Hollywood’s big-wig movie men, Instagram, and Julia Roberts would have you believe that Rome looks like this :
And it does.
I took this photo on a gorgeous Italian spring day after elbowing my way through some fat American tourists, and idiots with selfie sticks doing the peace sign. I’ve since cropped out most of the hoard of tourists, and voila (it should be ecco coz Italy but that phrase hasn’t been colonised by we English oppressors yet) a decent picture of one of the most over-grammed landmarks in human existence.
But, I’m here to show you that Rome also looks like this:
Travelling isn’t all pretty sunny days and marble fountains. Reality is not about the shots we edit and filter for social media but about the leaky sink in the central city train station.
Why is this photo such an inviting bluey-purple you may ask? Perhaps these were the cheapest fluorescent tubes available, or my camera was stuck on a blue filter which I didn’t know how to turn off? Wrong.
Here’s a bitter lesson young’uns: If the light in a public toilet is purple, it’s been put there to dissuade intravenous drug users from shooting up in the loos. Apparently the blue light makes it harder to find a vein. Cheery right?! And drug use is rife in most major European cities. If you are traveling anywhere densely populated, in a country with relatively open boarders, expect to deal with a few occasions of drug use, drug deals or left over paraphernalia.
A day or two after I took these photos, I was waiting to use the toilet on a cross country train from Rome to La Spezia. The door had remained locked for what seemed an ungodly length of time. I had been watching from my seat, flicking my fingers and twitching uncomfortably, waiting for the loo to be free. I was struggling with my panic a little that day and wanted to quite down my Bruce. Sadly, someone else’s Bruce needed the space more than I did.
I knocked, politely at first, then with more indignation. When the door finally opened, a beautiful young woman walked out with a light wobble. She looked model-esk, in a way only everyday Italian woman can look ; impeccably stylish, jutting collarbones, blunt cut dark bob, and big dark glasses. The look Victoria Beckham has paid a fortune to assume after years of being a ludicrous Chav nightmare. Her gaze remained firmly downcast as she scuttled past me. That very specific scuttle of someone who isn’t moving fast but you can tell the inside of them is racing like a million Doc Marten wearing centipedes. I knew instinctively that she had been in the bathroom shooting up. I’m not completely sure how I knew, gut feeling, but I guess my history plays into it as well. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I lost my lovely, but slightly bonkers brother to a drug overdose nearly 8 years ago. The pain of my grief and the utter shock at his passing has left an indelible mark, like a fissure on my soul. It’s my terrible, unwanted Spidey sense. I’ll write more about him one day but even now it feels weird to spell out the facts in publishable words.
Inside the toilet there was brown residue in the sink, and an empty wrapper for an ultra fine hypodermic needle poking out of the trash. When I got back to my seat, the beautiful woman was sitting across from us with her legs up on the seat, head lolling against the window as the train shuddered and rolled down the track. Her bare ankles betrayed all pretense, displaying the tell tale Amy Winehouse bruises of a habitual drug user. There is no climactic end to this story because again this isn’t Hollywood, it’s real life. I felt sad for her and whatever experience she’d been exposed to that pushed her to rely on drugs as an outlet. I also felt sad for me and missed my brother, who so would have loved to see Italy but never got the chance.
Stazioni termini Roma, two floors of shops and food outlets surrounded by trains, buses and grubby tents.
The blue light oozes out of the bathrooms like the radioactive slime favoured by every Captain Planet villain, seeping into each nook and cranny of the subterranean shopping center in which they are housed.
It costs €1 to use the loos, which is about $1.65NZD. Not the best value, but they have a captive market so what choice do you have if you need to pee?
You don’t get a whole lot for your $1.65; leaky sinks, bucket decoration, and broken locks all come as standard. I’m guessing they want you to pee fast and get the fuck out.
Weirdly, the light isn’t as blue in the stalls, the one place where you should probably have the blue lights, y’know to stop the drug use. But, I recall the last time I was in Rome that the lights were all blue so I’m guessing, they started with good intentions, then gave up and had a nap. It’s the Italian way.
Most of the loos will have no seats and the bins will be over-flowing despite there being an attendant onsite at all times. The floor is almost always dirty, again in spite of there being an attendant and a cleaning trolley in the middle of the room. It never seems to get cleaned.
There is a weird European, low powered hairdryer, just in case you washed your hair in the dirty sinks?
Cleanliness : 4/10 No shit visible, but the smell of damp, warm hand dryers and sweat is ever present.
Interior : 4/10 The Termini loos have plenty of stalls, so you shouldn’t be kept waiting if you’re freaking out and need to get in there fast, but there are few hand dryers, which is just an odd design choice. There is a slight sense of comfort in the idea that this bathroom is already a public wretch, so no matter what I do, even if I have explosive diarrhea all over the stall dividers, it won’t be the first or last time that had happened. I feel a wave of comfort in knowing that I couldn’t possibly be the least socially conscious or disgusting person who has set foot in this bathroom.
Exterior : 5/10 As with most things in Italy, as long as it looks average on the outside, the real substance doesn’t matter. Case in point, the Termini shopping center. It is quite fancy and has an abundance of high end shops and expensive food outlets, but when it comes to the base level services, it’s fucking disgusting. I have a better example of this phenomenon coming up in a post about a cafe in Florence. The services in Italy couldn’t be further from the services in Dubai where EVERYTHING is pristine in places you are expected to part with your cash. Say what you want about the terrible aspects of Dubai but they know how to create a head to toe experience in their malls, hotels and theme parks. But, though it sounds like I’m bagging out Italy, hard, I love the place. However grimy, stinky and inconsistent, it has heart and the best fucking ricotta pastries in the fucking world.
Safety : 2/10 Trust no one. You will be stabbed and possibly with a dirty needle.
Snugglitude : 5/10 Italy has had a hard time, economically, socially, fiscally etc. But, it’s still an amazing place (other than Naples, which is a shit hole nightmare). It’s a bit like the goofy character in any American family ensemble movie. You know you should like the character who is nice, pretty and good and does the right thing all the time, but really the character who is dodgy, gritty and conflicted is far more fun. Italy is that character, Italy is Bill Murray.
Total : 20/50 This rating is for the toilet, not for Italy it’s self.