A few Saturdays ago Xtina and I boarded a 9:15 a.m. Alitalia flight from Rome to Stockholm, with a connection in Amsterdam. The two hour leg to Amsterdam gave us a solid 2 hours to catch my Stockholm connection. Piece of cake. Una passagiata. Right? Wrong.
Alitalia, the world's worst airline, loaded our plane with too many bags, oversold the flight and, in an aviation first, let everybody board the plane to claim the too-few seats. People stood in the aisles baffled that they had assigned multiple 13F's and 12A's. To diffuse this Fellini moment, the crew decided to march everybody off the plane and back to the gate. There, they scribbled a number on the back of our ticket stub and let everybody reboard again, somehow losing enough people along the way (probably at the espresso bar) for us all to have a seat. Our Alitalia flight left Rome airspace just as my Amsterdam flight took off for Stockholm. The *penalty for this blunder was a night in Amsterdam on the good people of Alitalia. Since the massively indebted Alitalia's biggest shareholder is the Italian government, I couldn't help but grin thinking that Italian taxpayers paid for my hotel room. Oh, what's this? Champagne in the mini bar?
( * similar airline screw-ups in the States gave me an opportunity to spend the night in such gems as Cleveland, Houston and Pittsburgh.)
I was excited to tour Amsterdam again. Xtina had never been. We met with a friend Lucas and his lovely wife and adorable kids. A few beers later, we parted, and X and I toured the town, of course stopping off in the red light district to see the hand-on-mouth naughtier side of town. What a let-down! Well, I shouldn't utter it in that way. But as far as titillation goes, the Protestant, state-regulated Dutch model of prostitution just doesn't compare to what you see on the streets or beaches of Catholic Italy. Not far from the Vatican, is a major thoroughfare, the Via Salaria (The Old Salt road, actually), that heads towards the Adriatic Coast. For a stretch, the Salaria looks a bit like Route 3 in New Jersey. There are non-descript office buildings, car dealerships, RAI's radio and Sky News' TV hqs. Oh, and the street is lined with young hookers. All day, every day. It's a tragic sight. These girls are all teenagers from Eastern Europe -- illegals, and quite likely, smuggled slaves. The Italians never seem to comment, or even question, the sheer volume of Czech cheeks or Latvian legs or Bulgarian b... (you get the idea) that grace both sides of the road. A journalist friend explained the Italian law on prostitution is ambiguous enough that hookers (or unofficially, le putane) can practice their trade with impunity. It's the pimps that are illegal. But they are there too. And so, the world's oldest profession thrives in Rome, not far from Benedetto's window.
There you have it...another insight into the Eternal City that the guide books censor out. Oh, and another tip: don't ever fly Alitalia.