One would not expect Rome, being centuries old, to change that much. But, this visitor can certainly look at the Eternal City with fresh eyes.
I see two styles of travellers. Those who explore new cities every time they set out, and those who return to the place(s) they love. That is the type of traveller I am. I really do mean to go to other places in the world. And, will likely do so. The list is fairly lengthy. Israel. Japan. Croatia. Prague. Some safe place in Africa. Alternated with cities I know: Copenhagen. Amsterdam. The Minnesota State Fair. And so I find myself once again in the city that has stolen my heart: Rome.
This journey to Roma, I set out to find some new places, which is really not that grand an ambition. I have barely ventured from thecentro storico, the Imperial Fori and Trastevere. Save for a shopping foray outside of the historic center, I tend to revisit my favorite places: Piazza Navona, the church with the three Caravaggio paintings of St. Matthew, the Campo dei Fiori. My favorite restaurant, Sora Margherita, where I dine on that typical Roman pasta of cheese and black pepper —cacio e pepe.
People ask me why I love Rome so. It is this more than anything: you can be walking along on cobblestoned streets, or riding on the bus, Smart cars and Vespas whizzing by, when you happen upon some marble cornice, a couple of pillars, or bricks with patches of grass and you know you are looking at some piece of ancient Rome. Even though it is not always clear what it is.
There is one such place, a grand wall of brick I have passed often in the neighborhood of Monti – where I usually stay while in Rome. Monti is one of Rome’s oldest neighborhoods, a few blocks from the Roman Forum, where the workers lived. Now, it is one the city’s trendiest areas. This bricked edifice is behind a fence that is always locked.
One sunny morning, I passed the wall and saw that the gate was open. I took that as an invitation. I saw lots of orange
s on the ground. Figured some nearby coffee bar tossed them in the garbage after making their spremuta(fresh-squeezed juice) for Romans on their way to work. After walking up some stairs, I made two discoveries: where the oranges came from – and what lay behind that brick wall. It was a park filled with orange trees. The Villa Aldobrandini, apparently built in the 1500’s and only recently opened to the public. It is a beautiful park, high above the busy Via Nazionale, with empty fountains and headless statues, trees with gnarled trunks and branches, benches with reclining marble statues, contrasted with smooching couples and a couple of homeless guys. A city park I never even knew existed – this whole time I’ve visited Monti.
It was a jewel of a discovery. And one I will no doubt revisit
It would seem there is a tradition in Rome — and I suspect in all of Italy — that when la mama is out of the house, the bambini are not farmed out to a babysitter, but instead cared for by someone much closer to home. La Nonna.Grandma.
I started to pick up on something in my wanderings through the streets, piazzas and coffee bars of Rome. Many of the children were clearly not with their mothers. These women were much too old for babies. Nor, were they the classic babysitters we’re used to in America. No one from Jamaica or Ireland or small-town USA was tucking these kids in.
They were hanging out with Grandma. Or, groups of their Nonne.
Now, I’m not one to pay that much attention to kids. But, it was unavoidable. Before I even saw them, I could hear them. Their grandmas calling out names like Gabriella. Claudio. Fabio. By the way, they sound so much cuter with names like that. And, they can speak Italiano so damn well.
Here’s Grandma, handing out the biscotti, wiping off the chins, running into the piazzas to keep their little wards out of trouble. I wanted to take pictures of them, but out of respect, did not. Tourists are fair game for photo taking, but the Italians just living their lives deserve a little space, I think.
Back to le nonne. Every day, when I would go into my neighborhood coffee bar to get my morning cappucino, I would see this little girl with her nonna. The barista would spoon out the latte from the pitcher into a little espresso cup, sprinkle some cocoa or cinnamon on top, and hand it to the child with a delicate little spoon. This small daily act has probably been played out for years with generations of Italian little ones.
Very sweet. Carina.