Before reading this post, I want to set up a mood: Have a listen to this to this folk track by Roman artist Mannarino (“Me so’mbriacato – I got drunk”). No, I will not be blogging about alcohol induced adventures, but the song was in my head as I wandered around the streets on a misty rainy day in Rome just before Christmas. That downpour, indubitably, brought some kind of magic with it; a trancelike effect that made everything seem surreal. So let’s go on that walk together.
First thing: If you are craving having a city all to yourself, peel on your rain jacket (“impermeabile”), thrust your “ombrello” into the air (but make sure you don’t open your umbrella inside as “porta sfortuna” – brings bad luck) and go. Do not expect to look glamorous in your photos – you will be going for that drowned rat vibe instead of Halle Berry emerging from the ocean in James Bond – and forget the vibrant tourist snaps, but savour the solitude. On one such occasion on the 28th of December, after gaining my fatty layers of Christmas feasting, I decided to head to the “Pincio Promenade” at the end of Villa Borghese. It is a grandiose public park created by Giuseppe Valadier (1834) and urban walk citizens love. Below the terrace, is the spacious Piazza del Popolo, looking like an imposing and lively theater. Beyond the balustrade, the city stretches: the majestic dome of San Pietro dominates the horizon, Monte Mario is on the right, the Quirinale Hill is on the left.
I meandered from my house, passed through the fantastical Quartiere Coppede’ and walked from the top of Villa Borghese towards the the Pincio. Along the way, I passed the water clock (see pics). This hydrochronometer was built in 1867 by the inventor Giovan Battista Embriaco, who displayed this water clock at the Universal Exposition of 1867 in Paris. In 1873, the hydrochronometer was placed in Villa Borghese gardens into a fountain designed by the architect Gioacchino Ersoch. The water clock works 24/7. It reminded me of the clock in Peter Pan.
It was rainy. It was muddy. But as soon as I reached the Pincio, the views were imposing, like you realised how small we are in the timeline of history. These lofty musings were shattered by a few rowdy teenagers taking selfies without masks (joy!) who soon left when I eyeballed them in my teacher style. Victory! The whole Pincio was mine. Like some cringeworthy novel, a ray of sun streamed through the dark rainclouds in the distance. The view below was a silvery grey as the wet oval Piazza was burnished by the sunlight peeking through. Times like this you stand in solitude and feel such rapture standing on your lonely shore. (lololololol)
I edged my way down the viscid streets to the Piazza del Popolo and headed towards the main Via del Corso that ends at L’Altare della Patria. A shopping district for those with a smaller wallet than the well-known designers, the street was dotted with the sporadic Italian making the most of the “miserable” (I say magical) weather to avoid lining up to enter shops. All stores currently have a limit on the number of people allowed to enter so that they can ensure social distancing. Of course, everyone is required to sanitise before being allowed to browse. Perfect. They were shopping while I craned my neck to look up at the starry Christmas light display. The 1,500-meter-long sparkling sky featured famous quotes, verses, and sentences from Roman artists and writers. Beneath the ashy skies, the lights seemed even more iridescent.
I ducked off the main drag and headed towards Piazza Navona. By this stage, my romantic notion of singing Italian folk music whilst aimlessly wandering has somewhat lost its charm, so I popped into a random store for some oh-so-unattractive fingerless gloves so I could keep snapping photos. As I smoothly slurred a smattering of Italian to the shop assistant, my ear became increasingly attuned to people speaking English. Now, at any other time in Rome this would be commonplace, but amid a pandemic we English speakers are like mythical unicorns roaming about the city. American too. Wait. Aussie! I swivelled around to see three of my colleagues from the international school where I work who has also decided to shelter from the malicious cold that was rapidly enveloping the Roman streets. Chance encounters like this are always wonderful and on this occasion, they let me know that Piazza Navona had a wonderful light display running every 20 minutes. Instead of getting caught up with cumbersome chit-chat I darted out and headed towards the display.
La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of the Four Rivers) beamed a most vivid azure with a violent purple obelisk. So, it was a blue and purple, lit-up fountain. Not exactly riveting stuff. All of a sudden, I noticed dozens of people with umbrellas gathering. Sound effects bellowed from four speakers that surrounded the four rivers and then the light display began. My instinct was to frantically Google the symbolic meaning of the display or record every second of it. Something told me that it was better to take it in and allow the sounds to melt into my mood. It felt like an interpretation of the seasons or the passing of time as the fountain was adorned with different projections of earthy golds and flaming reds. I somehow, being a sentimental type, connected it in my head to the way 2020 has transpired with moments of unity, joy and sorrow. I felt like I was watching a phoenix, us as a global community, rising from the ashes of COVID. My fanciful sentiments aside, I stayed to watch the display again and took photos for your pleasure.
It was bloody freezing. The exposed little fingers of my hands were now blue. So I made the reluctant decision to head home. I was scurrying past the Pantheon, feeling rather indignant that Venchi has refused to serve me a take-away hot chocolate to warm my hands (you can only consume takeaway foods at your home in orange zone restrictions), when I stopped. In awe of its sheer lonely beauty on this bloody freezing night. I was about to continue my scurry to the bus stop when I saw a throng of people gathering at the entrance to the Pantheon in Santa hats. They formed a circle, and shuffled through sheet music until all were ready. All of them burst into Christmas songs. To be there, sitting on a column of the Pantheon (albeit in bloody freezing weather….bloody freezing), was one of the moment of my life where I was not 30 and adult(ish), but a child in a Winter wonderland.
Un bacio a tutti x