Tuesday, August 27, 2013

11 Reasons Why I LOVE Rome with a Capital L-O-V-E!

"The magic of visiting, but not living in, Rome is the theme of To Rome With Love."

That was my best friend Lori, making an offhand comment via email the other day that also may have encapsulated the theme of my third Roman holiday. In a couple of weeks, I'll be seeing her in Siena, a city in Tuscany, northeast of Rome. It will be our first reunion since she came to visit me in Bangkok in April/May of 2012. Then a few days later, she'll visit Rome for the first time.

Let there be magic -- again!

I haven't seen Woody Allen's 2012 follow-up to Midnight in Paris, but I already get it. How can anyone who has made three trips to Rome not? Interestingly enough, in all of the time I've spent visiting Rome, I've never once dreamed of living here (no offense to Rome, but I'll get to why in a future post), which is probably key to Italy's capital city's appeal. Mine is a big love without the complication of commitment -- not to the city, not to anyone in it.

It's nice to be able to fall in love with a place and admire it without any expectations and with all those grand illusions about it almost guaranteed to remain mostly in tact because you won't be overstaying your welcome. Buenos Aires probably still would be one of my Top 5 favorite cities in the world if I'd never bothered to live there.

But no such risk for Rome and me: As much as I love "the eternal city," I wouldn't necessarily want to spend an eternity here. That allows me to appreciate it without having to worry about negotiating the bureaucracy, learning the language, making friends, or adapting to the social culture. It keeps my love alive.

My first night in town, I rode home on the back of a motorcycle and saw Rome in a completely different light -- literally -- than I ever had before (the two previous times I'd been here). I didn't think it could possibly get any better. Then yesterday, walking from my rental apartment near the Arco di Travertino Metro all the way to the historic center between the end of the afternoon and dusk, Rome cast another spell. It was just as amazing but in a completely different way. It brought me to the brink of tears several times. I had to stop, blink, and just take it all in.

Later on, when I was talking to a Roman about my out-of-body experience walking around town, I expected him to brush it off because, well, he's lived here all of his life, and it must be no big deal to him. Much like Rome, he didn't fail to surprise me.

"You know, I have the same feeling every time I walk around the historic area. The amazing thing is when you realize that at each hour of the day, the light and the sun change atmosphere and sensation. It's like a phenomenal sublimation of your mind."

His expression of empathy (and the fact that an Italian guy was dropping a word like "sublimation" into everyday conversation) was part of the magic, which brings me to the first thing I LOVE about Rome...

1. I get the sense that people who live here love it, too. Upon my arrival in Berlin, I was told that complaining is the national pastime, a pursuit I was all too familiar with (and became even more so after a month spent there), having lived in Buenos Aires for four and half years. In Buenos Aires, everyone seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the place they called home. But when in Rome, I feel as if I'm surrounded by locals who are actually happy to be here, not always plotting an escape (except during the month of August, when all urbanite Italians are constitutionally obligated to retreat to the coast -- or at least want to), or griping about how things would be so much better somewhere else. And you know what they say: Do as the Romans do!

2. It helps me relive my school days -- in a good way! In high school, I took two semesters of Latin, which meant spending countless hours transcribing texts about historic Roman places I thought I'd ever see (the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Appian Way...). Yesterday while walking down Via Appia Nuova, I thought about Mrs. Riggle (my high school Latin teacher), and I actually smiled, which has never happened before.

3. Chances are that hole-in-the-wall trattoria has Wi-Fi. So you can keep your friends around the world updated on your whereabouts with regular Facebook updates.

4. Radio Capital TV! When all is said and done, and I'm on a plane to Tel Aviv some 27 days from now, I will remember my third trip to Rome as much for all of the great retro music I saw and heard on my new favorite channel in the world as for anything I witnessed when I dragged myself away from the TV. And surprise! Unlike other retro playlists around the world, Radio Capital TV doesn't skimp on '80s R&B -- which, for me, defined the decade just as much as the requisite new-wave: Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Your Personal Touch," Womack & Womack's "Teardrops," Stacy Lattisaw's "Jump to the Beat," Roachford's "Cuddly Toy"... Somebody slap me! Alas, still no Klymaxx (possibly because the R&B all-female band never made it in the U.K., and apparently, Italians are as much Anglophiles when it comes to English-language pop as Argentines are), and, curiously, the occasional Guns N' Roses clip aside, no hair metal either. Day four, and not one Bon Jovi video.

5. All roads lead back to Colosseo. When I left home around 5pm yesterday, armed with my gay city map, which is better than any of the ones my landlords left for me, my destination was the Tevere (Tiber River). I went up Via Tuscolana to Piazza dei Re di Roma, then up Via Appia Nuova to Piazza di Porta San Giovanni. After admiring several breathtaking buildings, the sculptures perched atop them, and the descending sun hitting the scenery at just the right angle (see the main photo), I headed up Via Merulana to Santa Maria Maggiore to hilly Via Panisperna, where I went down and up and down and up and down before a wrong turn led me, unintentionally, to Rome's historic center, which brought me right back to Colosseo for the third time in five days, this time, though, not by Metro but by Via dei Fori Imperiali. I never did make it to Tevere, but the views I accidentally stumbled upon right before the gloaming were no doubt just as stunning. (And I still have so much to revisit and look forward to -- Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and Muccassassina, Rome's latest hot gay club -- in the coming weeks!)

 6. Via Panespera! By far my favorite street in Rome (above).

7. It's fast-paced and chill at the same time. Traffic whizzes by, but it always stops for pedestrians, who stroll across the wide vias and around the circular piazzas like they have all the time in the world.

8. You can buy two bottles of white wine in the supermarket for 3.18 euros and a half litre of house white or red at a hole-in-the-wall trattoria for 5 euros. Which is why I was slightly tipsy, with Emmylou Harris's 1978 hit (her first to go to No. 1 on Billboard's country singles chart) playing in my head, when I started to write this post.

9. The tap water is safe to drink. And man cannot live on cheap white wine alone!

10. The challenging terrain I suppose this is pretty par for (obstacle) course for a city built on seven hills. And maybe going up and down all those inclines and steps on foot (walking, climbing, running -- which I did this morning, retracing yesterday's path and taking Via di San Giovanni in Laterano back toward home) will mean that I won't have to shell out 55 euros for a month-long membership at Mister Gym, after all. 

11. You stumble across giant billboards like this one while running around town. Now if I could only meet a guy who looks like the one (barely) wearing blue and yellow at My Bar or Coming Out on Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, I might actually start to love those places as much as I love the Roman scenery (Colosseo! Ruins!) that surrounds them.
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