“My wallet is gone!” are words I would dread anywhere in the world. The last time it had happened, I had chased the stealer down the streets, very nearly into a deserted parking lot. This time, I was staring into the eyes of the victim, a stocky American in his fifties, who might have taken me by the collar if I weren’t a woman. It took me a few seconds to realize this. Pushed into the morning rush on the metro, I had been feeling my own pockets for valuables. “I didn’t take it. You can search me if you want,” I said shakily, as if I didn’t expect him to believe me. It was my first day in Italy, and the metro was pulling out of Roma Termini. Being a tourist is rough business. I couldn’t lock eyes with the American again for the rest of the journey, and pondered whether the thief was still around us.
Planned for that morning was a tour of the Vatican. Our guide kept the religion out of the art, but the art refused to stay out of religion. Overwhelming in ambition and symbolism, grasping its intention was not the hard part. In the 16th century, this might have been the local comic book. But I didn’t know anything about the Genesis of Man, and there was no way to look it up. Leave your brain at home, along with your wallet, I told myself. Enjoy the comic.
The next day, we planned to head to Naples. Confidently navigating through ticketing and station chaos, more aware of pickpockets than ever, we found the platform and the train. Ten minutes into the journey, deep in the Italian countryside, the ticket checker cheerfully informs us, “Train to Firenze”. The train was to Florence. Right then. Five minutes in Florence, and we were giving directions to a bunch of lost tourists. You see, we had taken pictures of the city map at the Firenze station. Turns out offline maps were better than no maps. As we made our way to the Cathederal, we stumbled upon the Palazzo Strozzi. It had wifi! It was hosting an exhibition on Divine Beauty – we bought tickets to it in sheer gratitude. Sedated, I actually enjoyed the various interpretations of Madonna, and was particularly moved by this erotic interpretation of prayer.
After we’d had enough comics and pasta heaped on us for five days, we took the remaining half of our vacation to London, where a Starbucks was never far. The coffee was burnt, but the wifi was always there. The creamy lattes of Rome and Michelangelo’s genius didn’t hold a candle to the small pleasures of internet. It was quite another matter that everyone on the London tube read the ‘complimentary’ newspapers instead of infinitely better stuff on their phones.