Four days in, I finally have a feel for Rome. I’ve wandered enough, gotten lost enough, gone on enough mandatory tours to know that most winding roads will lead to where-I-need-to-go in Rome. I find a bar (a coffee shop) on this particular afternoon and order a cappuccino. I grab a few books on Art and Cinema from the bookshelf behind me. A book about Italian film in the 1950’s/60’s describes La Dolce Vita and the fabulous lives of Italian actors. There are photos of well-dressed people standing in front of crumbling ruins… Italian sex symbols surrounded by crowds of fans… famous couples at trendy Italian restaurants… Everything is very beautiful and romantic.
I feel like I should think and write romantically about Rome: the eternal city, the birthplace of Art and Government and Religion. I should be gracefully wandering down narrow cobblestone roads and running into handsome, charming Italian men by some ancient fountain. I should be dressed fabulously at a quaint café as I read complex literature and watch a parade of beautiful people pass by the window.
In reality, though, there has been nothing graceful about my entrance into Roman society. I spent the first hour and a half locked inside my own bathroom (Maintenance took their sweet time to rescue me…that’s one thing about the Romans: on one hand you can say that they’re carefree or laid-back. On the other hand, on my first night there was probably a group of maintenance guys eating pizza and gelato and laughing at the American student waiting for them on the floor of her tiny, compressed bathroom. This sounds bitter and overdramatic, I realize. I’m almost over it, I swear). I felt like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday”… only when she’s a hot mess who needs to be rescued by Gregory Peck. Not when she’s acting like a princess and impressing Italians.
From there, I spent three days getting used to the Roman heat, the long walking distances, city rules, the school rules… It all felt overwhelming, and the familiarity of cheese curds and beer and friends in Wisconsin seemed very appealing. And then everything calmed down and I had the time to take in the city. It’s very odd visiting a city you’ve studied and read about. It seems more like fiction then reality, and when you start spending time there, it’s very surreal. It’s like you’re visiting Atlantis or something.
Rome is beautiful. The Coliseum at day is a little much, and you can’t be sure when you’ll accidentally walk into some grade school group photo. But at night it’s significantly less crowded, stunning, lit up all prettily. Same with the Pantheon. The first time it rains here, I plan on spending sometime inside the Pantheon as water pours through the oculus. Walking down the Tiber River at night is like what I imagine it’s like to be on a movie set: glittering lights, an abundance of wine and food, both sleazy people and eager people, both smooth-talking people and speechless people. I’ve found, though various explorations, that Rome at night is on a whole other level than Rome in the swelteringly hot day.
Classes at John Cabot start tomorrow, and so for now I will have to enjoy my last day of no responsibilities in Rome. Orientation was a little grueling at JCU, but in the end I realize all those walking tours were necessary. I recently heard that Roman cab drivers have to learn 25,000 streets to get around the city. If that’s true, I’m guessing not even the most independent, geography-savvy tourist can get used to these streets easily.