At 2 AM, there are more drunk men in Rome’s Tiburtina rail station than there are trains. The men mill about, sometimes checking the departure board, sometimes stumbling towards a platform. Often, they’re just stumbling. If you’re a woman, you might get a look or a comment you don’t want. What you do want is a roll of tape, because it turns out that the sticky strip possesses astonishing protective powers. My friend B. and I found this out in graduate school when we had a four-hour layover at Tiburtina waiting for the morning train to the airport. We’d trekked in from Venice, where we’d spent two months studying architecture. B and I were obvious targets with our tagged suitcases and drawing tubes. Any man reeking of vino could see we were lodged in situ for the next few hours.
B and I were never scared as men approached us. She and I had traveled a fair amount by that time and felt safer abroad than we did in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, where we’d lived for years. Still, that night in the station, we knew not to let our guard down. Arms reached out towards B’s long brown hair. “Touch?” Pointers aimed at my light complexion. “Ireland?” We were glad we couldn’t understand the other things they said.
When a particularly sodden pair of forty-somethings spotted us from across the hallway and turned in our direction, B and I got to work. She rifled through a tall stack of postcards she’d bought during our stay in Venice. She swung an image of Titian’s “Assumption” at them like a torch of Catholic guilt. Peals of laughter ensued, punctuated by cries of “Ma—-donna!” That’s when I remembered the clear packaging tape in my bag. I’d used it the night before to McGuyver a cardboard portfolio of my architecture work. “Permesso!” I said. Permission. Let me pass. I shooed the men back a few feet and ran my fingers over the tape, looking for the edge. The screech of the adhesvie ripping free from the roll bounced around the tiled alcove where B and I were encamped. I secured the tape to one wall, walked three yards, and attached the other end to the opposite wall. A boundary at waist height that said “do not cross.”
It worked. The men (and about ten others who ambled over during next several hours), came up to the tape, but stopped short of getting their shirt tails stuck. During our studio in Italy, B and I had sketched Roman city walls and medieval fortresses. The Tiburtina men were licentious, but it was in in their DNA to respect a line.
Last week, I hoped my children might respect a line, too. At 7:55 am, I was late getting them off to school and myself off to work. They ignored my directions not to run through the kitchen, much like a traveler disregards platform announcements once she’s arrived at her station. On the window sill, I saw the painter’s tape I’d used the previous week to refinish the door threshold. First I heard the screech of adhesive, and then the screech of small feet.