What do you say of Bella Roma who steals your heart, much like the Mani di velluto that she is known for? She seeps into your blood. She reminds you of all your pain, and she stands, poignant, beautiful, moving, blood soaking the cobbled stones of the streets. Keats and Shirley claimed her as their own. With every step, you march alongside a long gory history, with as much anger in it as faith or despair or glory, which may be the same thing. But here it is more than the dead past; it mingles with the present and the Romans live it, flaunt it.
From largo di Torre Argentina you can look down into the disappointingly small senate chamber where Ceaser must have mouthed, ”Et tu, Brutus?” and reach in fifteen minutes the stairs of the Courts of Justice among the Roman Fora where Marc Antony delivered a speech to ‘the people of Rome’ that Marcus Brutus was a good man, a great man. You can stare at the impossibly high pillars near the Temple of Vesta, and then walk into the Pantheone and again be taken aback by the awe, grandeur and scale at which Romans accomplished things. On an aside, I think that the real difference between the Greeks and the Romans was this: that Greeks were largely the thinkers and philosophers (almost all of ancient Rome’s religion and science came from there) and the Romans, Doers.
You only have to see the massive baths of Caracalla or the high dome of St. Pietro to know that they are an impossibly proud people, maybe even arrogant. Without a trace of doubt and with the tone of inevitability they call their city ‘Caput Mundi’ (capital of the world). But they are also the nicest, and the most friendly I have ever come across, from the pizza guy in Trestravere (across the Tiber from Centro where all the ruins are, what used to be the poorer section of Rome and now is probably the more vibrant part) to ever-helpful Giovanni, to the little old lady handing out pamphlets near the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. I didn’t take a pamphlet, but she strove to give me the directions I wanted despite my inability to capice. Finally, she took to mimicking ‘ding dong’ with her hands to tell me where the cathedral was. ‘Tis because of the people that I will never forget “grazie”… it still springs to my tongue occasionally.
The Eternal City. Where tourists rush and natives laze through the day. The former tip, the latter don’t. Generous of heart, she seems to be all cathedral-cafe-church, but she’s actually all throbbing, moving life. So much more to say, but I could never do it all justice: Madonna con Bambino. Michaelangelo. Raphael. Fountain of Trevi and others. Cafe on the sidewalk. Spanish steps a la Roman Holiday. Rain with hail and sunshine. EUR and Hitler’s fascist friend. The Risorgimento. Gelato. Chagall’s exhibition. On Eros. Appia Antica. Pizza. Mura.
Mani di velluto = Velvet Hands. Pickpockets. You can’t take a walk in the over crowded metro or bus (pronounced boos) without fearing for your wallet. capice = understand grazie = thank you. largo = a small open square. a piazza is a larger one; piazzale is the largest.