ut into a Rome water pipe and you know immediately why the city’s showers are chronically impotent. Layers of brackish yellow calcium constrict their innards. And since calcium is plentiful in the local water supply, cowering drizzles are accepted as the norm. Except, that is, by American visitors, who miss the greater gush they know at home. How, they ask, cans an allegedly civilized city with three million people, 2,000 years of history and countless impressive fountains swear by such a limp swirl?
History is part of the answer, as is the art of making do, since “modern” Rome was fitted as a toupee atop both the ancient and the medieval, haphazard patch-ups prevailing over wholesale renovation. The existing Mussolini-era network was upgraded piecemeal so that new calcium joined the old to reinforce the greater arterial blockage.
But water pressure is not exactly an urgent subject in a semi-broke city whose landlords, owners and renters are schooled in various shadings of avoidance and resignation. Rome is approximately thorough in all things but entirely proficient in none, modernity included.
Unless American visitors are indoctrinated into local rhythms — sometimes through marriage — they generally object to illogical shortcomings and take to social media to complain. They want redress, or at least an explanation, as if newfound America First militancy should carry its clout into foreign bathrooms and kitchens. Why is the water lax? Why is air-conditioned air still so hot? Why is the trash not always collected? Why is the wireless signal all but fictional? How can it be that what’s advertised online isn’t what’s on the ground?
For the grumpy, what you know at home is what you should experience everywhere. Otherwise the world can seem maliciously inoperative, a mulatto outland heavy on the unfamiliar if not the threatening that allows for the rise of alien nations that shouldn’t even exist, like North Korea, say (imagine the water pressure under Little Rocket Man.) Desiring the known and the comfortable — new is good — is a time-honored American folksong that got its start about the same time World War II ended with two nuclear bangs.
Which brings us to that song’s latest singer, Donald Trump, a wily landlord who over the years has learned a thing or two about making water flow his way by cajoling or short-selling hardhats. Like his so-called base, the drab architectural-turned-political term for his adoring backers, he swears by a half-imagined American-styled “everything,” a tank-like amalgam of how all things should be, a sturdy, relentless, anti-subtle sprawling image of American-ness that never lacks for all manner of gushing — as if stainless steel could be reinvented daily in room full of stars and stripes amid applause. What you know and like about whatever works at home should be the way things are and work everywhere, no questions asked, lest you capitulate to being taken advantage of by all that’s positively foreign.
Drizzling showers are as vexing as non-Christians or state subsidized health care, never mind the mixed faces of ethnicities that might be nice in constitutional principle but for whatever visceral reason don’t quite seem to fit in. In landlord terms, you wouldn’t want drizzling showers in luxury resorts where white men go to show off trophy wives and assert potency. It takes a lot of suds to rub white men entirely clean, making powerhouse pressure a badge of honor and love of country a form of hardcore cleanliness.
And Trump is extremely good with pipes and nozzles. Some of his are gilded. He’s the kind of man who shouts at things when they break, for who hot always means hot, cold always means cold, and anything in between is annoyingly tepid, if not a faking of water itself.
As such, Rome’s hydraulics belongs to another dimension, as does much of the country’s political and cultural pace, refusing to gush consistently in any one direction. Blame it on the calcium.
It’s a strange contrast, all the more so when America’s pressure seems more explosive than ever, the spurt so overwrought you might feel the need to do the unthinkable — turn it down. Or even step out of the tub.
But don’t say you weren’t warned. Drizzle makes some people crazy. So does blockage. For them, the idea of calcium is invasive, alien, and they’re ready to use wrenches and hammers to repair such obviously defective tradition. They’re prepared to twist and hit, to repeal, to flush away all that impedes the flow, whatever it takes, whatever the hurt.