They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. So is visiting it, apparently.
My last trip to Rome was many years ago when I was in college. I worked three part-time jobs to save for my study-abroad program. I finally arrived in Italy, wide-eyed at the prospect of discovering the country of my dreams. My rose-colored glasses turned magenta upon arrival—the sights, smells, and sensations practically put me into a sensory overload. I walked the streets of Rome from morning till night, on an endless quest for discovery, giddily delighting in each encounter. It’s no exaggeration to say that I fell in love, and fell hard.
I vowed to return in short order. Alas, it took many years, even though I had traveled to Italy several times for wine-related research trips. I had landed in Rome, but never stayed; always dashing off to various wine regions. Finally, here I was, having given myself a long overdue birthday present of spending two blissful days in Rome, alone, with no distractions nor agenda.
My Roman adventure was about getting lost in the crowds of the Eternal City. Upon arrival, I felt nervous. It was like seeing an old flame that you are still inexplicably in love with, despite the time gap.
I arrived in Rome via train from Napoli, late and spent. On that warm October evening, I hopped out of a taxi in front of my hotel. Exhausted, I went straight to my room, without even looking around, as I had originally planned.
I started early the next morning with a long walk through a myriad of attractions, from Vatican City to Trevi Fountain and beyond. Further on, I delighted in seeing the Castello St. Angelo, Piazza Navona, Vittoriano, Campo di Fiori, the Colosseum, and of course the famous Fontana di Trevi, where Sylvia Koscina and Marcello Mastroianni gave the world a whole new perspective on wading in a fountain. I ended my stroll at Spanish Steps, very close to an apartment where I had stayed during my college trip.
I arrived at Piazza di Spagna feeling euphoric, despite the persistent fall rain. I wandered the streets, diverging from the square almost by instinct, instantly locating the apartment that I called home for a few weeks, all those years back. It seemed unchanged, with its cheerful green shutters and a balcony overlooking a street where high-end boutiques abounded. Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Valentino and other coveted brands were all gathered there. The boulevard bustled with hordes of tourists peering in the windows of the world-famous stores. I wandered into the entryway and saw the staircase that led to my charming apartment…
Upon this sight, I completely and utterly lost it.
Being a sensitive person, I feel a broad spectrum of emotions. It’s a gift of sorts. Without it, I don’t think I would be the kind of writer, or person, that I am. I write from a place of empathy and reflective emotional engagement in hopes of intimately connecting with my reader.
Having said that, I don’t show my feelings externally, especially in public. I typically internalize them. However, there I was, crying my face off, right in the middle of Rome. More than anything, I was stunned at this sudden, spontaneous flood of emotion. Then, I experienced a revelation.
The young girl that visited Rome all these years ago was but a momentary glimmer in the glass door reflection. This person who was so full of desires and dreams, bursting with hopes for the future. She loved life with abandon and was so certain that she would build hers to reflect all the happiness that she felt. She was crazy in love with Rome and worshiped every moment spent with her lover, relishing every street, shop, smell; even the loud sirens flooding the roads with earsplitting noise.
That girl was no more; the reflection of the woman on the other side of the glass door was reserved, sadder, more distant, presumably wiser and decidedly contemplative. Many of her hopes and dreams had been dashed by the somber certainties of life’s truths; a spirited ship that had crashed into the rocks of reality.
A life unexamined isn’t worth living, they say. Such inspection is costly and often painful. Yet it is necessary, as from raw reflection comes previously under-recognized confidence that despite all obstacles and failures, you are still standing. Much like the enduring Roman ruins, damaged, but not destroyed, knocked around, but still solid.
Rome is a symbol of survival. It’s a tough city, with a colossal population and massive onslaught of tourism that will test any native citizen’s tolerance. I certainly heard more far more English, French, Russian, and Spanish on its streets, than the native Italian.
Romans are a tough bunch; they talk, work and drive like their lives depend on it. They are far more decisive, determined and deliberate than any other Italians. They survived the unsurvivable for centuries, and are clearly in for the long haul. This, “don’t mess with me” attitude is apparent, and stands out to anyone who has traveled throughout Europe. The resolve is written on people’s faces and is evident in every interaction.
I spent my second afternoon in Rome visiting the Musei Vaticani, taking in various sites around Colosseum, listening to street music and watching cats roam around ancient ruins. When visiting, under no circumstances is Sistine Chapel to be missed, even if you are not an art lover. The splendor, brilliance, and deep emotion, expressed by the unsurpassed masters of Renaissance is ageless. Michelangelo’s Touching Hand had the same effect on me as it did all those years back. It was breathtaking and timeless. I wandered the halls filled with busts of ancient Roman men, women, children; their faces looking poignantly at me from the shelves and pedestals. None were smiling, much like the folks that I saw on the streets and cafes. Perhaps through the centuries not that much has changed.
As my visit to Rome came to an end, I found myself gingerly saying good-bye to my long-lost love. I no longer thought about seeking its company in the future. Instead, I reflected on what the experience meant.
My two perfect days in Rome were not at all what I had imagined. The blissful rendezvous turned into an affair of melancholy. Yet it occurred to me that it was a positive experience. Life isn’t perfect, so why should love be?
True love can be hard-hitting, despondent, even exasperating. Yet without it, none of us can ever feel truly fulfilled. It is the single most powerful and profound force that shapes who we are, perhaps in an ultimate way. Adversity builds character. Love makes it worth persevering through it.
My Rome reckoning was just that. It swiftly summed up my prior life experience in forty-eight gloriously aching hours.
And for that, I will be forever grateful.
Want to see more photos from Rome? Take a look at my gallery here.