Make no mistake, I love Rome! From the moment I set eyes on this magnificent city, I was hooked. I first “discovered” Rome in the early ’70s and after a long hiatus, have visited it several times in recent years.
While the undeniable grandeur of Rome remains intact, I have certainly changed. The city seems overrun with tourists – a complaint most likely echoed by Keats and Shelley some two hundred years ago. While I no longer feel the compulsion to return to this enchanted city, I visit it daily as fond memories still retain their blissful naivete.
The contrasting “ages” of Rome can best be depicted by these trailers from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and La Grande Belleza by Paolo Sorrentino.
I still remember a Rome where residents would gently pat the stomach of a pregnant woman because the Romani believe it brings “good luck.” I fondly remember our local “post office” in Trastevere where they sold salt (a tradition that dates back to days of Roman taxes on condiments), tobacco and postcards. Now, it has become a tacky store selling chotskies to tourists.
Times change but memories linger. Ben-Hur could not possibly have imagined that one day the Circo Massimo would be used to host a fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Alliance. Nor could I believe that there are so many honest people considering the long queue at Bocca della Verita. I am quite sure that Romans are convinced that these honest people must all be tourists.
While I still find the sights and sounds (especially at night) of Rome compelling, I seek out less well-known venues. The Jewish Ghetto retains its allure – particularly at night – and I still marvel at the simplicity and beauty of the Fontana di Tartarughe.
One of my favorite resting places in Rome is on the second floor of the Bramante Cloister adjacent to Santa Maria della Pace. The Cloister is one of the most perfect architectural spaces in the world and an inspiration to a whole generation of Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo. Head to the second-floor lounge, just past the cafe; there is a window that actually looks into the church and frames Raphael’s fresco. Where else can you view a Raphael with a coffee or cocktail in hand?
While it is sad to see the tacky graffiti that now “adorns” the walls of buildings, barbarians have visited Rome frequently over the past 2,000 years. Despite its over-crowded pizzerias and gelaterias, I still pinch myself and realize that I am walking on sacred ground. I am quite sure that future generations will continue to venerate this wonderful city.