One day you’re here, the next day you’re not. I woke up in Denver this morning, and tonight I’m laying my head down in Rome. There was a lost day in there somewhere between my overnight, 12 hour flight and an eight hour time zone warp. But, it feels like it has been just one long, amazing, 40 hour day.
My guide Matteo met me at the Fiumicino airport and we drove into the heart of the former Roman empire. The traffic in this global metropolitan hotspot can really only be described as wild. Vespas, Fiats and industrial trucks unapologetically straddle lane markers and weave around each other in a frantic scurry that actually obtains a level of semi-controlled mayhem. The relaxed aura that lingers over Italian culture is in direct contrast to the battlezone mentality that is driving in this country. The guy on that Ducati knows our van is exactly three feet behind him as we fly down the crowded street.
After unloading the luggage at Hotel Ripa, we deal with the first order of business – food. We wander down the narrow side streets of the San Lorenzo district in Central Rome. The cobblestone paths snake past medieval buildings and centuries old corridors. We pop into Donkey Punch, a not-so-old establishment in this ancient neighborhood that sells craft beer and porchetta out of a small storefront. I don’t think the Kiss and Sex Pistols mural on the walls were from the 4th century though.
We walked a few more blocks to lunch at l’insalate Ricci, a family owned business for the past 30 years. After having their spaghetti con vongole’, I didn’t need a translator to tell me why the locals love this place so much. The past few days have been a whirlwind of goodbyes, packing, shuttle buses, checkpoints, checklists, airports and airplanes; resulting in a completely shattered relationship with sleep. It has all lead me to this very spot. Before I know it, I am sitting under a white canvas umbrella at a sidewalk table in downtown Rome, slurping up a divine plate of noodles and clams with a glass of bianco vino. I am in Rome and I like it. I like it a lot.
Matteo and I rendezvous with Mary Grace, Miranda and Rachael. Warmly referred to as “The Girls,” they are the other American students that flew into Rome today. We take a guided walking tour of several Roman monuments and points of interest. Our glorious stroll through history began at Largo di Torre Argentina, the site of Caesar’s assassination at the Theatre of Pompey. We then visited the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Novana and tons of picturesque scenes in between. The final location was the Altare della Patria; a massive monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy. This humongous building was completed in 1925, after 14 years of construction. It’s blocky, white form earned it the nickname, “The Wedding Cake,” which is not favored by the locals.
Our tour ended at dusk, in fitting style, with a pizza dinner in the open square of Campo de Fiore. My buffalo mozzarella pie with olive oil and basil, on a snappy, cracker-thin crust, made me forget that I had ever had pizza before in my life. To say it was delicious would be slighting this whole art form that Italy is famous for. We stopped into a quaint little shop on our walk home for an obligatory gelato that was truly wonderful. We also caught the Fire Lady, a renowned fire-twirling street performer in this part of town, hold court in a crowded piazza. There’s nothing like the possibility of third degree burns from a fire-breather to help with digestion.
Seeing Rome for the first time since my first trip seven years ago is like reuniting with an old friend. I have thought about her many times since. My memories of her small details are still clear. Wandering through the narrow streets, I run my hand over the of the rough facades of the buildings and the smooth marble of the sculptures. I’m touching the lines on her face and the curves of her body again. That comfort returns to me. It feels like I never left.