Leaving Rome was another clusterfuck. I knew it would be, so I went to â€œTerminiâ€ central station three days ahead of time to put everything in order. Despite my efforts, the genius of Italy saw to it that there would be a last-minute fiasco.
At first, everything seemed to be working. I arrived 50 minutes early, found my train on the big board, and saw the platform number. Ah, time for a coffee. Fortunately the line was too long or did not exist, so I decided to skip the espresso and board. I went to the gate to enter the platform and showed my EURail pass to the guy, along with my reservation; of course I had my passport handy too. He scanned my papers and said calmly, â€œNo, no no no, you need a stampa, to validate.â€ Are you serious? I had already traveled 5 times on this document in anal-retentive Scandinavia without anyone saying anything about a validation stamp.
The officer-guy directed me â€œal centro, i alla sinestra.â€ He meant I had to go to the biglietteria–the ticket gallery, which I had tried to use the other day. The biglietteria is a mini-DMV, except the employees arenâ€™t black, just inefficient and insouciant. I took a number. There were at least 10 Americans in front of me and probably some Germans, and my train was leaving in 35 minutes. The women at the counter were taking their sweet time answering every moronic inquiry in Italianglish and typing. And there might be a cigarette break any moment now. I knew it was hopeless.
As I learned my first day in Rome, act like itâ€™s a crisis and people will help you. But I could not simply push to the counter and demand a stamp before my number was called. That would cause an incident–operating in Italy takes more subtlety. So I stopped thinking like a Nord and embraced my inner I-tie. Processes here are not linear, but fluid. I dropped my pack and sprawl-prawled onto the station floor, amidst a crowd of panicked and frustrated non-Italians, pulled out my papers, and wrote my own goddamn validation. I antedated it 26.05.16 and signed my fatherâ€™s initials. If some guy asked â€œeeeyy! La stampa! Dove e?â€ I would just say I got it validated in a shit-tier country like Greece. They would understand.
This time I decided to play it right. I strode up to the usher and passed him my papers hurriedly. He didnâ€™t even ask about the stamp this time. Okayed, I gave everyone around me an earful of my unmelodic, manly American accent, â€œHaha, so goddamn American!”
A Lost World
Rome was just the beginning. As my train went south, I descended into the husk of the Classical world. Oswald Spengler–my God and prophet–theorized that European cultures were of two types: Apollonian and Faustian. The ancient Greeks and Romans were Apollonians–their imaginations were obsessed with static form, rootedness to the earth, the present moment and the noonday sun. Thus they were the complete antithesis of our, post-Roman, Faustian Culture, with its emphasis on thrusting motion, boundless space, and and a strong sense of time–all symbolized by the dawn. All very mystical and unprovable, but astute.
Rome is the frontier of the Faustian world. built atop the ruins of an Apollonian metropolis. On the other hand, Naples, Salerno, Sapri. with their white, yellow, pinkish-beige houses inset into hillsides might as well be Ancient Greece. My train-ride was, spiritually speaking, time-travel, now that I knew what to look for. The train (a Faustian imposition) raced by derelict houses and crumbling public buildings, often with exposed brown and grey blocks, including the well-preserved ruins of a medieval town-wall. Everywhere, the locals had built under, around and atop these as if they were part of the landscape. Even the highway bridges, despite their great height, were more notable for their connection to the earth at their bases than the air under their tresses.
Classical civilization grew and bloomed, then shriveled. Many of its former lands were subsumed by the new Faustian, Germanic Culture. But not all. According to Spengler, the Apollonian spirit clung on in some of its country backwaters, places like Southern Italy, Greece and Sicily. Fittingly, the fossils of Greece and Rome are now Europeâ€™s bulwark against the black and brown menace. Since the last surge of hostilities during the early centuries of Islam, the front has remained virtually unchanged. It runs from Lesbos through Greece, across to Calabria, Sicily and on to Gibraltar.
As the train descended, the seats were thinned of Faustian, cosmopolitan Romans and filled with people who resembled my Calabrian grandfather. Not a one of them was speaking English. This was, after all, a people who had only recently (in the last 4 centuries) made the change-over from Greek to Romance dialects. In a few towns, in fact, there are still people who speak Greek, remnants of ancient and Byzantine colonization.
At Paola, I rendezvoused with two relatives who had been sent to retrieve me. They did not speak English either, which made conversation awkward grammatically. As we drove up into the hills, I felt a mixture of ease and a sensation like terror. Despite the language barrier, we managed to communicate–socially this was all very normal. But spiritually I knew myself to be intensely out of place. The permanence of it all shocked me–the stone farm-houses, the olive trees with their gnarled trunks, the all-absorbing landscape.