I’m tired. I’ve had the ultimate Roman tourist experience, and it’s been nothing short of exhausting. Churches, museums, gelato, pizza, pasta, wine, ruins, and walking and walking and walking and walking. I was basically drowned in Roman culture by my couchsurfing host. It’s definitely not my preferred mode of travel, but I’m grateful… Mostly.
Allow me to paint a portrait of this man for you. By the time I’m finished, you may be wondering, “leif, why the fuck would you continue to stay with this dude?” Well, it’s simple. Rome is not the cheapest place to visit, I couldn’t get in touch with any squats, and dude guy really helped me out. Unfortunately, that meant putting up with a bunch of crazy shit, which brings me to my last excuse: he made for ridiculous writing material.
I’m probably going to feel like a dick after writing this, but I’m a chronic truth-teller, so here you go:
We’re going to call this dude Chianti, partially because it’s Italian, partially because I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to serve me with fava beans. I’m kidding. He’s harmless. I think. He’s like the tamer, Italian reincarnation of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, minus the attempts to stick cats in ATMs. (No joke, I checked his closets for dead bodies. I’m a bit paranoid.)
Honestly, I almost left Chianti’s apartment the first day because he gave me weird vibes. He started profusely sweating at lunch. He accused me of not liking my food because I was full and couldn’t eat all of it. AND THEN I found a confederate flag in his office, along with a massive collection (like hundreds) of Donald Duck comics and a pair of playboy bunny boxers. Instead of projectile vomiting in his apartment, I took a nap. I woke up in fight-or-flight mode, determined to leave.
I decided to stick it out for a bit. I’m not particularly proud to say this, but Chianti basically paid for my entire life during my visit. He brought me to the best pizza, pasta, coffee, and gelato places. He bought me three packs of rolling papers for some unknown reason and then said he didn’t know what they were. He bought me an ugly bracelet off the street. And trust me, I tried to interfere with his purchasing rampage, but he wasn’t having it.
Chianti looks like a terrified frog. His eyes are enormous and constantly wide open, his forehead is large, and his neck is quite thin. He is a lawyer. He lives alone. He says he’s had women, but always pushes them away and them tries to take them back when it’s too late. Sadly, I don’t believe this.
Chianti blow-dries his hair. He pours wine into his water at restaurants. He made me do this, too. It was okay. There is absolutely nothing in Chianti’s fridge, save for some wilted tomatoes. He eats out every day, for every meal. He has a house cleaner. He owns two apartments. The apartment he currently lives in has a floral table cloth and tiki masks on the walls. His shower gel has the name “sensual” in it.
Chianti told me that he refuses to visit “third world” countries because there’s no point. They’re dirty and depressing, he says. But he did make a point of telling me that he’s been to Egypt — but only to Italian-owned resorts in Egypt. He didn’t see the pyramids, didn’t even leave the resort, because Egypt is dirty and the pyramids aren’t interesting.
Chianti does not like Chinese food. I’m fairly certain he does not like Chinese people. He likes to say, “I’m not racist, but…” He likes to point out Chinese people. He likes to talk mad shit about Chinese food.
“I mean, you don’t know what’s in that stuff.”
Chianti told me that he’s totally cool with gay rights and gay marriage, but if a child is going to be adopted, straight couples should have the priority because children deserve to grow up in “normal” families. He allowed me to challenge this, but we didn’t get very far.
Chianti is absolutely a nationalist. According to him, Italy does everything better than everyone else — especially food. But Chianti pours wine in his water, so he’s not really one to talk. When I told him I wanted to go to Greece, he said, “why? Italy has all the same architecture, but better. And what good have they done in the last few thousand years?”
Chianti liked to plan out my days, even when he wasn’t around. I started lying about what I did during the day because he generally got upset when I didn’t follow his advice.
“Did you see the thing?”
“Oh yeah, totally saw the thing. It was so, incredibly thing-ish.”
On the first night, before going out to dinner, he made me change out of my sandals and into my sneakers.
“Are you sure you’re okay to walk in those?”
“Yeah, I wore them the whole time in Corsica.”
“Are you sure?”
“Please change your shoes. You’re not in Corsica and they’re too casual.”
