Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rome, the Eternal Diva

Well, we've been back for a little over a month, and I have a last post on our trip to Rome.

Rome, as ever, charmed, exasperated, seduced and exhausted. It is a diva of a city; difficult, dramatic, operatically loud, high maintenance, disconcertingly charming and intoxicatingly beautiful. You cannot help but have a complicated, shifting relationship with such a city— even if it doesn't have a relationship with you. Its capricious, abundant charms won my children over completely, from the multitude of fountains, to watching the cats at Largo Argentina, to the orange grove on the Aventine (a place they asked to go back to to spend our final morning, and then took a last peek through the keyhole). And, of course, the food there delighted them: supplĂ­, spaghetti alla carbonara, pizza bianca, pizza con patate and, let us not forget: gelato.

Were things closed when they should have been opened? Yes. Was it glumly, damply, bone-chillingly damp and cold our first several days? Well, yes. Yes, it was. I found myself, once or twice, still a bit upside down with jet lag, crossly eyeing the weather and thinking that if I wanted Seattle weather, I would damn well have stayed in Seattle. Did my children nickname the street where one crosses to go up to the Campidoglio the “run for your life street” because of the swarms of motorini and tour buses murderously bearing down on hapless pedestrians? Yes (they also thought it was the most fun you could everever have crossing a street, and still talk about it as if I took them on the best— and most dangerous— roller coaster ride ev-uh).

My Italian returned to me as an unused muscle might, protestingly at first, then faster, and finally fairly fluidly, so that Italians who spoke excellent English would speak to me in Italian until we hit a word I didn’t know (there was at least one in every conversation), use the word in English, and then we’d return to Italian. My Italian is full of mistakes, and often missing key bits of vocabulary or knowledge of colloquialisms. At the airport, I tried to get my VAT back on… orrechiete. You know, the little ear shaped pasta? Often served with broccoli or sausage? I meant to say earrings (a fabulous gift from my mom that I am to have as a birthday present), not pasta. The customs guys had a good time teasing me (in Italian, not to be too smug about it, but... I am a bit more smug than I ought to be) about my very expensive pasta, and then gave me the word I’d intended: orrechini. Still, as a mistake, it was far less humiliating than, well, other mistakes I’ve made in Italian in years gone by. Like saying, in tiny Fiat packed tightly with young men and me, “I have a penis!” instead of “I have a pen!” Oops. At least this time, I only tried to declare some pasta. There were some things I wanted to scold parts of the city for. What the hell, Campo dei Fiori? When did your prices go through the bloody stratosphere? That puntarelle had better have been grown organically, had Verdi sung to it every day by a master farmer and prepared by the nicest nonna ever for the prices you’re charging. And Roscioli? Holy crap, fellas. If I don’t know what kind of guanciale I want, do you have to reach for the most expensive one? I won’t buy meats from you fellas unless I know precisely what I want, but your sundried cherry tomatoes under oil have reminded me of the joys of the much maligned sun-dried tomato (although the same friends who just had twins made us a pasta dish last summer that also made me think I’ve been a sheep joining in ingredient bashing. baaaaaa.). And Caffe San Eustachio, a bar I used to adore, a place I believed made the best cappucino on the planet? For starters, you don’t open until after 8am, you losers (what kind of bar are you not opening until that late in the morning— one cruising on reputation and catering mostly to tourists, that's what) and your coffee no longer justifies the extra cost. I brought my sister there to show her how fantastic it was, and when she tactfully tried to say she had trouble distinguishing good from great, I had to admit that she couldn’t distinguish because the stuff was not superlative; it was just the same as what everyone else was serving up. Actully, it wasn't as good as places like the bar in piazza Farnese, which has the additional pleasure of a very nice, aged barista with an extremely elaborate mustache and a very good memory — the second time he saw me he got out a big bag for all the pastries I would be taking back to the apartment for everyone else... for all of those rather quibbly frustrations (and some bigger ones, having to do more with the city as a whole but that don't generally affect someone on vacation), I still love Rome. Love it. I loved being there, and even in moments of minor frustration or bone-tiredness, I was filled with eager, bubbling delight simply because I was in Rome.

