I’m nearing the end of my time in Rome, where I’ve been living and working on various projects for the past month.
Two months of continuous travelling and eleven cities later, I came to the realization that I needed to stay put in one spot for a little while if I were to get any real work done. And what better place than Rome to halt for inspiration?
The house I’m staying in is located in the tranquil Monte Sacro quarter of Municipio III, a fifteen-minute metro ride from the city centre. My room has an attached balcony (a godsend during the sultry Roman summer!) and is filled with memorabilia: a videocassette recorder along with tapes of popular films, Italian-language novels, framed family photographs, colouring books for children, Bibles and stuffed animals.
If only my knowledge of Italian weren’t so sparse, I’d converse a whole lot more with the landlady, a spry grandmother by the name of Antonietta. The other inhabitant of the flat is a thirty-something lawyer from Tuscany, who leaves for work early in the morning, returns just in time for dinner and appears perpetually tired.
“Buongiorno,” Antonietta greets me each morning. I reply in kind. “Mamma mia!” she exclaims, whenever something baffles or annoys her. She makes her displeasure evident when I don’t replace an item in its exact spot in the kitchen, but also insists on making me coffee and a cornetto on the rare occasion that I have an early start.
I feel like I’m living with my own grandmother.
Plenty has been said about Rome already, and for good reason—the city is bewitching. You can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of art, history and beauty surrounding you. And then there’s the fact that Roman emperors, Romantic Era poets and Renaissance artists have all walked these same streets at various points in time.
But alas, Rome in the summer is awash with tourists (armed with selfie sticks), as are other famous Italian cities such as Florence, Venice and Milan. A lot of what you see around the main sights has been orchestrated for those seeking a quntessentially romantic Italian experience—the horse-driven carriages, the ten-euro-a-scoop gelato shops (no gelato is that good) and even the saxophone player seated perfectly next to the soulless café. It can get pretty gimmicky. Restaurants are overpriced and devoid of quality because they know they’re catering to a succession of one-time customers. In all of this, you’re left wondering how to experience the real Rome. You know, the one with exploding buses and the like.
It’s a relief to leave behind the omnipresent sounds of tourists and vendors and return to my relatively sane neighbourhood at the end of the day.
Some of my most cherished memories of Italy are from the time I visited several little towns and villages tucked away in the mountains of Tuscany and Umbria: Chianciano, Montepulciano, Pienza, the Val d’Orcia region, Sugano, Bolsena and Orvieto. Many of these places have managed to remain largely untainted by tourism and consumerism, retaining some semblance of authenticity. If you’re in Italy, take a detour and go spend some time in the mountains.
The gelato at Bar Il Caffe in Pienza is divine. I savoured mine while walking around the virtually unchanged fifteenth-century town, enjoying the sights and sounds of birds chirping, Cyprus trees swaying in the wind, and locals going about their everyday lives.
Someday I’m going to move to Italy à la Jhumpa Lahiri (one can hope!), but until then these memories will have to suffice.