Saturday, May 30, 2015

Rome Notebook (An Italian Walks Into a Bar)

3:30 p.m. May 13, 2015.

I'll call this post: The difference between Rome and Florence: Take One

In a nondescript bar across from the Campidoglio/Monumento Alla Patria, I find a mix of tourists and Romans but the bar remains quintessentially Italian. It should be totally overrun by tourists, it should have no Italian identity left. If it were in Florence in the same kind of location, it would be the worst place to stop for a snack.

An Italian walks in, carrying a motorcycle helmet and wearing a tan fishing-style vest that’s popular among men in Italy. He exchanges one look with the barista, and tutto e’ inteso. Everything is clear.

The look from the barista says, “Oh finally you’re here!” and “What a day we’re having!” The look from the regular – because it’s clear from the first second, the way he walked in, the way he surveyed the bar and looked at the bartender that he’s a regular – says, “Do you see what I’m saying?” and “Can you believe that?” Where both parties know exactly what “that” refers to.

All without uttering a word. A few helpful Italian hand gestures, the jutting out of the chin, an “O!” or two, and everything is clear between these two.

This is the kind of drama that draws me in. It’s the everyday drama of Italy. I eat my schiacchiata with prosciutto crudo and I stare at the two expectantly. Go on. It’s getting interesting.

5 p.m., the same day

I’m on the fifth floor of my tiny, nothing-special hotel, gasping and gaping at a tiny rooftop deck whose view takes in a large, stately cupola and a dozen or more private rooftop decks, some with flowers, some with laundry. All with the majestic silence of Rome from the air, broken only by the neighborhood church bells, chiming out 5 o’ clock.

It’s exactly how I thought it would be. The trip, I mean. If I arrived safe and sound, and at my hotel in fairly decent shape (i.e., slept a few hours on the plane), I’d be quickly satiated, which is to say happy. And I’m not fussy. I don’t need a parade. I only need Rome to be Rome.

That said, I think Rome forgets sometimes it’s Rome (if a city can be said 'to think'. Which it can't. But suspend disbelief for a moment). One tiny, two-second glimpse of the rooftop deck – I'm still climbing the stairs, still tentatively opening the door – and then suddenly an enormous cupola is filling my vision field. I'm on top of the world. Absolutely stunning.

Rome thinks this is normal! Because it is – for Rome.

The Eternal City? Check.

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