Our first day in Roma was wonderful, crowded, tiring - like the city itself.
We ventured onto the city bus from our rural apartment near the Vatican, and rode it downtown without any particular agenda. We got off at the final stop, the end of the line. We had no maps, no pre-read lists, no clues where to begin. We only have our memories from our last trip here 9 years ago. Oh yes, the gated ruins with all those rescue cats, the colisseum, a big palace, a group of teenagers on a bunch of crowded steps.
We walk and observe the signs pointing tourists to their most likely destinations. Spanish steps (piazza di spagna), Piazza Navona, Fontana di Trevi, St. Peter's Basilica, the Colisseum and Roman Forum... It all begins to come back into awareness as we traipse around the city. We navigate the small streets and cobblestones pretty well with our junky battered Graco snap-n-go stroller, but I wish I had a better equipped stroller with big jogger wheels as I begin to get blisters on both thumbs from gripping too tightly. Part of this gripping is due to the bumps of the cobblestones, and the other part due to the extremely narrow sidewalks which come entirely too close to motorists zipping past.
Funny how the noise, the energy, the commotion, does not seem to bother me here. In fact, I like the hum. Meanwhile, I am sorry New Yorkers, I despise New York City. I don't like the grime, how dirty everything feels and looks, the frantic energy, the traffic sounds, the headaches, the cramped spaces, crowded streets, the busy unhappy people... but here, the energy feels different to me. More alive, more positive. I don't understand WHY this girl who tends to like her peace and quiet likes it here, but I like Rome.
It is especially crowded here this week, as this weekend was the beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II. Please excuse my lack of knowledge on the subject, but I have absolutely no idea what this is, except that it causes a massive pilgrimage of Catholics everywhere. I wouldn't have known that event was here (I did NO research, remember?), but there are calendars, t-shirts, mugs in every souvenir shop window commemorating the event. So there are millions of people here now, from many countries, and it feels charged, alive. We aren't here for that event, obviously, and we are not typical tourists, so I feel somewhat like an outsider looking in, observing the coming and going of all the tour buses and groups snapping pictures.
Rome eludes me, as it does all its visitors. It chews most up and spits them out wearily. For me, I feel there is an underground Rome that is the real Rome, and all of this you see in the streets in the center of town is a masquerade, like some strange old west movie set. It is filled with kitschy souvenir shops that the local people rush past on their way to work but do not even see. Fake Louis Vuitton purses, touristy restaurants with pictures and English menus. Where is the true Roman food? Where do the Romans shop and eat? As we were wandering the city today my husband asks, all these people who live in these downtown apartments here, where do they go to shop for groceries? I answer that they probably take a bus outside town to a Costco. It is a funny world, this tourist scene. Such a marvelous illusion. One I do not like, it makes me feel foreign and inauthentic to be a part of it. I want to experience the real Rome, but this city isn't easily permeated. Rome always feels to me as if it has secrets that are thousands of years old. And that we are all just scratching the surface of its depth and knowledge. I feel here that I am missing many things it has to offer. I have no guide book, no tour, as I walk through the Pantheon and just soak up the history in this place, and admire the building once again. I just wander through to appreciate the space. Raphael was buried here, so is Vittorio Emanuelle. Italy's first king, and the second king, and his wife as well. Other important people have been here and are buried here as well, but to me it is just amazing to wander into a place with so much of a past, such uniqueness. And it is just another building in a long line of antiquities that belong to this city.
I remember some of the things I both love and detest about Italy all on our first day here, our first day into a ninety day tour of Italy. Italians are a loud, bold, daring people. And that's just the driving. I try to fit in, but my demeanor is opposite. I try to bravely shove my stroller with my precious infant inside out into oncoming traffic, inches from the next car, knowing they have the wits to stop, and if I don't I will be here all afternoon waiting for someone to kindly let me pass. It is a process of gaining comfort and familiarity in a new place. Just a day here and already I feel different. More alive, less restrained, more impulsive, less timid, more tranquil, less anxious.
The long flight is over. We have arrived in our new home. I have only to enjoy my 3 months in Italy, that is all. A wonderful freedom. As we were passing customs in Munich yesterday, the officer asks, "Traveling where?"
"3 months?! Woah, what is your job that you can do this?"
"My husband trades stocks"
"Ahh, aha", he laughs, "Stocks." "Have a good trip"
"Yes, yes, we will". We realize we are of the lucky few who take the time to go integrate into a new place for longer than a few days. It is a gift we intend not to squander. Viva Italia. Grazie, thank you for having us, we are happy to have arrived.