Odds are something will go wrong on vacation. But, et tu, Roma? Say it ain’t so, bella ragazza?
Merely getting there felt like we were trapped in some twisted GPS labyrinth. We were five minutes from our AirBnB destination for 30 minutes.
“Make a right. Make a left. Make a u-turn.” On and on she went, our chatty British-sounding GPS voice lady. After I had about enough of her, I pulled off to the side, whipped out the iPhone, and recalled a time when I could actually look at a map – a paper one – and get anywhere, without the micromanaging. A light jog to a nearby intersection is all it took.
Then, we had to park. After a dozen back-n-forths, I jumped out and, with one foot in front of the other, I measured the three open spots. The one by the fence edged out the others by half-a-Mario foot. It only took 23 maneuvers to get in there. My consolation: it was late and no one was watching. Or so I thought.
That’s when it got weird. Five minutes too late, I got a creepy voyeur text from an unknown number. “I would try parking by the fence.” Apparently, me and my parking routine had an audience, but who? Our AirBnB host was not in the building.
It only got stranger from there.
We crammed the kids and crap into a small wooden elevator that wailed and trembled up its cast-iron enclosure. Not counting my shattered confidence in parallel parking, we made it to our flat in one piece. But one look inside, we were certain we’d be leaving in little pieces – probably in small, forensic, plastic bags.
The locks on the door would have been suitable for the Hotel California, where “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
The kitschy floor tiles concealed grime, but after a few steps, our bare feet and socks turned a sooty-black. And the wires than ran across the floor? I just knew they would set off a booby trap – a swinging axe, certainly.
A water bottle suddenly appeared on the kitchen counter, and the boat in the small painting seemed to rock. Then, when I ran the shower, I could hear the faint, incessant screams of children.
In this hoarder’s paradise, there was enough creepy clutter to make this submariner feel claustrophobic. Yellow, aged, cracking newspapers, magazines and books stacked high and wide, along with bizarre, old-timey photos and weird relics, made this place an ideal setting for a horror movie, if only you could fit a movie camera in there. If Norman Bates’s mom had a flat in Rome, this is what it could have looked like.
Deniz said, “It looks like someone’s grandma lived here her entire life. She died and nobody bothered to remodel, clean, or throw anything out.” Maybe not even her remains. Could she be the charcoaly stuff sticking to our feet?
Oh and it smelled a little of death – dead pigeon, bat, rat or kitten, perhaps.
Besides being in Rome and figuring we'd do as Romans do, there was also the issue of it being 11 p.m. So against our better judgment, we laid ourselves down to sleep, prayed the Lord ours souls to keep, and stared up at a light fixture, perfectly suitable for an operating room or for performing an autopsy. Very comforting.
We survived the first night, but it didn’t get better. Although I’m a healthy skeptic of the supernatural, it was hard to dismiss the possibility of this place's negative aura spilling into our only full day in Rome. Petty arguments, blame games, and a little too much being said, escalated into the inevitable family vacation meltdown, precipitated by miscommunication leading Deniz and Aylin to get separated from Emilio and I for about 45 minutes. We questioned whether traveling together for so long was even a good idea.
Yet somehow, in a very Hitchcockian way, this all made perfect sense. The darkness of it all accentuated our Rome experience. It’s impossible to walk through Roman ruins and not feel impending doom. You walk around the magnificent Coliseum knowing savage lions mauled condemned people to the roar of even more savage, bloodthirsty spectators. At the dilapidated Circus Maximus, chariot races, gladiator contests and venatio or beast-hunts regularly stained Roman soil with human and animal blood.
We took in as much of Rome as you possibly can in a day. And despite the creepiness of our house, almost everything ended up having a logical explanation. The voyeur text was from a friend of our AirBnB host, who was asked to make sure we had arrived safely. The howling noises were likely the result of old, loose piping. The moving boat in the painting – upon closer inspection – was an optical illusion created by a dust bunny clinging to the painting. Sure, it was a little gross, but nothing to fear. And the magically appearing water bottle? I later learned Deniz had placed it there in the second I had looked away. We never did figure the stench, but like everything else about the flat, we chalked up as either uncleanliness or horrible interior decoration.
The redeeming quality and why we chose this flat in the first place was location, location, location - a 10-minute walk to the Coliseum. Since we knew we wouldn't be spending much time in the flat anyway, we booked it. But next time, we may consider: location, location, cleanliness.
Unbeknownst to us until we hit or next stop, it turned out, you sometimes have to make a pit stop in purgatory before paradise is found. Onto Positano we went.
Here are the far less creepy pictures of our Rome visit (click on this link or on the photo below to view all of our photos):