Rome part 2 – What I like about Rome

February 12th, 2007

Rome - Column and motorinoSituation is more important than location. In other words, if you have a bad landlady, job, commute, or personal relationships, it doesn't matter if you're in Boston, Rome, or the moon. Likewise, if all those things are in good shape, happiness and peace of mind can be found almost anywhere. That may sound obvious, but for someone who has only really lived in Boston and Miami, it has taken some learning. As of now, Rome has made it into third place for the city I've spent the most time in, after Boston, then Miami. It's finally starting to feel like home. Home feels like home, no matter where you are. (So it's sadly fitting that I'll be moving out in a few weeks, but more on that in future entries.)

Still, location is not completely meaningless. If this weblog is worth reading (and you must think so if you've made it this far), it's because of the newness of this place, the novelty, the different-ness of Rome. It's not Boston. It's not the moon (though a moon-log would be pretty entertaining, too). My last entry on Rome talked about the things that are broken here. Reading it over, I see maybe it wasn't clear from that post how much I love this city, so here's why I do.

Rome is full of Romans

First, the most important thing in any place: the people. Romans do everything with an unreinable energy. They move with confidence. Watching a young delicate girl strap on her helmet and go zooming through the chaotic traffic on her motorino, you can't help but respect these people. Would your typical American girl do that? I'm sure many would, but just as many would be worried about messing up their hair, or breaking a fingernail, or getting hit by that mega-loud double-length bus that is careening around the corner of Piazza Venezia, zooming straight towards them. La romana, on the other hand, doesn't even bat an eye before running the red-light and cutting the bus off, with a casual wave of the hand. Five minutes later, she's daintily sipping an espresso, her ultra-fashionable tight blue-jeans and calf-high boots in perfect order. The Roman hair-styles can handle the motorcycle helmet and still look just right, in their casual way. The Roman mindset includes a casual disregard for danger.

The same feeling permeates the social interactions. Each encounter is a loud enthusiastic series of mutual challenges. There's not a lot of shyness to be found here, and conversations, the more animated the better, are savored just as much as coffee. Everyone talks about everything. Politics, religion, the weather, you name it. Mostly soccer and politics, though. As an American overseas in tough times, I try to keep my politics to myself as a matter of general policy. Everyone has an opinion on American politics, though, and no one is afraid to express it. Thankfully, Italy does not contain the dislike for Americans in general that exists in other countries; Italians seem smart enough to separate the people of a country from the politics. Still, it's a part of the culture here to discuss politics, and that's as it should be.

Mmm… pasta

What else do I love about Rome? Well, the food, for one thing. I don't think I need to tell anyone that Italian food is some of the best in the world, but even the general attitude towards food is amazing. I love the fact that for €1.50, I can get a tramezzino, a half-sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, filled with tuna and artichokes, or tomatoes and mozzarella, or prosciutto and provolone, or any of a million different possibilities. It's a small snack, but it's instant, it's fresh, and sometimes it's just what you need. And it's the kind of thing you just can't get in the US, the land of the super-size everything, the place where small fries no longer exist on the menu. And of course you gotta love the one-euro cappuccino. Starbucks would be a miserable failure here.

! I mean yes! I mean…

I've also come to embrace the international character of the city. At first I was put off by the omnipresence of English, when I was here to learn Italian. Walking into a bar and saying "buongiorno" only to be greeted by a perfectly pronounced "hello" was a bit frustrating, but now I see it as part of what Rome is and what it has always been: a destination for pilgrims from all over the world. Just the other night, I spoke Italian to Italians, spoke Spanish to a Spaniard, spoke (well, ok, butchered) French to a French girl, and spoke English to people from England, America, Bermuda, Ireland, and Scotland. Last night I tried speaking Japanese to a Chinese person; for some reason he didn't understand me.

Speaking of Italian…

I love the language. Italian is not the easiest language to learn, with a multitude of tenses and modes and prepositions and little words that each have a thousand different meanings, plus the way the spoken language bears little relation to the language as written or taught in school; but it is worth the trouble, because it is such a beautiful language. To listen to it, even without understanding, is to hear music, a flowing pulsing rhythmic stream of melodic sexy sounds. I can't even explain how or why a somewhat pretty woman suddenly becomes irresistibly beautiful the instant she opens her mouth and Italian comes out, but it happens.

And it's a fun language, the way an adjective becomes a noun becomes a verb, the way words are combined in seemingly frivolous ways to create new compound words. Some are comical (like verofalso – real fake, the term for the "Gucci" handbags sold on the streets here), and it's given me a new appreciation for some of the funny words we use in English. It was fun explaining the term "belly button" to an Italian.

And the list goes on

I love the history. Enough volumes have been written on the subject that I need not use any weblog space discussing Roman history. It's one thing to read about it, though, and another to feel it, to walk the same paths that Julius Caesar walked, to know the building you're standing in was once an Etruscan burial ground, before it was an ancient Roman mausoleum, before it was a medieval nobleman's tower, before it was a Renaissance church, before it became the condominium it is now. The whole city's a museum, and around every corner is a new fountain or tower or monument or ruin or some other surprise. They started building things two thousand years ago, and haven't stopped.

I love the art. I love the climate. I love the little shops on the corner. I could continue for a few more pages, but suffice to say I'm a fan. I like this place.

Rome at night