I did not fall in love with Rome at first sight. I didn’t fall in love with Rome at second or third sight either. During my first week here, my visions of the city were somewhat dulled by a long spell of rain. When that lifted, my appreciation of Roman culture continued to be hindered by what Jeffrey Blanchard calls the “plague” of mass tourism. Despite the fact that I’m from New York City, I also managed to be bothered by the ceaselessness of Roman traffic and the touch of toxicity that sometimes lurks in Roman air.
But today I was sitting on the highest marble steps of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli, between the Capitoline Museums and the Vittorio Emmaneule Monument. Soft words in Italian were flowing through my ears and the last golden drops of sun were falling on my skin. As I sat on the stairway to the Altar of Heaven, I watched a glittery haze fall on the vista below me. And a vivid love for Rome suddenly tore through my heart.
It’s hard to know why the long-awaited passion struck me just then. It could have been that perfect alchemy of sunlight, blue sky and wind. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had spent the day strolling through the Testaccio market day, lounging lizard-like on the warm banks of the Tiber Island, and dissolving myself in a ridiculously wonderful 10 euro multi-course lunch with my dear friend Andrew. Being away from Rome during our field trip to the North last week, and for my jaunt to the Amalfi Coast the next weekend also gave me a deeper recognition of Rome’s unique delights.
It is thus with a trace of regret that I anticipate tomorrow morning, when I will be wrested from my new love by a 6:30 am bus to the South. Over the next four days, we will visit Matera, Pompeii and Naples. But even as I soak up the unknown wonders that await us, I expect to miss the increasingly familiar wonders of Rome. I’ll long for the beauty of Rome’s curving streets and the warm fingers of Roman sunlight twinkling across my cheeks. I’ll miss Rome’s timeless style and heavenly cooking…her endless open embrace.
I’m happy to report that Rome is home.
And there’s no place like it.