It’s good to know that I’m developing a decent sense of direction and orientation in Rome, but it’s not so good to have to use it to determine that the bus I’m on is going the wrong way. Getting back to my apartment after my on-site class today was an absolute fiasco.
Angela, Stephanie, and I had class at the Museo delle Terme di Diocleziano (Museum of the Baths of Diocletian), sort of near the Roma Termini railway station. We rarely take public transportation in Rome because everything is so walkable, but Termini is pretty far from Trastevere, so we usually take one of three buses to get there. We arrived at the museum on time for class, learned about Roman funerary monuments for three hours, and hopped on the H bus to head back. We have all taken the H bus to and from Termini before, so we were surprised to be driving past an unfamiliar set of monuments on our way back to Trastevere. As we passed the Bocca della Verita and Circo Massimo, we realized that the bus was definitely taking a different route than it usually does.
As we continued to travel south into the Testaccio neighborhood, we started asking the Italians around us if the bus was, in fact, going to Trastevere. The woman next to me said something about the bus taking a different route because of a manifestazione, and she suggested that we get off at the next stop. We didn’t really know what manifestazione meant, but we figured it must be some sort of official document from the city transportation bureau about a route change. When we got off the bus, I pulled out the crumpled map of Rome that I keep in my bag for emergency purposes, but my map wasn’t particularly helpful. We were so far south we were off the map. We had a vague sense of where we were – much farther south than we wanted to be – so we started walking north.
Soon enough, we saw a tram coming. None of us had taken the tram before, but we knew where we would need to get off. We boarded quickly and rode in silence. After just two stops, all of the doors of the tram opened. A man in a uniform stepped on board and instructed everyone to get out. Grumbles and sighs abounded, but all of the passengers disembarked. Just ahead, we saw the reason for the stoppage.
A large demonstration of some sort – a manifestazione, we realized – was taking place on the steps of the Ministero dell’Istruzione building. People with bullhorns, flags, and whistles spilled from the sidewalk into the street and onto the tram tracks. Municipal police and carabinieri were keeping things in order, but a group of polizia in riot gear stood huddled in a side alley. Fantastic. We couldn’t really make out who was protesting against what, but we managed to fight through the crowd and find our way back to familiar streets.
When we finally made it back to the apartment, I pulled up the website of La Repubblica, the Italian daily newspaper, and found a small article about the rally. Students were protesting with sanitation workers and social workers against 50% wage cuts mandated by the government. The protest blocked Viale Trastevere (and its tram lines) and closed down Ponte Garibaldi to traffic; the H bus normally crosses the bridge and stops a few blocks in on Viale Trastevere, so the road closures explain today’s different route.
Strikes (scioperi) are common in Italy, but they are usually scheduled and announced. Buses, taxis, and trains will strike on predetermined days at specific times, but with a little bit of planning, it is easy to avoid complications. Today’s strike in the heart of Trastevere completely threw off my afternoon. It’s frustrating, but there isn’t anything that anyone can do about these random interruptions. A few weeks ago, I wrote that although I enjoy having a routine in Rome, I never want to have the same day twice. Odd intrusions like manifestazioni and scioperi certainly contribute to unpredictable, irregular life in Rome.