Rome is Home

Today marks one month that I have been living in Rome, a city that was once both so unusual yet familiar to me. I always felt like I knew Rome; that all of the movies had adequately prepared me for Roman life. Not the case at all. This city is not at all what I imagined it to be, while at the same time there are aspects of it that remind me of home. I don’t know what it is about this city that seems so familiar, yet so distant from my home in Boston. Perhaps it is the fact that locals walk down the street with their iPhones telling them the time and playing the latest tunes, yet it is bells from churches that also serve as a major source of time, tolling every hour on the hour, day in and day out. Or maybe it is that it is in the 50s or 60s every day, normally t shirt or sweatshirt weather for me, yet the locals wear long fur coats, winter gloves, and hats that make the air seem chiller than it is. And it could also be that I walk from one campus building to the next like I do at UMass, but during that walk I pass a church that is over a millennia old, colorful buildings covered in vines, and the lofty smell of freshly baked bread from a brick oven hot on the shelves. The bread flares its scent into my nostrils as I walk by at a somewhat slower pace than I would walk to class at home, all the time taking in the sites and never forgetting how lucky I am to be walking this path every day to always find something new.
Rome is home. Rome is exactly where I want to be, and where I need to be. Millions of people over the centuries have come to this city for different reasons. While I’ve come here to study, I am also cognoscente of the fact that thousands of others are in this city for completely different reasons. Business. Personal travel. Pilgrimages to the Vatican. Scholarly research. The reasons why people come here are endless, meaning that there is never a dull moment in Rome, something is always happening. It is exciting to ponder this reality and appreciate that I share my new home with so many others. The tourists with the plastic, yellow map of Rome who always have their guidebooks out in front of monuments are often the most visible sign of what Rome represents to the world. It is, at its essence, a giant tourist attraction. Without the unfathomable history of Ancient Rome and Papal States, this city would not be able to sustain itself. But if you venture outside of the historical city center, you begin to understand that so much else goes on in Rome than most visitors realize, and that there is an entirely different culture separate from the bustling, crowded, and agitating center of Rome that tourists flock to because that is all they know.
Most tourists never make it to where I live, or even know that my neighborhood exists. My neighborhood of Monteverde, located next to the picturesque neighborhood of Trastevere, which translates to “across the river,” for its location next to the River Tiber, is very much residential. There are no popular landmarks where I live. There are probably no postcards that depict Monteverde either because there would not be anything significant to depict. This is not to say that my neighborhood is not beautiful because it is. A short walk from my apartment down the narrow streets lined with vespers and smart cars brings me to Villa Pam, the largest public park in Rome which along with the Vatican Gardens is one of the most beautiful landscapes of the city. I live in a different Rome, one that you could never imagine. When I wake up every morning, I see a completely different Rome than the tourists see. I don’t begin to reach the city center until the tram brings me to Belli, a stop on Viale Trastevere that is right before the Tiber and next to John Cabot University. While I often wish I lived closer the excitement and postcard parts of Rome, living in Monteverde also gives me the opportunity to keep reliving the city over and over again each day, as if for the first time. Because it is a journey to reach the city center, I have not yet become immune to its beauty and significance. I am not yet tired of walking by the Trevi Fountain or Pantheon, or seeing the Colosseum lit up at night.
Living in Monteverde truly provides me with an authentic Roman experience. Few people speak English fluently, if at all. I am one of a handful of Americans in this neighborhood of thousands. And what has been the most interesting is observing how Italians start and end their days. I can see how they head to work in the morning and what they do after its quittin’ time at the office. Not to mention how desolate it is when most shops close between 4-5, or 16:00-17:00, for afternoon siesta. The mothers screaming at their children to hurry up and get ready for school. The fathers holding their children’s hands. The elderly carting around their belongings and sitting inside each shop chatting with the owner about what’s on their minds. And watching the slow pace of everyone always gets me. Italian time is a lot like Hawaiian time. One of my classes starts at 6p.m. but the professor rarely shows up before 6:05p.m. Everything is more laid back, and events starting on time are not a top priority like it is in the U.S. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, make sure you’re at the bus or tram stop 10 minutes earlier than you think you should be as the busses and trams are rarely on time or on a regularized schedule. I’ll try to get some pictures up on Flickr of my neighborhood….

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