My time in Roma has been, needless to say, breathtaking. I am halfway through, and I regret that no longer am I leading up to the midpoint, but away from it. I never wish to leave. Each day as I walk through the city, I can’t help but think to myself, and sometimes even burst out – “I love Italy!” I came here to study Roma’s ancient, but have fallen madly in love with her present. As E.M. Forster wrote:
“The traveler who has gone to Italy to study the tactile values of Giotto, or the corruption of the Papacy, may return remembering nothing but the blue sky and the men and women who live under it.”
These words strike a chord with me. I came to study Latin, but have found myself fully compelled by Italian. I grin at the clerks who spout off at me in lightning-speed Italian when I step up to the counter to order un caffè or un cornetto or perhaps una busta (an envelope), and they grin back as I nod along, catching drifts of their vernacular, not fully comprehending but at least understanding. I smile at their beautifully dramatic body language as they exclaim, “parla bene italiano! Brava!” And I smile again at “ciao, bella!” once I depart.
I no longer find myself shying away from speaking to Italians or acting like one. I ask directions from locals and I give directions to tourists. I chat with the old men on the bench next to me about how bright the sun is and how busy the city is with the stirrings of the papacy. I roll my Rs. I bargain. I tell people that the bus isn’t coming, and I understand when they tell me that the route I’m waiting for is shut down. I drop off my dry-cleaning and go to the post office. I ask questions and hear answers. Chiacchiero – I chat.
Roma is much less ruins, museums, landmarks, and basilicas than it is residences stacked upon residences, neighborhood fruit stands and grocery stores, pharmacies and tabacchi shops, roads filled with cars and busses and trams and taxis, parks and piazzas, children and parents, students and workers, and everything else Italian. It is not a series of strip malls and fast food chains – that would be the states. No, Italy is localized, communal, a series of neighborhoods with their particular and peculiar quirks, with something new to look at and someone new to talk to even if you move only a tram stop up.
As much as I remain baffled at the ancient world’s resilience, I have settled the classicist within me, and I feel a Roman at heart. As much as I still gawk at the vestiges of ancient Rome, I no longer feel that a day is wasted if I don’t make it to the ruins; I am perfectly content to be on the outskirts of the city, doing Italian things, listening to Italian people, feeling a part of Italian culture.
When I sat down to write this post, I made a list of the museums and basilicas and ruins that I have visited in recent weeks with the intention of writing about those. But as I began to write, Italian culture began to flow, and I thought nothing of my excursions, and by nature I wrote about Italian life. I could never have made a better decision than to study at AUR. This experience has plummeted me into the city whose history I have always adored, but whose present has now infiltrated every single cell of my being.