As if my filthy Vans are fancy.
Yesterday, I ordered a coffee before lunch, since I had just woken up. He stopped the waitress and told her not to bring it to me.
“You can’t have coffee before lunch.”
“But I’m really tired. I haven’t had any yet.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do that. You would be breaking an Italian rule.”
How many times do I have to tell this fucker that I’m an anarchist? How many?!
Chianti is rude to waiters. He doesn’t tip. I can’t understand what he says in Italian, but I can tell that folks in the service industry don’t like him. It was embarrassing to be associated with him, not only for his treatment of other humans, but because we looked absolutely absurd together. He’s constantly in business dress. My wardrobe consists of a Dr. Dre shirt and daisy dukes.
On our first night, I made eye contact with the cute barista at the coffee place we were at, and whispered “help me.”
Last night was the worst of all. We had dinner. He talked shit about the waiters. He watched me eat, urging me to eat more and more and more.
“Oh come on, you can do it.”
“Dude, I’m really full.”
I think he was trying to turn me into foie gras.
So we had dinner, then went to the square with the statue of the Christian who was burned alive in said square, and had drinks. Northern Italians were watching the basketball game. He insulted their accents. I commented on how many bystanders were transfixed on the TV screen and he said, “now that no one is looking…” And then he leaned in to kiss me. I turned my head.
“Oh no no no.”
“Oh okay. Hey, what’s the score of the game right now?”
And that was that. Fucking gross. Last night, I dreamt that he found one of my blonde hairs in his bathroom and told me to leave his house.
Chianti has 50-something positive reviews on couchsurfing, mostly from women, and I wonder how many of these women he’s treated as sugar babies, leaving sexual expectations for the last day. I think I’m done with posting public couchsurfing requests, since men typically treat them as a hookup tactic.
Fortunately, I was able to maintain boundaries throughout the stay, though I was required to silence my own views and opinions, since he never hesitated to trash them. For the first time in a long time, I kept my big mouth shut. Chianti had the privilege of learning absolutely nothing about me, beyond what he could see with his two terrified frog eyes.
I do feel sad for him though. Really. And perhaps that’s my dangerous empathy speaking, but the dude lives a lonely life and is clearly too much of a control freak to be in relationships. So he turns to couchsurfing — to these brief platonic flings in which he basically holds his guests hostage, enabling him to have brief girlfriend experiences.
As a former prostitute, this was really weird and really difficult. It felt like old times, minus the sex. I had to be an actress for 72 fucking hours. But I’m safe. I was clear-headed throughout the week. He didn’t take anything from my physically.
He did, however, take my voice and that’s not an acceptable thing to take from someone, especially from a loud mouth. Fortunately, I have other outlets for releasing my voice, like this emo blog and my messy journal.
Five pounds and 10,000 internal “ugh fuck yous” later, and I’m free, with barely a dent in my bank account. Life is weird and said weirdness affects different people in different ways, and sometimes we’re forced to be around people with whom our personal weirdness does not align.
And to his credit, Chianti was a great tour guide. He knew all the best spots, the history of said spots, good restaurants, etc. For having only been here for three days, my knowledge of the city is more than adequate.
And at least I got to burn a confederate flag.
Anyhow, I’ve been enjoying my solitude lately. Sometimes that crosses over into extreme loneliness, but I try to sit with it and wait for it to pass. I went to a movie by myself on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday. I fell asleep in the theater with my feet up the first time and yesterday’s film was god awful, but It felt really good — i was finally doing something nice for myself without shaming it. And we need these things to survive — these little kind gestures towards ourselves. Today, I laid in my hostel bed for hours, reveling in the air conditioning.
I am currently sitting in another overpriced bullshit restaurant because I was determined to find anarchists in a square with a bunch of squatter graffiti, but instead followed the wrong directions and ended up in the most capitalistic part of Rome. Good job, leif!!
Tomorrow, I will post something more thoughtful, most likely about the beautiful souls I’ve met on my journey. I’ve been meaning write it for a long time.
Ugh there’s an electric guitar version of “let it be” playing in my ear holes right now and Italian dude guy feels very unfortunately compelled to sing along.