on, was how easy it is to lose your sense of time in a place like Rome.
Now, unlike New York, which runs on a ruthlessly tight schedule, Rome lives up to it’s Eternal City glory, and gives you the impression that you can just keep going forever. Someday I’d like to move to a place like this, where time seems to stand still and each breath you take is filled with powerful stillness. That is, you are constantly reminded of past promises, successes, and are filled with the certainty that everything will be alright.
“Alright!” Our tour guide Elvira Ferrari stood tall in her black leather boots and painted on jeans as we listened. “Meet me at the obelisk at Piazza San Pietro in THREE HOURS. We’re having dinner near the Palazzaccio and leaving promptly after to go back to the hotel, so don’t be late!
The “Palazzaccio”, or Palazzo di Giustizia (Supreme Court House) is called “the ugly palace” in it’s Italian colloquial due to the gaudy facade.
Now an important thing to remember about the timing of my Roman holiday, was that we arrived the week after Pope John Paul II passed away, so The Vatican was buzzing with foreigners waiting for conclave to start, the Sistine Chapel was closed, and Anderson Cooper seemed to be everywhere within the vicinity of St. Peter’s Square. I decided the timing was more than enough to attend mass, so I headed to church… without a watch.
The whole experience was quite astounding. In ushered all the cardinals who were being considered for Pope, and the choir seemed to resonate straight to the heavens. When it was time to say “peace be with you,” a little Italian lady who was sitting next to me turned and asked “Americano?”
“Si,” I replied.
“Ah!” The woman kissed me on either cheek and clapped her hands.
When I finally got out of mass, I headed to the obelisk and waited, and waited… until I finally asked someone for the time.
“I’m an hour late?” I asked out loud. “Shit!”
Elvira hadn’t told us the exact location of our lunch except that it was near the ugly palace. Even then, I didn’t speak the language and didn’t quite know how to get where everyone else was. Luckily, I found an American family who helped me flag down a taxi.
I did my best, “Umm… Palazzaccio?” My driver then took of at the speed of light and led me through Rome like I was his stowaway passenger in the Indy 500. When he got me to the ugly palace, I found myself no better off than I was at The Vatican. No one.
After an hour of looking at maps in different cafes and alternating between buying a shot of espresso and gelato to maintain my calm and collected appearance, I saw our bus pull up.
“LUIGI!” I yelled and ran after the giant tour bus like a thirsty traveler who has seen an oasis in the middle of a desert. He stopped abruptly and let me on. The poor man didn’t speak a word of English, and in true Jacob fashion, I proceeded to tell him all about my adventure. He simply nodded with a polite, yet confused smile.
After about thirty minutes alone with Luigi in silence, I saw my group members appear from a side street. “Where WERE YOU!?” yelled Aubre.
“Mass was… LONG!” I said.
“Well, you missed out, we had the best pasta, and oh my God, the espresso here is sooo good!”
“So I learned.”