As with many ex-pats, I have a love-hate relationship with Rome. There are just so many ways to get exasperated. Now, I’m British, so I know a thing or two about the seemingly mundane things in life leading to exasperation (eg hoping that a train will run on time, or having any successful, succinct, constructive communication with companies that deal with communications, like ISPs) but really, things are taken to a whole new level in Italy. (Or Rome specifically, as that’s the only placed I’ve lived in Italy.)
So, I’ve been trying to retain a nice, old-school correspondence with a dear old chum who lives in New York, by way of postcards. She always finds wonderful vintage ones, I generally only manage lame tourist ones, but the sheer fact of getting something amiable and interesting in the snail mail is the motivation. I’ve got a postcard of part of Luca Signorelli’s wonderful frescoes in the Duomo in Orvieto to send her, but it’s stuck on my desk, awaiting a stamp. I knew I needed stamps, it’s been on my to-do list a few weeks, but I’ve been a bit busy to actually go and buy some.
Today’s my day off, though, so “Stamps” duly went on the shopping list, and off I trotted into the April sun, which is already hot enough to make a brisk walker sweat. (One of my main problems with living in Rome – I love to walk everywhere, at a swift pace, but at least four months of the year the heat give the process a somewhat uncomfortable, antisocial dimension.)
Buying a paper, I asked my regular newsvendor if he had any stamps as I’m sure I’ve bought them before from edicole (news-stands). He said no, he was a bit short of stamps for postcards. Okay, I’m in Trastevere, it’s full of tourists, and postcard outlets, said outlets must also have stamps. So I did a 360 and went over to a tabaccheria that has a lot more cards than it does nicotine products. The lady said she had stamps, but only if I bought postcards. Wuh?
Another errand I had to run was picking up a book, so I went to the bookshop – which also sells postcards – and asked on the off-chance if they had any. This really isn’t so strange in Britain, as most bookshops, and news agents, and supermarkets, and, heck, just about anywhere, sells stamps. But no, they didn’t have any. She suggested the post office – which is obvious, of course, but I’d be trying to circumvent such a place as they’re usually defined by long queues and long waits.
As I’d tried all the other options, though, I felt I had to. And at least the post office would have stamps, right? Wrong. Of course a post office in one of the most touristy parts of Rome wouldn’t have stamps, how silly of me. There was no queue at least, but the grumpy woman behind the counter said, “No, we don’t have stamps” – in a tone that inferred it was a stupid bloody request in the first place. She then said that I’d have to go over the river to another post office. Over the river? Just to buy stamps? Don’t be silly.
So I gave up, and headed home, back up the hill. As I reached my neighbourhood, I debated visiting the big local post office there. But by this time it was past 1pm, and far be it from a state-run institution to stay open at lunch time. The employees needed their hour and a half lunch break, where they could perhaps shrug their shoulders, with a few ah behs, in a brief mention of their lack of stamps.