The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
My hotel is a very basic, mid-level Roman establishment, a sort of “place to rest your head” that doesn’t go in too deep for any of the modern luxuries. Just one hard raft of a mattress, a lot of exposed wiring in the ceiling (they obviously started renovating at some point, then forgot about it), and the sort of bathroom where the whole room converts into the shower (you keep your towel on a little hook outside). There’s nothing really doomed-seeming or spectral about the place, and I definitely don’t feel like I’m in the bunker on Lost. That’s why it was so weird when I came back from dinner last night and found I had an email…from myself.
I’d thought I could rely on my savvy of having lived here for eleven weeks to find my way around, so I didn’t bring a map when I went out, and I wound up getting pretty lost. Before long it got dark, and I was drifting along through these narrow cobblestone streets with like clotheslines of Christmas lights strung up between the buildings. Maybe an occasional banner advertising a festival. At first, it was pretty crowded out, but soon the streets started to empty out and the neighborhoods took on this very odd secret feeling. It was like there were a lot of people very nearby, but somehow you never came in sight of any of them.
I tried to ask directions to San Lorenzo from this old blind man who was playing an accordian on a stool in this important-seeming alley, but he just ignored me, even when I tried in Italian (I couldn’t remember the word for “where,” though, so maybe that’s why). Finally, I gave up, and ducked into one of the restaurants you’d periodically come across—these little pools of noise and light that somehow seemed to die out within five steps of the doorway.
Afterwards, I was still lost, but I was full and lost rather than hungry and lost, if that makes any difference. Plus, I’d heard some guys arguing about Lazio at another table, and even though it didn’t have anything to do with the Champions League, it was still invigorating, as if I was getting closer and closer to my purpose on the trip. So instead of trying to find my way straight back to the Commendatore (my hotel), I decided to walk around for a while and see where the night took me.
I don’t know, maybe it was the layout of the city, or maybe my feet just found a path, but it seemed like the further I went the darker it got and the more surrounded I was by statues. There were still, you know, occasional far-off streetlights and tiny cars parked flush against enormous library walls—signs of civilization. And every once in a while I’d pass maybe a homeless guy sunk into a hobo topcoat or group of like excessively carousing university boys in shiny jackets. (I don’t know what it is about this country that means all the bums wear wicked old herringbone while the fashion people have coats that look like they’re made out of garbage bags.) But other than that, it was just me, the moon, and a whole city of broken-faced emperors and gods with marble eyeballs.
I kept coming out of little winding channels into these huge open spaces, where, in the middle, there would be the silhouette of a luckless hero battling fifty tentacles, or a wobbly cherub riding a puckered fish. I didn’t stop for a good look at any of these but just felt the awe of all those somber beards and smooth matrons leaning on urns while I listened to the sound of my own footsteps. I started feeling like there were giants all around me and like I was a decoration in their city rather than vice versa.
I also…it was weird, but I started to feel like I was being followed. Out of the corner of my eye, I kept spotting, or thinking I was spotting, the same guy. Trim, unassuming, in a black suit, with—I only got a real look at him once, when I saw him standing under the awning of a jazz club where he was lit up against a neon sign, but he had these perfectly round spectacles that somehow blanked out his eyes.
Like I said, I only got a look at him that once, and the other times he was so far off or in the shadows that I couldn’t be sure he was there at all. I never once saw him move or obviously look my way, but he kept kind of showing up, and he was always ahead of me, even though I was walking faster and faster trying to use my knowledge of the city to get me back to the Commendatore. Just all these empty piazzas with him maybe in one far corner and a giant stone mariner with thunder in his hair in the middle.
It was a relief when I finally got back to some populated streets with actual cars and stores selling shiny jackets to lots of people on Vespas. It was even more of a relief to get back to the Commendatore and hear the woman making angry family claims against her daughter on the phone at the front desk. By the time I got back to my room, took my shoes off, and turned on the TV to see if there was any Champions League news, I was already laughing the whole thing off in my head. But then I cracked open my laptop. One new message. I opened it. It was from myself.
For a second, this didn’t bother me; I figured I’d just sent myself a reminder note from an airport and forgotten about it along the way (I do this). The subject line was “urgent,” which, knowing me, meant it was probably about something I’d already forgotten to do, like not sitting in front of talkative Australians while watching any late-season television shows on the Leonardo Express. But then I opened it up.
Whoever had written it, he (I?) wanted me to meet him (me?) at the Vatican Museum tomorrow at noon. It was “imperative” that I do this, he/I said. I don’t use the word “imperative”…do I?
While my brain lottery-pinballed through various sci-fi hypotheses, I tried to have serious thoughts. It seemed like maybe it was just a person using a different email address and sticking my name onto it, but no, it was from my Gmail account, and was actually in my sent mail. Maybe some hacker had stolen my password, and this was like a new Nigerian con. But how did they know I was in Rome? (I’d made the plans so fast last week there wasn’t even an inbox trail.)
I’ve been trying to calculate the odds that after getting X million spam messages from Thyroidius P. Humpzz and Death Margarita, everyone is eventually bound to get spammed by their own account under their own name. But then, why did the spammers want to meet at the Vatican rather than sell me an herbal supplement that would “make pride of my manhood again”? It would make more sense for one of the statues to be emailing me, even though (I thought with a shudder) that was obviously impossible.
I think I have to go tomorrow, anyway. On the plus side, there could be some Champions League tourists at the Vatican. That said, if there isn’t a stabbing behind this thing, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
by Vandal-prone · May 24, 2009