Rome. She is legendary. She is a woman that was once the toast of the world. Men, wide-eyed with respect, still tip their hats to her. Like a famous, aged courtesian, Rome knows she once had the nations at her feet. Her children, the Romans, remember her glory days. Watch them and you can tell they’ve been raised to think they are in the spotlight. Romans have a sense of drama, of the grand entrance, and of commotion. They dress for center stage with a practiced casual grace. Each day is a pageant, a spectacle, and Romans are the stars playing in it.
The last time I came to Rome, I remember a day when I rode the bus downtown. The driver was swinging through the cobbled streets like an overweight acrobat. The bus swept by the city walls with inches to spare on its sides. A woman pulled in front of him on her bicycle. With hair flowing and eyes made up heavy like a gypsy, the lady pedaled leisurely toward her destination wearing a long, white, linen skirt. She had a baguette and flowers in the front basket.
The bus driver slammed on the brakes. Livid, he accelerated toward her, coming within inches of her back tire, and honking wildly. La bella donna continued on her way unperturbed. The driver pressed down upon her. Finally, he got a response. The woman flung her head around, eyes flashing. She stuck her rear-end in the air and slowed down slightly as she pedaled in an exaggerated grind. The driver leered, smug at her reaction. Throwing back an obscene gesture at the driver, the woman veered off down another side street and continued on her way. The driver yelled out the window, Voi siete pazzi? (Are you crazy?) and then sat back, clearly pleased about the performance. It was as if the curtain was closing and the driver was taking a bow, holding out his hand for the lady to reenter the stage for a curtsy.
Yesterday, a group of us wandered through the same streets. Rome doesn’t need Saks Fifth Avenue or Rodeo drive. Designer shops are interspersed throughout the city. It isn’t strange to see the golden letters of Louis Vuitton on one lonely alley, and Fendi , Valentino, or Dolce & Gabana down another. They hide away with confidence, knowing they will be found. Rome is built in concentric circles, again reminding us that she is too old for the modern grid, too old to be brought into the hustle of today.
We strolled to the Piazza d’ Popolo, the Spanish steps, and the famous Trevi Fountain where Anita Eckberg drove everyone wild in Fellini’s, La Dolce Vita. We ate cena outside on tables with white tablecloths and under bright-colored awnings; the menus displayed words like spinazi, patate, pomodoro, pane, and vino, which sounds more musical and romantic than their prosy, American English counterparts: spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, bread, and wine.
Just a few of the expected arrivals are here. Tomorrow, Father Bruno arrives. Then, it will be Roman art history, food and wine, Father Bruno, and twelve female apostles of art from Elida’s Art, Women, and Wine. I’m sure we’ll be a spectacle worthy of admiration for even the Romans.