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Notes on Temporary Homelessness in Italy

Italy Narrative
by Joshywashington Apr 29, 2010
JoshyWashington recalls nights spent homeless while traveling in Italy.

IT’S LATE. The lucky fuckers settling into sleep in the hostel lobby won’t meet your eyes as the desk girl tells you she can’t let anybody else crash in the foyer.

She has to draw the line somewhere; right between you and a warm, dry, safe place to sleep.

Sure, you could check into a hotel and spend 4 days’ budget on a single night of satin sheets. You could also trade in your back pack for one of those wobble-wheeled luggage bags. You could also pull out your eyeballs and serve them speared in a martini. You could.

The good news is there’s a campground a mere 12 km away, and if you get walking you might just make it there before dawn.

Past the piazza and the fountain and the church and all the other things you come to Catania to do, past all these things, a little clearing overlooks the sea.

And this is where you reluctantly settle, under some scratchy old shrub, on a punctured water toy, in Sicily.

You gather all your shit: your backpack, camera bag, snorkel gear, anything you want to wake up with the next morning and hold on tight. You fitfully wake every 12 minutes, starting up and out of the nightmare that you lie concealed under a shrub.

You approach your temporary homelessness with the resignation that the sun also rises, and when it does you’re on your way.

Sometimes your homelessness is not due to lack of foresight. Sometimes, temporary homelessness is handed down by the Big Traveler in the Sky.

A crazy-curly mop of hair is sitting there in stained linen rolling a doobie. A big lumpy doobie. You clear your throat and smile and that’s how you meet Luigi. Only he says, “call me Uncle Luigi.” Whatever, maybe a little pervy but he’s holding the joint like an Olympic torch coming home to Athens, so what the hell.

On the back of Luigi’s bike the night is a cat nuzzling your face. You ride down hills and back up, along the ocean and among the sloping cliffs that edge the Amalfi Coast. “Tonight is a very special night!” he yells over his shoulder.

Italian youth careen on scooters around you. You realize you’re all heading towards some common location, that everyone on the coast seems to be converging on millions of mopeds in Amalfi Town.

You look down on the little town lit from above fireworks celebrating the Assumption of Mary. You ditch the bike and swarm down to Amalfi Town. Drink and clap some happy cops on the back. Drink and you can’t find Luigi. Drink until you try to hitchhike back to…what was that town?

If you are stranded in Amalfi town after a massive public holiday with nothing but your t-shirt and flip flops, your only choice is to join the circle singing ‘Last Dance with Mary Jane’ and wait for the sun to rise.

So that’s what you do.


Has necessity ever forced you to sleep on the street while traveling? Share your tales of temporary homelessness in the comments.

For more on Italy, please check our Italy focus guide.

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