In Rome: There Once Were Lands Without Cellphones. And Internet.

“Be careful what you wish for,” they say.

I had started giving in to technology when I discovered that Ovi maps on my cellphone would give me turn-by-turn walking directions. I had never loved my phone more. As much as I enjoy exploring cities with conventional maps, trying to find street names by guessing where I’m standing at that moment, getting lost sometimes and chancing upon new neighbourhoods and interesting sights purely by accident, there was a convenience to being guided by a voice speaking from earphones. I did like it. I hesitantly admitted to myself that it could be useful. And it made me look less like a tourist.

My cellphone, the faithful Nokia E7 stopped charging last night. Remember when I said I reached out for the cellphone in the dark and it fell? Well, from that night on, I had to wiggle the charger pin when inserting it into the phone until it showed signs of charging and then, in order to keep it charging, I had to place it down very carefully so as not to disturb the connection it had just formed.  Later at night, after completing that exercise, the cellphone rang and I did not answer so that I don’t disrupt its groove. Just before I tucked myself in for the night, I checked on it and it was peacefully charging, much to my relief.

When I woke up in the morning, the phone was dead. I tried and tried and tried to get it to charge but to no avail. The charging port has come loose inside the phone. I can hear it clink against the sides and I can see it move about a little too, but I cannot do anything about it and God knows I tried. In the midst of all that I looked up wireless chargers and found little to no information that could help me right that minute.

Why did I open this piece of writing the way I did? You see, before leaving for Rome I had decided I would not have a cellphone on this trip. I had decided I would not communicate with anyone. This was to be a complete break from my real life. My only means of contact would be this place, my blog. This is how anyone who wanted to hear from me would be able to. Then before I left, my best friend told me she thought it worrisome that I would not be in touch. So I told her I would keep my Torontonian number alive. For emergencies only.

Two days after I arrived in Rome, I couldn’t help getting myself an Italian phone number. I wanted to talk to people I care about. I wanted to let people know I was fine, I wanted to know that they were alright and I wanted to wish people when the year changed. I later realised, much to my surprise, that I’m not as anti-social as I think I am. Enjoying being by yourself does not mean you don’t enjoy others’ company. It isn’t one or the other. Everything isn’t black and white. It doesn’t have to be. So, anyway, when my cellphone died I panicked a little and eventually decided to go out and buy a new cellphone. Instead of two pairs of shoes. Yup, the moment I made that decision I remembered that saying. I got what I’d wanted but, as it turned out, I really wanted to be in touch. I felt uneasy. I did not want to be incommunicado.

It’s a small phone, a Samsung Galaxy Gio and my first introduction to the Android OS, after many years of being fiercely loyal to Nokia. But I loved my Nokia E7 and, since it’s still in its warranty period, I will do my best to have it fixed. Can’t say I love the new phone, especially since, for some reason, I never, ever hear it ring when I’m outdoors! It did, however, straight of out of the box, allow me to have a lengthy conversation with my dad as I walked to the Vatican City. A small but powerful dot on the map of the world. We talked about Bernini’s fountains, the Piazza San Pietro and how many people must flock here because of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

I had had a chance to see the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel during my last visit, but not the basilica. After hanging up the phone, I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica and gasped: Its splendour is unimaginable. The gigantic statues in the pillars and the paintings and Michelangelo’s dome (inspiration for which came from the Florence Cathedral)! Oh, it was literally breathtaking. even from a distance. Only people who wanted to pray would be allowed near it. The Holy Mass was about to begin and I started a very slow walk back to the entrance as a heavenly Come All Ye Faithful, in Italian, of course, filled the entire space. The beautiful sound of it was immensely moving. For the time that I was in there, I forgot about everything else, taking in the sights I was surrounded by, the rapturous atmosphere…until I opened one of the books I was carrying with me and read about how the money to build this extravagant place of worship and power was raised, which appears to have led to the Protestant movement.

I made my way to Michelangelo’s Pietà, encased within a cage of bulletproof glass. It goes without saying, I’m sure, how beautiful this statue is and how full of sorrow and grace and tenderness. People were loosely crowded around it and it was easy to get as close as you were allowed to and gaze at the details, the folds of clothes and skin, bulge of muscle and bones, all carved from a solid block of stone. It never ceases to amaze me what artists were capable of doing by their own hand, with the simplest of tools and the greatest of minds.

Now it’s all technology. And we’re so dependent on it. While it helps make the world a smaller place I can’t help but feel that there is a form of creativity, an art, a path, a place that is obscured from our view, hidden, forgotten, all but lost.

Also, people will take pictures of anything if someone else is taking pictures of it too, whether they know its significance or not. More on this and the incidents wherein I realised this later.

Edit: The hotel’s Internet was problematic after this, so I couldn’t post anything until getting back to North America, where we take such things as technology for granted.

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