Finding home in a place that is so culturally different from where you were born is not easy. Admittedly, this is a personal blog that showcases snippets of my day that are more magical than mundane – and I am fueling the desire to “Eat, Pray, Love” or find your ‘quintessential’ Italy in an “Under the Tuscan Sun” style. Yet I am often questioning whether I am glamorising a lifestyle that is frenetic and challenging.
Rome is a gritty city: streets are lined with ancient, Medieval, Renaissance history but also with skip bins that are overflowing, seedy catcalling men and people who do not care if there is a pedestrian crossing. It infuriates me when people come here expecting to find this pristine Disneyland postcard and forget that it is a densely populated urban jungle with its own living and breathing residents. Yes, you will be targeted as a presumptuous tourist, and you will most likely cave to one tourist trap or another.
Despite all these reservations, it is still one of my favourite cities in the world. Before I even bounded gleefully across the cobblestones here on a school trip at 16, I was a student of her language. Primary school Italian was offered in many rural schools due to the post WWII Italian community of grape and tobacco growing nonni. I remember my first Italian teacher giving me a postcard of the Sistine Chapel after her recent trip. Oggling at the Michelangelo masterpiece, I never thought I would see the dream-like figures seemingly floating off this tiny paper souvenir in real life. When I finally beheld the chapel in person, the glint in my eye and the incessant skipping and jumping startled everyone around me. Even though nowadays that sporadic giddiness has (somewhat) subsided, I still feel overwhelmed by that euphoria as soon as I start wandering.
This Sunday I had made plans to visit the oldest historical pharmacy in Europe in Trastevere (post to follow) with P and her new beau GL. I had vowed to sleep in after an exhausting week. Yet, like clockwork, I was charging to the bus at 8am to head to the centre: It was gloriously raining! Rain is synonymous with less people as the city stays in hibernation just a little longer. After hopping off at Piazza Barberini, I trapsed down the Spanish Steps and through the side streets where trash bags ready to be collected were enriched by the pitter patter of droplets from balconies. Divine. This meant not even the ecological operators were out and about.
My inner courier pigeon is always directing me nowadays: no Google Maps. I ducked in and out of the labyrinth of side streets like Via dei Coronari, slipping into the narrow Via dei Tre Archi and up towards Ponte Sant’Angelo (Saint Angelo’s Bridge). The Tiber River (Il Tevere) is lined with splotches of orange and yellow Sycamore leaves and the contrast with the cloudy grey gurgling river water is timeless. Definitely my favourite season. Crossing the river and heading down into Trastevere I decided to find a quick caffeination as it was still super early for the guided tour of the pharmacy. Sitting at a bar closely (p.s. bar is a coffee shop in Italian), my ears pricked to someone chirping “Skye! Is that you?” It was L, my fellow Aussie and workmate at school. She was heading back to her apartment, which happened to be 20 metres away, and invited me to “come check it out”. Keen for a gander, I tailed her inside the apartment and unexpectedly found two lovely other colleagues brunching. It is these little coincidences that make life special, serendipitous and generally amazing. After the tour of her home, complete with exposed Medieval wooden beams, I went to meet P and GL for the tour.
Everything I mentioned at the start of this post about Rome is true. But what is also true is that we need to love this city, even with her flaws, because she is beautifully imperfect.