Should I could return to Rome tomorrow, I hope I would do all the things I glimpsed the first time round but was to busy being a ‘tourist’ to appreciate, or experience. Sure, I can say I’ve marvelled at the Coliseum. I’ve stared up into the oculus of the Pantheon, posed on the Spanish Steps and got sunburnt standing in a queue for the Vatican. I have got the pictures. But I have not really got Rome.
For starters, I would have to slow myself down by a margin of about 50%. For all the hustle and bustle of Roman streets, no one is really hurrying. The Italians are adept at a certain type of contained energy that looks like a lot’s happening when really all that’s being discussed is where the next ristretto is coming from. If I am to learn to enjoy laid back Rome, I’m going to have to go native.
To which end, after an early start wondering at the sights and smells of the Campo Fiori, buying string bags heavy with luscious lemons and oranges, their skin still dusty with that morning’s bloom, I would have coffee at Sant’Eustachio and fight my way to the counter to stand among the drift of discarded sugar sachets in order to jostle elbow to elbow with the grizzled Roman men as they savour their second (or third, or fourth) espresso of the day.
Strolling across town, I would drop a euro into the altar box at Santa Maria del Popolo to watch the astonishing Caravaggios rise from the gloom and be illuminated for far too short a time. I would try out my appallingly bad Italian and buy one of the mouth-watering paninis sold by the cheery vendor at the Flaminio entrance to the Borghese gardens, where I would picnic as the dappled light through the trees made kaleidoscopes on the grass, stretching out my toes and luxuriating in a city that is not my own. I would mooch through the clipped beauty of the gardens with no intention of popping into the Villa to see the Berninis.
There is statuary enough in the landscaped acres of the villa’s gardens to charm and delight the most hardened of hearts. Later I would eat a tartufo ice cream ball from Tre Scalini while dipping my feet in the icy fountain water of the Piazza Navona, possibly my one nod to the mainstream, and watch the tourists as I anticipated the tart surprise of the luscious cherry in the centre. (Gelato has to feature heavily in any visit to Rome!)The Corso d’Italia would entertain me for a whole afternoon as I browsed the local shops for the perfect pair of hand worked calfskin shoes and matching clutch for a price that would make me want to buy five.
Come the evening I would hire a scooter and drive along the Tiber in the gathering dusk as the lights were being lit on the Pont Sant’Angelo, sodium yellow against a cobalt sky; and with the wind in my hair I wouldn’t feel a moment’s guilt that I was missing the grandeur of Mass at St Peter’s.Dusk would bring me to Trastevere, a glass of chianti and a pizza the size of a bike wheel, while music drifted out into the cobbled streetsand mingled with laughter and the intangible essence of a Roman night.