Rome is famous for her monuments, but unlike Florence and Venice which surrender to hordes of tourists each year, the eternal city marches forward under a double banner as both tourist capital and national capital. These designations leave Rome in a difficult, albeit an interesting, situation. The city exists in a paradoxical state, divided between an undeniable present condition and an unforgettable past.
Living with a family in San Giovanni this summer, I finally had the opportunity to experience Rome as a living city — not merely as a curated one. My perspective changed from tour bus to local bus (number 673 to be precise) and I started to gain a new familiarity with the city’s wonderfully unique and disfunctional characteristics. Using public transit each day on my way to work was not always a comfortable endeavor. On one occasion, I stepped onto a bus with so many occupants that the doors jammed shut behind us and failed to re-open after repeated (and frantic) attempts to make them budge. You can imagine the dilemma.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Coliseum looks much less impressive when viewed through the sweaty glass of an overcrowded bus. The same could be said for other important monuments throughout Rome, which in many cases have become nodes of transportion. Porta Portese, Largo Argentina, the Coliseum, and Piramide (pictured below) are just a few examples of ancient ruins lodged awkwardly into a modern, fuel-injected context.
Cornell introduced me to Rome last Fall and allowed me to make the connections and friends needed to return this summer on my own. I worked each day at an Italian design firm called Labics with two architects who I studied under during their tenure as visiting professors at the “Cornell in Rome” program. At their studio, I met a number of young professionals who had arrived in Rome from every corner of the Italian peninsula between Veneto and Puglia.
In the end it was the people, not necessarily the place, that made the summer so enjoyable. My host family and friends were incredibly welcoming and engaged me on topics as wildly diverse as health care, Mormonism, and Deconstructivism. Getting to know these people while performing the linguistic gymnastics of speaking Italian kept life in Rome interesting. And if there were ever a moment to spare, a five minute walk would undoubtedly lead to another monument or museum to explore.