Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Come i Romani

I know I promised (crossed my heart and hoped to die) a post two days ago, but I've made it up to you at the end of the post.

Our last day in Rome was one of those days that you need on vacation, one of those literal-in-every-sense-of-the-word vacation days. The ones where you stroll and enjoy and let yourself become as much of a part of that particular place as possible. It's the day that you get to distance yourself from the other tourists still caught up in all the wonder and bustle and delude yourself into thinking that you are less of a tourist. You feel that you've been living in the place for long enough to be a part of it, you've seen, you've figured it out, you've tried it, you remember it. You have a history with the place that allows you to feel at home. And because you are home, you don't need to be a tourist, you can enjoy what life is like for those who do live there, and you get to experience the place more intimately.

So with none of the haste to see that had woken us at the crack of dawn for the past two days, we got up late, ate late and got ready with leisure.
We sauntered through the Borghese gardens, which the guide book said were like Central Park, but in reality, they were much more Luxembourg-esque. And in the off-season, half of the people there were just Romans, jogging, walking their dogs, studying, reading, being. Then we made our way back through the tangled maze of monuments that had been the frenzy of the previous two days, picking the streets more wisely and somewhat correctly.

We asked and received directions in Italian to the piazza called Campo di Fiori where we sat by the fountain and watched the daily market break down while we ate our fashionable late lunch.
As the day drew to a close we found ourselves winding through the twisted fauna and laundry-line covered lanes of Trastevere, the old neighborhood, up to the summit of Giancolo hill to watch the sun set on Rome.
After a hearty dinner and my long-awaited, very Italian after dinner cappuccino (with extra sugar) we headed out on a night walk back through the heart of Rome. Of course, some of us were rather more wired than others...
We passed back through Campo di Fiori at night and watched the cobblestones, swept clean of the morning's fruit leaves and bits of packing boxes, fill with Roman youth doing their dance of interaction. We passed by the Pantheon, no longer packed with tourists and completely devoid of protesters. We walked by the Trevi fountain, as beautifully lit as any post card would depict it. And with a final quick and hopeful glance at the Spanish Steps, we turned back to the hostel, ending our short-but-sweet Roman Holiday. (And yes, I did try to channel Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday by being fabulous on the Spanish Steps.)

A couple of years ago I met a traveler in a bar who told me that the best time to see Rome is in the winter time when the crowds and the leaves have both gone.
I really couldn't have agreed with him more because Rome in the winter is gorgeous. And seeing the crowds in November, I couldn't imagine what the crowds of the summer must be like.
The similarities between Rome and Paris are obvious, but the differences are, I think, more striking. Rome to me will always be a stoic city with tears streaming down its face, and I believe that being there in the winter really brought that out. I mean, it is an ancient city with a tumultuous history and the evidence is obvious. Even the buildings look like they are crying. They are more obviously old and the water damage over the years looks like tear tracks. Many of the buildings are painted those warm reds and oranges that just scream "Italy!" But so many more have that same cold paleness of ivory, like the ancient statues that dot the city like a pox. I mean it's a city that's built on history, literally and coexists with buildings that were broken thousands of years ago. Archaeologists and historians tell us we are so lucky to have history preserved for us, and for that Rome has become famous. But for me, those ruins are really just broken buildings that were never repaired.
Don't get me wrong, Rome is an amazing city, and it's obvious from the outset. It's bustling with life and people. It is truly Italian, with it's food and it's people (especially the little old ladies who still wear their knee-length skirts with nylons and orthopedic shoes like my great-grandmother did), it's little restaurants and it's old neighborhood. It's truly modern, with it's bustling commercial and financial centers, and it's upscale neighborhoods with houses that are villas in their own right. It's truly on the edge and forward-thinking with it's recent past and current political situations that have called the university students into the streets to care and to act.
But at the same time, it will always be sad, because it will always have the fallen ivory statues and columns of a great civilization that crumbled.

And that's probably why Rome is best in winter. Because with fewer people, and the crisper air and the paler sky and the bare trees, you can see that sadness in sharper relief. And that melancholy beauty is what sets Rome apart.

and so I give you:

1 comment:

Heidi Fuller said...

words and photos capture it beautifully, Magpie. And, of course you would select a score that always makes me cry to go along with your city of tears. So glad you had the experience.