When in Rome

Okay, so I'm kicking around Rome in late December 1999 with this ex-pat friend-of-a-friend, Bryan Geraghty, whose mom has an apartment there and whose mom happens to be gone for the holiday so we can crash at her apartment right around New Year's Eve.

Geraghty's mom got a divorce at some point when Geraghty was a kid. And then -- boom -- just like that, she gets a hair and moves to Rome; she didn't even know Italian when she got the hair. Geraghty grows up in both places (Thornton, Colorado, and Rome, Italy) and is truly bicultural. When I looked him up, he had been there a couple of years working as a graphic designer close to Milan.

We took the train to Rome to be there for the festivities. I cried on the train because I was midway through my two weeks and I never wanted the trip to end.

On New Year's Eve, his brother and sister-in-law and another guy from the States descend -- very fun folks -- and we're all out kicking around this fabulous city where cars are totally irrelevant and inconvenient; like, if you got a car, you gotta ditch it. Immediately. And even though the cars are all tiny, you still find them hard to ditch. (A side note: One key may work on several of the same makes and models. This is useful if you're out of smokes.) Scooters are cool and inexpensive and fun, but cars are out, and with the cobblestone streets and the plazas all blending together, you just end up walking around and around and you never get tired, because, you know, you're in Rome, and when you think about leaving and coming back here, you want to cry some more.

So our posse, we're out, we enjoy a typically fabulous dinner where folks eat as if it is an act of art or worship and talk and aren't in such a rush, and you eat your salad last for digestive reasons, I'm thinking. And then we're walking around just like all these folks. And I guess on New Year's Eve or all the time, you can pretty much have a bottle or two or three of champagne or whatever you're drinking, and you don't get busted for the open container deal.

People in Rome on New Year's Eve, even though there is this massive number of folks gathered in these plazas, it is kind of an organized chaos, like the city itself, which is perpetually under construction while nothing ever seems to get constructed or whatever, but it all works in the end and is, um, superior to anything we've got here in the American West.

(One of my favorite things was how many old people were out and about, as opposed to warehoused. You know what I'm saying? That and the complete lack of homelessness and the slowness and aesthetics to everyday life. Like, you can't get a cup of coffee to go. You've got to slow your ass down and just drink it there in the café. And as an American, you want to down two or three of them, because we're all used to the grande thang.)

Okay, so midnight comes and -- get this -- everyone throws their bottles into the center of the plaza. There are like a thousand people throwing a thousand-plus bottles into the center. And amazingly, it just works. No one gets hurt.

Which brings us to the highlight of the night. I am quite buzzed, and I see a bunch of bottles that aren't quite broken to satisfaction. So I'm running around grabbing bottles and smashing them. A smash here and a smash there. I'm smashing. I'm having a fabulous time doing this when a firecracker -- a bottle rocket or similar deal -- hits me an inch above my left eye. It sounds weird to say that was the highlight of the night, because the party went on until dawn, and the degree of fabulousness was exponential, but believe me, when you get hit an inch above your eye with a firecracker when your Mum and Dad don't even know you're in Rome, you're like, um, There is a God! And thank you so much, God, for not taking out my left eye!

After breaking all that glass, and after I totally decide God exists and have the bump to prove it, we continue to kick around all over town, seeing fabulous fountains and stuff where folks from everywhere are just sitting around in heaps in the cool night air. You get your useless and irrelevant fortune told. Buy trinkets. Continue to drink. You can't talk to too many people because you're not Geraghty, you're just a dumb unicultural American Girl Wonder. But you're not so dumb that you don't want to just exist in that moment forever.

You know? You're in Rome. New Year's Day 2000, and you've got both eyeballs in place. It's just a rush.

 
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