Che volete, he replied. “What do you want.” It wasn’t a question. It was a threat. The smart-ass anarchist with a death-wish in me was ready to reply, “peace on earth” or “a hot coffee, if you’ve got some.” But with amazing self-control, I babbled, Pare che ci sia un sentiero… O almeno sulla cartina che abbiamo qua, c’e’ un sentiero che va da Roma—noi siamo partiti da Roma centro stamattina—e va fino ad Ostia— “Apparently, there’s a path… Or at least we have a map that shows a path that goes from Rome—you know, we left from downtown Rome this morning—and it goes to Ostia—”
I never finished the sentence, which is fine because I lived to tell the story. Cro-Magnon man decided we were harmless (and perhaps a tad insane), and whistled at his dogs. After telling us that he had never heard of this path, he stormed back into his house. Well, the lack of a path wasn’t good news, was it. And damn, now that we were speaking terms, why hadn’t I asked him for a coffee!
My then-husband and I blundered on. Through farmers’ fields, through random suburban parking lots, through more fields—some cultivated, others bristling with thistle. Gotta love thistle on a cold winter day! We despaired on the banks of a torrent that blocked our path. In the end, we preferred circumnavigating it to wading through it. As I write this article, I remember the David Lynch detail that unleashed goosebumps along the entire length of my spine. The force of the torrent had crammed a mannequin into some reeds and there she bobbed, half-stranded in the mud, half-washed in chilly drainage. Another unpleasant omen.
Shortly after that, I had a bright idea. (No, we didn’t turn around and go back.) I had remembered that my GP’s secretary lived in one of the bedroom communities that we were about to cross. I called her. We were near her place. She offered us snacks and a coffee. Bonus! We chatted for a half-hour and then, two restless exiles, we thanked our host and continued our odyssey. Thinking about it now, it seems as surreal as crossing the entire Atlas dessert to have a quick tea in Marrakech…
While my then-husband swore copiously under his breath, I was desperately trying to make sense of the map. Where was this path? Apparently, we had followed it. Yet we still had to beat our way through brush and the tangle of ugly commuter towns. We were almost at Ostia. I knew exactly where we were on the map, but couldn’t find a path… It just didn’t make sense.
There was no path. Cro-Magnon man was right. The a-hole who published A Piedi nel Lazio used the same dotted line to signify a path and the confines of a property—only that one dotted line was a tad thinner and the other a tad thicker. The relatively straight dotted line that flanked the Tiber River, which seemed like a continuation of the bike path, was really the property line of the government authority responsible for the Tiber. At that point, it really didn’t matter that there was no path. We had arrived at Ostia and were soon on the train heading home.
Here are the consequences of this walk:
- Many, many years later I asked for and obtained a divorce.
- I have kept A Piedi nel Lazio in my library. I use it when I feel that my voodoo powers need reinforcing.
- I have repeated to people for years: wouldn’t it be awesome if there really, really, really was a bona fide Rome-Ostia path.