BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
ROME, Italy The Eternal City is all fragrant and peach-colored in spring. The chaos here invigorates me. Jaywalking four lanes of traffic with a suitcase: yes! Meeting for dinner at 9.30pm: si, certo! Being elbowed by grannies intent on the best market produce: fantastico!
The only struggle is work. Nothing about this climate and culture encourages it...
But the first morning nagged by a friend I venture out to the telefonini (cellphone) store, waving the "brick" (as my antique Motorola is oft vilified. "What's in your suitcase," mates snigger, "just the charger?").
My Italian vocabulary clunks into gear, but I manage to convey: "I have only a passport, because I left my codice fiscale in America. Sono stupida."
"Un momento," the clerk responds, then hacks into the Finance Ministry's website and prints my tax code.
"Come Grande Fratello (like Big Brother)," I joke. His expression is polite, but blank.
Not a fan of Orwell, clearly. Or even reality TV.
Friends assure me that the codice fiscale is not equivalent to the sacred American Social Security number, on which identities rise and fall like haute couture hemlines. Still I'm unnerved as much as pleased.
Bolstered by bureaucratic success so rare in the fallout radius of Byzantium I head to the local farmers' market. Testaccio is a working-class neighborhood where tourists remain a novelty, especially Italophones smiling in the spring sunshine. No one minds my small, sniffly epiphanies over the crimson tomatoes and fragrant tangerines.
I buy cheese, pesto and tortellini from one welcoming vendor, bread from another, then wine and water, followed by vegetables, a silk scarf. Giddy with power, I knock off more complex errands. I meander in the middle of the street because I can.
Again, I'm home. And not.
Whatever. I'm content.