Entertainment in the Eternal City

We recently took a weekend trip to Rome (I’m unpacking my bags now). If anyone doesn’t know why Rome is called the Eternal City they should walk through a neighborhood in the afternoon. On our hike from the Trastevere train station to our room around 3 pm, the sun shone red and gold on the buildings. It transformed gas stations and shabby apartment buildings into fortresses of time. Resting up against the Tiber’s left bank, the little section of Trastevere is warm and small and inviting. There are winding cobbled lanes I know I will get lost on and small shops selling gelato and pizza by the slice and cappuccino where I know I will lose a month’s pay. It’s no matter. You don’t come to Rome and not indulge.

We take in the sites. The imagination roils at what the Circus Maximus, Senate, and Palatine Hill looked like. Though my sophomore year Latin teacher would kill me if he knew I kept calling it Palpatine Hill. Each wander down an ancient lane blows your mind when considered that Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius’s sandals scuffed these cobbles. At night, we make reservations at a local trattoria and eat fish and pasta and bread and drink wine and eat more pasta. We are certain our doctors are suffering night sweats without knowing the root cause. Everything is homey. Everything is awesome.

Our neighborhood’s demographic is surely the young and hip. Fortunately, to rent a room there we were not forced to answer questions of pop culture or fashion, for we would have surely been cast across the river with the rest of the old folks. Our hotel is encircled by pubs and bars. Outside our window at night is the incessant, too-loud chatter of the tipsy traveller punctuated by the impossible screech of bottles being dumped into a dumpster or a recycling bin.

We don’t mind. We have a comfy bed and pizza can be carried home. Besides, after walking 20 miles on Friday and 8 miles on Saturday, a comfy bed and a TV is very welcome. It’s here that we find our happy place. It seems reasonable that while on a trip in Italy or to some other mecca of human civilization and cultivation a person should infuse themselves with culture 24 hours a day and immerse themselves in history and knowledge, the fact is, sometimes you just need bad TV. And Italy knows how to deliver bad TV.

A range of American TV and movies are represented on Italian TV. There are sci-fi shows (La Brea), the 1970s PI show The Rockford Files suggest that James Garner has a following among the inhabitants of the peninsula. But most of all, Italians seem to love the American western frontier. Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman and Dances with Wolves were on every night. But it was the wholesome adventures of the Ingalls family that really got them. Every day multiple episodes of Little House on the Prairie (i.e. L-Hop) were on Italian television.

We don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the family values promoted through the episodes of L-Hop, which wobble between overly-wholesome and oddly-dark. There’s blindness and injuries and alcoholism. And, yet, through it all, there’s Charles Ingalls and his cheery family. Everything about the show seems to be something like a horrible mistake. The dialogue is painfully stilted. Charles Ingalls’ shirt painfully white. The creaking boards of the house seem to have been an overlooked prop issue. The opening credits of the show feature the kids running down a flowery hill and when the youngest child bites it, even the music seems unsure if it’s wise to continue. It’s not a good show.

And yet when we come across it, we watch it to its entirety. Burke looks up the history of the characters, the writer, the books. We cannot stop watching. We come home from walking and seek it out. On Sunday, walking through the Piazza Navona, looking up at the Obelisk of Domitian, Burke asks “Why are there so many blind people in Little House on the Prairie?”

“I don’t know. Take a picture of me in front of the obelisk.” Snap. “Maybe because it was such a part of frontier life? People got sick, lost their sight. No Clint Eastwood movies dealt with that.”

“Huh.” We wander.

“I don’t like that boy. He’s dark. He’s eleven years old? He looks like he’s 43.”

By the time we reach Neptune’s Fountain, we have decided that the boy (the Ingalls’ adopted son Albert) is in the show to introduce an element of unease. We walk. We decide that Michael Landon and Charles Ingalls are national treasures. He is the kindest and most reasonable human that has ever existed. He handles every situation with calm and rational thinking. It’s entirely not difficult to believe that Michael Landon wrote many of the episodes and could quite easily just make himself the most likeable character of the 1970s. This explains the eight year run of a show that was so bad in almost every other metric other than outdoor scenery, Charles Ingalls’ fatherly demeanor, and Michael Landon’s hair. I come to peace with it as we reach the Pantheon.

It rains for the two full days we are there. Most of the time it’s a drizzle that threatens to strengthen. Occasionally, it got worse and stormed. The tourists were all shrouded under ponchos and umbrellas. For those that didn’t have umbrellas, Rome was beset upon by thousands of Umbrella Men. The rain, the crowds, the puddles, and the men pushing umbrellas got a little under my skin. While I had rejected dozens of offers in the light rain, my natural stubbornness made it impossible for me to accept a 20 euro umbrella in storms. I would not give in. One man was persistent, got in my way even after I said no. I wanted to snap at him. But then, in a moment of clarity, I thought was thousands of other tourists to Italy have thought: WWCID?

What Would Charles Ingalls Do? Then I smiled at him and told him to piss off.

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)