Sunday, December 1, 2013

When In Rome, Avoid the Use of Cliches, Off Kilter Jokes About Pisa, And Quoting Your Own Tweets From Weeks Earlier

Earlier in November, a ten day stint abroad in the "Eternal City" brought about the culmination of months of hard work and headaches as the much ballyhooed (I feel like that word was invented for this very event) Celebration of Success finally took place. 500 plus of our company's finest descended upon Rome, Italy and I don't doubt that the city will never again be the same, I know I won't.

Before we even set foot on Italian soil, I must make mention of one brief note concerning our inbound flight. Now, me being as well versed in travel and sarcasm as I am, I was in awe of the fact that there were individual television screens in the back of each of the airplane seats. I went in expecting nothing but a bag of peanuts and was holding out hope for the complimentary cocktail, but of course had to keep my poker face intact as the wonders of technology again eclipsed my wildest expectations. The only reason I bring up the silly televisions on the plane is for the following story to have some context.

Being that I was flying on an Air Italia flight, it should be no surprise that was seated next to an Italian guy around my age that I had the pleasure of speaking to a bit (years of high school Italian paying immediate dividends) and he was watching "The Shawshank Redemption." At first, I, much like you never gave it a second thought, until I suddenly had a though occur to me that soon consumed the entirety of my attention. Bear in mind that on a nine hour flight you have some time to dwell on the little things...

What exactly does Morgan's Freeman's voice sound like dubbed over in another language?

I implore you to halt your reading for a moment and really let this idea sink in. For in Morgan Freeman we have an actor whose voice has become as distinct and embedded in pop culture as the very roles he portrays. For a spell I toiled with the idea that Morgan Freeman was secretly the most multi-lingual man in the world and simply provided his own voice overs in a very "Inception-esque" kind of way. I think we can all agree that in a perfect world that's the way it should be. Anyway, as much as this may disappoint a few of you, I couldn't bring myself to spoil that fantasy and figured I could only be let down by the reality of the situation. I never did listen to Morgan Freeman in Italian. Ignorance is bliss; smooth, velvety, dulcet toned bliss.

Fear not, I'm not going to over-generalize here, but Rome was/is a wonderful place. The business aspect of the trip was indeed a bunch of hard work, but it was also largely considered a resounding success. I met some wonderful people over the course of the trip that I can't wait to see again and a couple people I'm really relieved I only have to work with once or twice a year. The plus side of the trip was that when you were working you were really working your tail off, but when the group had downtime, you had downtime, provided you didn't run off to Venice for the day. I got the chance to see all of the sights Rome had to offer, including the Trevi Fountain, Keats Museum, and Colosseum, among other things. With that said, oddly enough I never got a photo of  the Colosseum, as I kind of assumed I would get the chance to get my Kodak on during one of the couple of tours we'd planned for the group. Lo and behold, both times the tours came about, I found myself busy with something work related and unable to attend. A shame, but although a picture is worth a thousand words, the memory is worth a lifetime.

I made it a point not to look like a tourist as much as possible and refused to walk around with a map in hand. On one occassion, this resulted in me walking from the front door of my hotel, getting somewhat (quite) turned around and somehow winding up at the Colosseum. There was the most fleeting of moments where I was thrilled at my serendipity of stumbling across one of Italy's wonders of history and archetecture, but no sooner was I crushed by the latent realization that I had really strayed from the beaten path and had an eternity's walk before me to get back where I needed to be.

The way ancient history and modern metropolis collided in Rome has to be one of a kind. It's wild to see ancient ruins across from a main street and H&M store and some of the worst parking situations you've ever seen. Seriously, I think you were better off in a horse and chariot in certain areas than trying to zip around in these mini-cars they had rolling around over there. The food spoke for itself. I'm not going to turn this into a culinary blog, but let's just say everything was fresh and put all Italian food I've ever had to shame. It was great to speak Italian again for the first time in years. It certainly came in handy when speaking to locals and the bus drivers. After about a week I was starting to really get back in the habit, but I can't lie, a lot of my communication (with the exception of three notable instances) consisted of me choking out hackneyed Italian and being greeted with polite smiles saying "I know what you're trying to say, we can speak English now, if you want." Grazie.

This next bit I seem to have a hard time putting into words, because in print it sounds like the most obvious statement...ever. Brace yourself...

The Pope is a big deal in Rome.

There, I said it, it's out on the table. To clarify, obviously the domicile of the leader of all of Catholicism is anything but inconspicuous. I expected a great deal of religious gravity and whathaveyou in the area, but I guess what took me by surprise is how the papal presence seemed more like the Beatles rolling through town than the figurative right hand man of a deity. Seeing Pope calendars, hats, posters, key rings etc. didn't necessarily offend me, but it certainly took me aback. When I was outside the walls of the Vatican, I felt more like I was outside of a sports stadium. Totally surreal feeling. I will say, seeing/hearing about people clawing over each other trying to get a good look at Pope Francis, while babies were handed off like footballs to get blessed by the man did seem a little juxtaposed to his teachings. Wild stuff.

For anyone making their own travel plans to the area, for what my opinion is worth, I really fell in love with the Piazza Navona area. A little expensive, but some great shops, cafes, and street performers in the area. Beautiful fountains and just a great vibe in the spot as well. An underrated Russian population in the area, too.

Overall an exhausting but rewarding time in Rome. As fun as it was, I'm happy to have it in my rear-view mirror. The nightlife was solid, too, but I'll save those stories for when I see you in person. Great to get to know our people.

Song of the Day: Schism-Tool
Jazz Song of the Day- Truth is I've been scouring YouTube for jazz renditions of "Pure Imagination" of Wonka fame and have been ensnared by a few of them. These versions are my collective song of the day.

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