Independence Day Reunions in Rome
Ropi’s hands dart to and fro in violent enthusiasm out each window as he drives. “Bella Roma!!” he shouts as he stabs the air pointing with his whole hand to the next beautiful sight we pass, like he’s saluting a military commander or going in for a firm handshake. We round the corner with the road as the Colosseum reveals herself in all her majestic glory. My heart swells. Being in Rome again feels like coming home after six years.
I watch Ropi’s massively overweight body dance around in his seat in a fireball of energy, his rotund stomach bouncing five more chins up into his own every time it shakes, and I let laughter wash over me. I love the Italians. I love their passion, their enthusiasm for life and all things beautiful, and most of all the way every phrase out of their mouth comes out in a song. I don’t tell Ropi that I have been here before because I don’t want him to stop exploding with love for this city in front of me. Then again, he’s lived here all his life and the proud love still tumbles out of him so I’m sure it would make no difference.
I met Ropi just ten minutes ago at a market a few blocks from the train station. In my anxious excitement to get off the train and meet my brother, John, here, I had done so too early and was a very far walk from my hotel. Ropi was enjoying a cigarette and a newspaper with friends at an outside table when he must have seen this sweat drowned rat of a girl carrying what looked like a dead body in a bag on her back asking for directions from the waiter.
“You need taxi?!” he shouted from behind me and I turned around. He was about 6’4 and 375 pounds in a purple polo shirt that clung to his belly like cellophane in a vain attempt to keep it from dropping to his knees. A mop of dark grey hair sprung out from his watermelon head like post electrocution wires. He had on those funny sweat pant capris that old men wear and they cut off 4 inches above his scuffed, white New Balances, the left one barely leaving the pavement as he limped towards me.
“Um…” I stalled as I tried to take in what was before me with a clear mind and glanced at the classier men behind him watching from his table. “Maybe. Uh, well, I really just need to know which direction to walk. I’m going here,” I showed him the address on my phone.
A clean-cut man with dark hair and a suit, maybe in his mid forties, ushered me over to the table where they had been sitting and pulled out a map. He started detailing me the route in which to walk. The sweat kept dripping into my eyes and I was blinking rapidly while I stared at the map trying to absorb what he was telling me in his broken English. Nothing was registering. Ropi was towering over me and shouting, (or singing) at his friend but all I caught was “taxi” again and again as I flinched from the dancing explosion of his limbs as he pointed left and right. He seemed to have ten arms and they worked like a disgruntled windmill as he spoke. I looked at the map again as the chaos bellowed around me and craned my voice to be heard, “Taxi, yes. It’s okay. I’ll just take a taxi. Thank you.”
Falling silent, they looked at me. The businessman folded up his map, and Ropi waved me on, “Yes, come.” Dragging his left leg behind him, he heaved his weight over to a beat up Volkswagen that matched the indigo of his stained shirt. He must have seen me hesitate as I looked the car up and down for any sign indicating that it was actually a taxi because he ushered me on, “I take you; I know where. Come.” I stretched out of my backpack as he was already trying to take it off for me and winced as it fell to the ground under his hold, surprisingly throwing his back out as every other driver before him. Being a gimp and massively overweight, I’ve already assessed that I can outrun him if needed so I get in the car.
Ropi does not know where he is going. He swerves from the left side to the right side with all the confidence and stupor of a mad drunk man, shouting at pedestrians and honking at cars alike asking where my hotel is. I’ve told him multiple times that I can’t understand a single world he’s saying but he sings me monologues never the less. Every current of excitement shoots out of his movements and voice like lightening bolts and I want to join in, having spent two hours on the train bottled up like a shaken soda can with the anticipation of seeing John after two and a half months. I had sat on my hands the entire way like an elementary school child in hopes of keeping myself from slapping every stranger across the face out of sheer joy. So I join Ropi, singing nonsensical Italian phrases, the only ones I remember, like “Capitolo due!!!” (literally translating to "chapter two") as I shoot my hands out the windows pointing at the buildings, letting my limbs spaz out at their own accord. Ropi looked over at me for a moment startled, his face dropping and I laughed at his expression and shrugged. He let out a bellow of laughter so deep and full, that the globe in his belly spun and shook violently against the steering wheel, jiggling the tires beneath us, with a smile so broad, pushing his chubby cheeks up past his eyelids and sealing his eyes shut. We joined together in hysterics for a few moments as I repeated my motions and sang things out the window that weren’t Italian words at all, mimicking the flow and dance of their sound so perfectly nevertheless. "AArreeeDDAA DeEEda." The words of the Italian’s hymns hadn’t come back to me, but I knew the melody by heart.
We finally find the hotel and I plant two abundant Italian kisses on either of Ropi’s gruff cheeks and handing him some money, send him on his way. I put my stuff in the room and sit downstairs at an outdoor café to wait for John, shaking my foot and fidgeting with my hands to keep from spontaneously combusting and exploding into shrapmal, impaling everyone around me. Picking up my beer, I bring it to my lips but my hands are shaking (that’s either the excitement or the withdrawal; hard to tell), so I set it back down. I think the heart palpitations might actually kill me, and then I see the red, white, and blue flag that is the eldest of my younger brothers rounding the corner at the end of the street. Standing a head taller than everyone in the crowd at 6'2" (Italian men are very small) with his sharp chin and light eyes facing the sky, scanning every building and taking in every new height of his first European adveture. I had almost forgotten entirely that it was The Fourth of July until this moment and I laugh. John is the most American person I know. He bleeds red, white, and blue and sneezes the Star Spangled Banner, so for him to leave the almighty US of A on Independence Day is a big deal. Albeit, not without slapping every other country in the face with the bald eagle on his way in. That was John.
I leave my drink and sprint down the street, jumping and weaving through every passerby. Almost a foot shorter than him, I can see his head searching the crowd, hearing my feet on the pavement and seeing my blonde ponytail bounce in between civilians. When the crowd breaks, so does his laughter as he sees me and stands still while I pole vault into his arms, crashing into him with such speed, wrapping my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist, that if he wasn't so much taller and stronger than me, I think the force would have knocked us both to the ground.