November 21-22, 2004
Planning a trip is always exciting. Actually beginning one is always hard. The universe is asking us how dare we leave the bounds of our known world. Dragons and ogres are stalking just beyond the perimeter and in order to explore the unknown, we have to get past them.
For the modern adventurer, airplane travel represents the threshold into the unknown.
The threshold guardians are not serpents and leviathans. More like a swarm of mosquitoes. Your courage is sapped by a barrage of small indignities.
In our case the list starts with a wet taxicab seat. An automated ticket kiosk that wouldn't recognize my credit card. Christmas carols over the loud speaker. Then a late plane to Philly, threatening to make us miss the plane to Rome. We make the plane, but only after jogging from the far reaches of Terminal F to Terminal A, while the airline staff shrug their shoulders, saying international flights are never held up for late connecting flights, but promising to book us through Frankfurt if we miss it.
We squeeze into our steerage class seats, breathing a sigh of relief. The guy in front of Jim slams his seat back into Jim's face. I narrowly escape the same fate by screaming ouch and the person in front of me stops halfway.
Bathroom. Urine all over the seat. What grown man healthy enough for air travel doesn't notice he is peeing on the seat? This isn't thoughtlessness. The decision to leave the seat a mess is a very thoughtful one -- very deliberate, very hostile. I mop it up.
But, tra-la, we survive the attempted murder by a thousand pin pricks.
We are in Rome! We glide through immigration, we float through long corridors to the train station and we buy tickets for the fifteen-mile ride into the heart of the Eternal City.
We are across the threshold, but still have a couple more challenges to our resolve. In our excitement, we stop at the first currency exchange. The rate looks good, but we miss the fine print -- a 2 Euro (€) fixed fee + a 17% fee. We wuz robbed, but don't realize it for days. Giddy with jet lag, we jump into the cab of the first driver who approaches us. He points to his meter to show us he's legal but the charge for our 10-minute ride is €30. It isn't till we are sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for our room that it dawns on us we have just paid $40 for a taxi to take us about 2 miles. Again it takes us days to realize the driver has literally taken us for a ride -- three times longer than the direct route.
We sleep. We go out and explore in the chilly drizzle. There are Pakistanis hawking umbrellas on every corner. We eat our first delicious Italian meal. We go to bed but our jumbled body chemistry keeps us awake. I stare at the ceiling and compose a haiku:
"...the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the "threshold guardian"... Such custodians bound the world in the four directions... standing for the limits of the hero's present sphere... Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger..." [Joseph Campbell]