My divorce and honeymoon in Rome.

By Steve Burgess 10 Jul 2007 |

Steve Burgess will be home soon, and filing his regular film reviews.

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'Not the same without socks.'

All year I had so looked forward to my return to Rome. Now at last I'm here. But I feel sad. It's just that, well, I had hoped to be joined in this timeless city by a certain, special companion. My suitcase. Rome just isn't the same without socks.

It's not as though I wasn't warned. Standing at the SAS counter at the Prague airport, I heard two dreaded words that no traveler ever wants from an airline employee. After a delay and what looked like a confused phone call to a superior, the young woman handed me a boarding pass and said, "Good luck."

I don't recall ever hearing that as an airline slogan -- maybe Aeroflot used it in the '90s. But she was just being frank. It seemed I had been caught in the middle of some sort of nasty aerial divorce. I booked the SAS flight almost nine months earlier, finding the best price though an odd Prague-Copenhagen-Rome routing. Part two, it turned out, was on Air One. The problem? "We have stopped cooperating with Air One," the SAS woman told me. "We don't do joint flights with them anymore."

"Your bags are checked through to Rome," she said, "I hope." And wished me luck.

Lonely bags

Riding the shuttle from the plane to the Rome terminal, we pass a bag sitting lopsided on the tarmac where it fell from a baggage wagon -- a sight to cause a shudder in any traveler. As for me, I don't really need any such help working up a little anticipatory dread.

Now I am staring at the mouth of the baggage carousel. It's pretty much like the old watched-pot theory. A stared-at baggage conveyor never disgorges your bag. And in Rome it takes a hell of a long time not to do it. The bags are dribbling out with excruciating languor. After about an hour, there are no more familiar faces from my Copenhagen flight standing around waiting for luggage. It is now fairly certain that I am hooped.

In a reflex reaction back in Prague, I had hurriedly reached into my suitcase and grabbed two pairs of underwear and one of socks. Then the behemoth trundled away from me, possibly for the last time, tagged perhaps for sacrifice to the mouth of some seething volcano hidden in the bowels of the baggage handling area.

The game

I file a missing bag report with the ominously overworked staff at the Fiumicino lost and found desk, leaving the address of my Rome hotel. I have only the contents of my large carry-on bag. Time to commence the game called, "Why Did I?"

Why did I leave all my toiletries in the big bag? That's easy -- it's the modern security regulations that prevent one from hijacking an aircraft with shaving cream (not to mention removing from you your dangerous bottle of water -- after which they will give you an apparently dangerous bottle of water on board the plane. Please explain that to me, someone).

Why did I put virtually no clothes in the carry-on, except a wool suit? Why, for reasons too complex to detail, did I find myself in possession of an advance ticket for the Airport Express train into Rome, and why did I leave that ticket in a suitcase that is now probably touring far-off places I will never see? Why am I a dolt? Environmental factors, or genetic?

Luggage honeymoon

I buy sunscreen and cheap Italian toothpaste. Those recently recalled poisonous Chinese toothpaste brands must surely taste better than Mentopaste. It has an aftertaste that clings to the back of your tongue like a dry-cleaning bag. As for sunscreen, it's liquid gold over here. Take along some extra to sell on your next European vacation and you can finance the whole trip.

One day on a train from Siena I would meet a honeymooning couple from Boston whose bag troubles trumped my own. They'd gone from Boston to New York's JFK Airport to Brussels and then, unaccompanied by their luggage, had taken a train to Frankfurt to catch a different flight to Rome, and on to Siena by train. The number of places their missing bag might be was truly mind-boggling. I suspect their luggage will eventually arrive as a lovely 25th anniversary gift. And hey, if you're going to lose all your clothes, a honeymoon is surely the best time for it.

My happy reunion was not long in coming. Returning to my hotel a day later I found the Black Monster waiting. Thanks Air One, or SAS, or whomever. I hope you kids patch up your differences -- you're a cute couple. As for me, one tube of cheap Italian toothpaste slam-dunked, and I'm ready for Rome.

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