I love jogging in the Circo Massimo, watching the morning light slowly shift on the ruins of the Palatine. I love the archway covered with wisteria leading up to a side entrance that goes up to S. Maria di Aracoeli on the Capitoline. I love the little skybridge between two of the Capitoline palaces. And I don’t know how to explain, even tired and crabby and laden with groceries, the deep, total contentment I feel hearing the Roman o-oow on names like Mauro, or the absurd amount of honking that Roman drivers do, or just the way light hits the dark sanpietrini, set in its different patterns, opus reticulatum (the criss-cross stuff) and opus circumactum (the arched stuff). I love walking across the bridges and looking for the moment when the dome of St. Peter's comes into view. I loved that my boy actually gasped when he saw the mosaics glittering on the front of S. Maria in Trastevere. I love the beautiful fountains where aqueducts end. The multitudes of fountains and Roman drinking fountains.
The ribbed domes, the elaborate lanterns. The way that you end up discussing art and architecture casually, simply because you walk past so much of it. I love the sound of shop shutters clattering up in the morning. The fact that chic grown-ups enjoy a cone of gelato as an afternoon break. The window-shopping. The church bells, singing out in a clanging, harmonious chorus. I love Rome, and in some ways, it’s not so different (albeit far less deeply felt than the people I love) from the way I love a person; I see its flaws, and it can drive me bonkers, but I love it anyway. The smells, the sounds, the way the light falls. The umbrella pines. The way when you buy an ingredient in a market, quite often, the vendor will ask you what you're making, and you'll get into a little discussion of how they make it versus how you make it, and well, isn't there a variation that also uses... and so on. My husband likes to joke that, like a baby goose to its mother, I imprinted to Rome. And he's right. I did.


homebody at heart said...


I've been to Rome twice now and I've been to the Trevi Fountain twice. And, I've never thrown a coin in the fountain cause I know I didn't have to. Your posts are so nostalgic, I may have to post my favorites, because it has been a year since I have been there and I still miss it intensely. Maybe my goose is cooked, too.

cook eat FRET said...

i've been 3 times, but never for very long...

i choked up at the end of this post. well done.

Meg said...

Homebody- the funny thing is, the first time I went to Rome, I lived there as an art student. And at first, I hated it. I loved the art, of course, but the city itself drove me crazy. But somewhere along the line, romantic-comedy-style, I realized I adored it. I don't think you need all that many visits in Rome for your goose to be cooked. I can easily see how it's not everyone's cup of tea (it will never be called an easy city), but it's most certainly mine. And it sounds like it's yours, too.

Claudia- But you want to go back and see more, right? Thanks. I'm a total sucker for Rome.

muranogirl said...

I have been lurking for a little while and have REALLY enjoyed your posts on Rome. Not many can put that magnificent city into words but you captured its essence really beautifully.
I went with my father on a business trip to Rome when I was 15 and the city seduced me back then I am still in love with it.
You being a Seattle gal can appreciate this: My father went to Seattle Prep in the late 50's, then to UW. He had an apartment for 5 years in the Piazza Campo dei Fiore while working for the UN. Needless to say I went to visit him as many times as I possibly could while in college. Rome changed him. How can it not change you?

Cote de Texas said...

I been before - a long time ago. I just couldn't get over how gorgeous the people were - and the clothes! such great people watching.

email me - I want to ask you about something you said to me in a comment:

Meg said...

murano girl- oops. I thought I replied to your comment a few days ago, but... who knows. Rome at 15? I'll bet your dad wasn't the only family member it had a profound affect on. And it's good that my skin is naturally olive-toned, because I have to say, the thought of having someone to stay with in Rome with an apartment on Campo dei Fiore turns me positively verdant with envy. The change in climate from Seattle to Rome (in weather and culture) is extreme, but pretty enjoyable.

Joni- I love people-watching in Rome, too. And window-shopping. And poking through the museums and parks and churches. It's a city, obviously, that I have more than a little enthusiasm for.

muranogirl said...

Meg - It changed me forever.
The juxtaposition of ancient and modern, the FOOD,the beautiful language, the gorgeous people. Who cares if it take 4 weeks to get your phone hooked up and if you have a flat tire in August you're outta luck.
I came home from that trip at 15 and proclaimed I would marry an Italian. My mom rolled her eyes, dad laughed and brother mocked.
I have been married to Giuseppe for 15 years : )