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: supplí, 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.