Now nearly a month away from leaving Italy and returning to the familiarities of American life, these next few weeks seem as if they belong to neither country—caught somewhere in a perpetual state of waiting. It’s strange to think about what has become comfortable for us here that will only be evident when we enter the front doors of our homes in the States and elsewhere. I anticipate the first time I’ll see a slice of American pizza and wonder why it’s in the shape of a triangle instead of a neat rectangular slice. Things like “excuse me” will sound strange on my tongue and I’m sure I will mistakenly greet people with “ciao.” I will wake up and realize that I am no longer in my Dandolo apartment in which I’ve carved a home for the past four months. The cobblestoned streets of Rome will seem so far away, as if this had all happened years and years ago.
Though what I’ve seen of Rome is merely a fraction of its entirety, I have been lucky enough to make the trip out to San Lorenzo every week for my internship with the artist, Paolo W. Tamburella. The bus rides are almost always cramped and uncomfortably warm, but they circle around the city in a way that is unrushed, allowing you to see the places you’ve never even set foot in. I’ve mentally marked streets that I hope to return to—maybe in the next couple of weeks, maybe in the next several years. I’m not sure when I started making these tabs, or when I began to see the city as not just a place that is lived in, but sought after. Perhaps one of these first realizations occurred during a lecture at the Palazzo way back in February.
On February 27th, Lorenzo Romito gave a talk to the Cornell in Rome community called, “‘The Beyondcity,’ Towards a New Common Sphere.” Romito is the founder of Stalker, an interdisciplinary collective that originated from the Italian student movements of the 1990s. An architect himself, Romito discussed the various intentions of the group, highlighting past projects and expressing its current interests. Unconventional to say the least, Stalker can be described as quite radical in its ideology. Romito himself was charismatic and excitable, explaining to us in detail projects that ranged from setting up camp in the outskirts of Rome and holding community-wide organic jam-making events. They traced the peripheries of the city, trying to map Rome’s most overlooked corners by gathering stories and memories. After the lecture, we were told that Romito would take us on one of these walks the following day. Unsure of what to expect, I left the Palazzo with a shrug, ever more perplexed by a city that still seemed hidden beneath a veil.
We began at Termini train station, a spot I had grown accustomed to passing on my way to work. A hub for immigration, Termini and its surrounding neighborhoods are filled with ethnic restaurants and supermarkets. From there, we hopped on a bus that took us to the ancient Roman aqueducts. Between the modern railway lines and the ancient Acqua Felice, we walked along an unpaved dirt road as cars hurried past. One of our first stops was Il Circolo degli Artisti in San Giovanni, a venue that showcases live music and art. Tucked away along a one-way street, Circolo’s facade resembled more of gated construction site than a thriving club.
As we continued along via Casilina Vecchia, we noticed that the boundaries between the roads, the aqueducts, and people’s homes began to blur. And beyond the roads and the aqueducts, neighborhoods rolled out onward. From one side, we could just make out the tops of small buildings. From the other, we saw the front doors of houses constructed right along Acqua Felice. Rome seemed almost unrecognizable, as if it were still in the process of being built. In some ways, these industrial areas gave the city a different sort of life, one that shook with a newer sense of urgency. Although the aqueducts no longer carried water throughout the city as they did during the Roman Empire, they now stood as monuments to a history that continued to expand.
We continued to trek along the aqueduct until we found ourselves walking right into a small neighborhood enclave. Structured almost like a maze, the neighborhood consisted of walls and fences that closed off one home from another in nearly claustrophobic proximity. The barking of guard dogs reminded us that the ground we stood on was more private than it was public. I felt odd in this neighborhood, surreal almost. Though we were all outside the perimeters of their private lots, I still felt as if I were a child, mistakenly wandering into a strange neighbor’s backyard. Before long, we took note of the guard dogs’ warnings and turned to walk back to the main road. As we sauntered back to the center of Rome, we carried with us only a faded mental picture of all the places we witnessed, the places that may one day spring up in a momentary daydream.