Roma, Rome, The Eternal City. Whatever you call it, Rome is a most fascinating place. It goes without saying that it is a living, breathing museum with new discoveries around every corner but it is so much more that. It is frenetic, it is loud, it has a similar energy to New York City but oh so different. It is filthy in places. It may be the world leader in graffiti. The homeless are always ready with photos of their family in order to maximize the change you are willing to spare. Somehow, Rome seems half-done. Projects, whether public or private works, are finished only to the point that it functions - damn the aesthetics. Wires hang from every building and give you pause that a fire could ensue at any moment. Cracks on walls belie shaky foundations as if to say, what’s to worry, it will be excavated in the next millennium. But Roma, I love you and it was painful today to say arrivederci.
Why I Love Roma
After kicking Rome in the teeth you might be asking, what does he really like about Rome? I’m glad you asked. Despite the city’s loudness and toughness it is also incredibly demure especially when it comes to manners. Grazies are thrown around like it was the third word the Romans learned as children after mama and papa. But for me, it’s the response to Grazie - prego (you’re welcome) - that I love. Occasionally, someone will respond “a vuoi” or, to you. It’s like dueling politeness - No. Thank you. You will never hear a “no problem” or a “yup” as we do in the States. Manners are big with me, perhaps it's because I am the byproduct of Mum raised in London where prim and proper once reigned.
I also love how your mind can run wild in Rome. As you sit in the piazza, drink in hand, you can’t help pondering about all that transpired in front of and in the 2000 year building directly before you. You can imagine men in togas leaving the temple and gathering to plot an overthrow or the murder of the current emperor. I imagine the greatest emperor, Caesar Augustus, walking through Rome on millennia-old roads - the same roads I am traversing on my way to dinner. Rome is a god send for those of us who like to day dream.
Dinner (cena) or lunch (pranzo) can be enjoyed at a variety of enotecas, hostarias, caffès, trattorias, tavernas, pizzerias, or ristorantes. The choices are astounding. Some of the eateries have been owned and operated by the same family for 7 or 8 generations. I also enjoy that these places are competitive when it comes to their food. It’s unsaid but clearly they vie with one another on who can make the better version of the big 4 Roman pastas, Amatriciana, Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, and Grigia. You are the big winner in that war. But two words of warning: avoid places with the ubiquitous red and white tablecloth and stay away from anywhere with photos of the food on the menu. You can do better than that and in Rome, much better.
Rome’s famous landmarks, the Colosseum, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Castel San Angelo, and the Pantheon all must be seen once or more if you want a deeper dive but many other sites exist that are equally cool. For example, Emperor Nero in 64 AD had a 300 room pleasure palace built called Domus Aurea that is now in the process of being excavated. We toured it with 8 other people and it was nothing short of mind blowing. By contrast, you will stand in line to visit the Colosseum with thousands of other folks. Imagine Rome as a lasagna, layer upon layer interred by time. Domus Aurea was buried in sand and rocks by another emperor, Trajan, who despised Nero and wanted the land where the “pleasure palace” once existed for his own baths complex. This is another reason why Rome always looks half-finished. They are constantly discovering and digging up ancient sites that live below the surface. Where, other than Rome, can you walk into the city’s largest department store and take an elevator to the bottom level and find a 2000+ year old still working aqueduct in the store?
Lasagna, you say?
The lasagna metaphor is apt for Rome and her people. The layers are all there for discovery. Meet a Roman and you will love their kindness, style, and humor. You will experience their appreciation for life. That’s the bechamel layer. You will also find that Romans love their familigias and despise those who have wronged them. Keep digging. There’s a lot of lasagna.
Experience Rome enough times and you will even learn to love the grittiness, the graffiti, the half-doneness. Despite sore knees from navigating the unevenness of cobblestone streets, you will miss the ache when you depart. The peddlers with their selfie sticks, single stem roses, laser pointers and portable chargers are no different than the merchants of Ancient Rome selling their wares in the piazzas. After all, it’s just another layer of the lasagna waiting for your digestion.
A presto. See you soon.