The first month out of my five in Rome is over now. I like Italy; I like the Italian people. There’s a warmth and camaraderie about them I admire. They relate to each other with the warmth and familiarity of family. And they seem relaxed. They take their time. It’s endearing.
Also a test on your patience.
The Romans are healthy-looking. They have sun-kissed skin and few physical extremes: medium height, medium breadth, and mid – tone hair (wheat or light brown). They age well, too. Older people look fit, cognizant, and happily invested in life.
Everything here is mellow, not just the people. The food is flavorful, but not heavy or spicey. There’s a mild sun and a mild wind. Traffic is heavy, but not aggressive.
I like Rome’s omnipresent culture – opera everywhere, an endless list of museums and exhibits (beating out NY), and the city itself, which is studded with statues and grandiose fountains. We Jews don’t make much art (it’s not part of our culture) or own much (thanks, Nazis), so Israel has few to no art museums. I do feel lucky to be here. But my sense of Rome is that it’s stagnant. Its history is a history,. Not a future.
It’s nice to see so few people wearing headphones. The Romans seem appreciative, or at least aware, of their sensory environment. They don’t seem as aware of the dust and dirt apparently sitting here since the time of the Colosseum. Rome is dark; lots of grime, few cleaners, and an abundance of pigeons will do that to you. When you walk around the residential areas, a faint malodor rises from the pavement.
Rome is also a city of smells. The women wear delicate warm perfume, musk and florals. Even the trains smell good. Despite their subtlety, the perfumes have excellent sillage and the scent pervades the cab. I practically walk around sniffing people.
The cheapest wines have a rich dark smell, the olive oil a luscious, warm, nutty one. There’s a profusion of gelato parlors with middle-aged men planted in front of them, licking ice cream cones in their expensive suits.
In a wonderful moment of romantic whimsy, I found a knot of red roses abandoned on a cobbled street. I had another, more humorous incident with red roses – an Arab vendor pressed them into my hands. One for me, one for my future husband (whom I would meet and marry in two months), and one for my mother. (I didn’t ask questions.) He wrapped a string bracelet around my wrist and told me to pray for my new husband.
I thought things like this only happen in Jerusalem.
“Just a little money,” he said, rubbing his fingers, but I don’t like red roses. He snatched at the flowers as though he had to wrestle them away and untied the string in a huff.
Rome has its share of any big city’s eccentricity. I saw a white Statue of Liberty wandering around Barbarini Square and a small woman encased in huge cardboard shoes. And at the Museum Scuderi del Quirinale, a cluster of nuns. In sunhats.
They wore black and white habits so I asked what was the significance of the white ones. The significance was that it was hot outside, they said.
Big cities -> tiny apartments -> millions of little dogs. The Romans walk them on little leashes which cruelly force the dogs to scurry if they don’t want to be dragged. There are little Beetle cars all over the place which look like they were designed for the dogs.
Some of Rome’s residential streets are lined with large boughy trees. I don’t know their names, but I know their scent. The trees don’t grow in middle-East Israel, but amply in Brooklyn. It makes me think of wandering around Prospect Park with my hand in my father’s.
Israel does have plenty of jasmine and honeysuckle. The honeysuckle is called ‘Italian honeysuckle.’ It grew in the front garden of our home in Brooklyn, and it grows here in Rome too, on the path to the house where I’m staying. Every time I walk by I stop to smell it. It gives me the tranquil feeling of coming home.