I got spit on once. I mean, like really spit on. It’s funny, that story is always one of the first ones to come out when trading old travel stories with friends, but until now, I’ve yet to mention it on this blog. Anyway, today’s the day. Today’s the day I tell you about when I was grabbed, screamed at, laughed at and spit on. It wasn’t my best day.
First, I would like to say that I have no photos of this day. To counteract the emptiness that this post would have had, I got this grand idea that I would take a page from How the Light Gets In and attempt to create little comics to go along with my tale. As it turns out, that’s really hard. Read on and you’ll see what I ended up with; they’re not that great.
Anyway, here’s how it all went down.
Picture a cool spring day in Rome. It’s late March, just a week or so after the official start date of the 2003 conflict in Iraq. Picture a young Julie, just turned twenty a few weeks prior, in Europe for the first time. Her feet hurt but beyond that, she’s feeling pretty good while returning from a successful day of solo sightseeing.
She’d been traveling with a friend (and doing totally amazing things like buying wine) but now she was alone in Rome for a few days. This is her first time traveling by herself and so far she’s feeling really, really courageous, excited and proud of herself… and a little scared… but mostly just really stinkin’ proud of herself.
Can you picture her? She’s from a small town and hasn’t ever spent much time in a big city, but look at her now, facing the world alone. She’s feeling really super awesome and brave and independent. She’s probably humming the Mary Tyler Moore theme song.
There’s still a bit of winter in the air and the time hasn’t sprung forward yet (that would happen a few days later) so it’s going to be getting dark soon. That’s all okay with Julie though because she’s a smart girl and is already headed back to her hostel. For dinner, she grabs a sandwich from a nearby shop and plans on enjoying it on the walk home. She’s not used to cities but she scans her surroundings and concludes that the area is indeed safe; the streets are bustling with businessmen, shoppers, tourists, families and students.
But then, out of nowhere, a guy starts yelling in Italian, of which Julie speaks none. She flinches and the guy jumps up from where he’d been seated with some friends on a bench. He grabs Julie and knocks her sandwich out of her hands and onto the sidewalk.
She isn’t feeling quite so courageous any more.
He’s still screaming in Italian but there are some choice English words thrown in for her benefit. His accent is thick and his English is broken but it would be pretty hard to muss up the things he was saying and she understands every word.
All of his friends are laughing and Julie starts crying but the man still doesn’t let go of her. Finally he finishes his rant and spits at Julie’s tear soaked face. He misses her face but not her neck. He lets go and Julie leaves her sandwich on the stupid sidewalk and runs all the way back to her hostel.
Julie doesn’t feel very awesome anymore. She feels stupid and lonely and scared and hungry. Back at the hostel lots of other travelers are in the common area making friends and making plans. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone so she changes into her pajamas, buries her face in her pillow and cries silently until she falls asleep. She’s thankful her bed is in a corner.
Julie wasn’t very tough back then. Since then, Julie has wised up a bit and understands that unfair as it may be, that’s just the way the world works – sometimes the world sucker punches you even if you don’t provoke it.
And that, dear readers, is my story of the time I got spit on… and also my very frustrating attempt to illustrate my own blog post.
You’re probably feeling pretty sorry for young Julie right now but don’t worry, older and wiser Julie is pretty much over it. Sometimes harassment and mean people are just a part of life. As an old, jaded, thirty-year-old, I’ve learned to accept that. Thankfully, my skin is a bit thicker now and good heavens, if I still cried every time a crazy person yelled at me, I get committed myself. I mean, come on, I live downtown.
That being said, there is one part about the whole ordeal that irks me more now than it even did at the time. I don’t have a word to describe it but it mostly boils down to, How dare he? How dare anyone?
I’m not particularly maternal but the latent mama bear in me can’t help but picture all the young, hopeful twenty-year-olds who are just setting out to see the world for the first time. Is someone going to yell at them on their first trip? Is someone going to needlessly make them cry and feel stupid? Is someone going to throw their dinner on the ground? The answer is maybe, and that answer sucks.
For the most part, I subscribe to the belief that while we, as a planet, are without a doubt doomed, there’s still a lot of good to be found while we wait to implode from too many people, too much garbage and too much pollution. There is lots of good in lots of people – just not all people, all the time. Let’s all try to be some of that good. I don’t really have an end game for this post other than to encourage you all not to scream at people and spit on them. So stop doing that, will you?
And, lest you misinterpret this post as being anti-Italian and are gearing up to leave me a nasty comment, I’ll say this: I fully understand that stuff like this happens everywhere. I’ve been harassed both in my own city and all over the world. To quote Liz Lemon, and to blatantly contradict my previous statement about there being good in the world: “All God’s children are terrible.” I mean, I once got robbed in Switzerland.
One last note: if you like the idea of illustrated blog posts, check out How the Light Gets In. She’s brilliant and her clever illustrations put my attempts to shame. Complete shame.