When In Rome…


I have a confession to make –I don’t like Rome. At least I think I don’t…

I arrive in Rome with a major case of jet lag; I haven’t slept for 30 hours and am in an ornery mood while walking eight hours a day in 90-degree heat amongst 100,000 camera-happy tourists.

There is no question what one should do in Rome. The ‘must-sees’ are the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica, to name a few.

I, too, snap my digitals at these important locations and imagine what it felt like to be a gladiator fighting for my life, or Michelangelo as he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but my soul seeks something other than the city’s prodigious historical relics, which, in my opinion, have been reduced to a labyrinth of over-sojourned and under-appreciated numbers on a tour map.

Throngs of people seem to care only about a perfect photograph or camcorder shot rather than the importance of their surroundings. I can’t find a public restroom for the life of me (there are pay toilets in most Metro stations, otherwise, I have to sit and eat somewhere or flirt with a local bartender hoping he’ll let me into a private commode –I opt for the latter).

I can’t do exactly as the Romans do, but I do want to see Rome for its small nuances and characteristic charm, which I know it has, I just don’t know where to find it.

Also, the Forum is no longer free and the line to buy tickets is way too long to wait in on a hot day. The crowds are ridiculous and cigarette smoke permeates the air.

Okay, I know this is a long-winded griping session, and I’m not one to complain, but I have to wonder, is this the real Rome?

You know what they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” But what do the Romans do?

I see businessmen scoot past me on their motorbikes dressed in swanky Italian suits; meanwhile, collections of sweat soak into the cotton of my sundress, and I think, these guys must have great relationships with their dry cleaners!

I witness shop owners leaning on their door frames watching passers-by for sport, and other locals slide through the gates of walk-up apartments with groceries in tow, as if the heavy iron rods protect them from the inauthenticity of tourism.

I can’t do exactly as the Romans do, but I do want to see Rome for its small nuances and characteristic charm, which I know it has, I just don’t know where to find it.

I decide to take a Bikram yoga class to clear my mind (my usual routine after an international flight), and after class I emerge from the studio like an infant from the womb – refreshed, renewed and covered in fluids.

My post-yoga epiphany comes to me on a nearby hillside behind the Vatican:  it’s not Rome, it’s me.

I’m the problem with Rome. My opinion is only a perception and not all that Rome is. My disposition changes immediately. I begin to notice the details that make Rome magnificent:

I watch a nun return home at dusk along a cobblestone street under close-lined verandas and garden terraces after what I imagine was a long day of tending to the Pope;

carciofo alla giudia

I find my new favorite Italian dish, carciofo alla giudia (lightly fried artichoke in lemon juice and olive oil), at Da Enzo’s in the quiet Trastevere neighborhood, and Jim finally gets his cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and pepper pasta) that he has been craving ever since he watched Anthony Bourdain enjoy the same dish on No Reservations.

Our host attends to us like we’re family; he brings us a free artichoke.

Although there are no toilets in site, I find flowing clean water spouts on almost every street;

I appreciate the pride of one local who yells at a tourist that confuses a fountain for his personal bathtub;

I find healthy snacks at the local supermarcados: individual packets of pesto, olive spread, sautéed spinach, mini-salads and pinolis (pine nuts).

These are the small things I love about Rome. All I needed to appreciate them was rest, a good sweat and great food.

So, what do the Romans do? I guess many of them do the same –rest (two hour lunches and a bottle of vino), sweat, and eat food made with quality ingredients and love.

After only four days Rome succeeds in wooing me, or I Rome. The impressiveness of the Coliseum, to me, is just topping on the tiramisu.

Do you have favorite hidden places in Rome? Please share your discoveries in the comments below:
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