About 17 years ago, I went on my first trip to Rome, with two friends from college, Shameka and Alexious. It was the maiden voyage that started our obsession with going to Italy.
Since it was our first time, we went to all the classic spots, including Campo de’ Fiori. There was a bar there called The Drunken Ship, and it became our home bar. The owner was American, and he hired a lot of exchange students, so it felt like being at an American college bar. Except, you know, the toilets were gross holes in the floor.
The bar played a lot of hip hop, and it was the first place we’d found in Rome where the music was good. We found out the DJ was an exchange student from Temple University and ended up becoming friends with him. One night, he told us, “There’s this party tonight—I’m going after I get off work. It’s gonna be poppin’. I’ll meet y’all there.”
He told us where to go, and we took a cab to this big, bustling courtyard. It kind of looked like a shopping area surrounded by restaurants, but the “restaurants” were actually clubs. We were thinking, OK, it has to be in one of those clubs, so we kept stopping and asking all of the bouncers where this party was until someone finally gave us directions.
As we were walking, the streets kept getting darker and darker, until there weren’t any streetlights. Eventually we got to this alley, and we were just like, “What the actual f***?” It was late—after 10 p.m. for sure. The alley kept getting narrower, which made it even creepier, and at one point these two guys were coming toward us, which freaked us out—even though they were smaller than us.
We started wondering if it was worth it. Were we gonna die in this foreign city trying to find a party that this random DJ recommended? What were we doing? When we got to the end of the alley, we saw a street with a lot of people, so we decided to go there, get a cab, and get out of there.
But when we got to the street, we saw a big courtyard and all these people going through security, and we realized, “Oh, this is the party!” They were carding people and checking purses, but it wasn’t a club, just an open space, and you had to buy two drink tickets before you could go in. Like, really? They didn’t even have a real bar; they just had tables with beers and your basic rum and Coke, vodka soda. And there wasn’t any ice, because apparently they hate ice in Italy.
We bought our drink tickets and went in and started talking to two American guys and an Italian guy. Suddenly, we heard the crowd go nuts. One of the guys turned to us and said, “Oh, the show started.” Um, what show? “RZA. Isn’t that why you came—to see RZA?” I was like, “I have never said the word RZA in my life. What is happening?”
It was a straight-on concert. RZA was doing his thing, and the crowd was bats*** crazy; they knew every word to every song. Half of these Italians were wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys—I’d never seen so many Kobe Bryant jerseys. They were clearly very enamored of American culture. I’d never heard these songs in my life, and they knew every word. I didn’t even know that RZA was in Wu-Tang Clan.
The American guys invited us up to the balcony, which apparently was the VIP section. RZA performed for 45 minutes, and after the show we went downstairs and finally ran into the DJ from The Drunken Ship. “Dude, why didn’t you tell us it was a RZA concert?” I asked him. And he just said, “Who cares? It’s a party!”
Retta is a comedian and a star of NBC’s Good Girls. Her new book of essays, So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know, is out now from St. Martin’s Press.