I think for anyone it is always strange going back to somewhere you’ve been before many years later, especially if you’re there with people you’ve never been there with before. At first, going back to Rome for me was a little bit like walking through primary school with four people who met me when I was eighteen – some of whom have lived in my pocket in different ways, at different times over the last few years.
It was like a weird time-warp, in a city which is – I think – a time-warp itself (hence the label “eternal” being slapped on it because it’s easier than explaining it properly.) So many big names have had their punt at Italy and at Rome. It is the background for as many works of art as it is a vast collection of them curated into an urban settlement. It is a madly agrandised space as much as it is also a town as personally, as lovingly and as intensely documented as New York. It is overwhelming, it is transcendent, and it is familiar, and it is comforting.
And here, out of the inextricable, sprawling mess of past, present, of art and artless, is what happened when I went to Rome.
Finalmente Domenica! – Sunday, 12:31
As I’ve said before, something about being out of the UK makes me feel not only happy, but actively better. The thought of going away, to this place, warm and familiar, has been buoying me through the day to day crap since April. I have waited and waited to be back here. This is the only explanation I have for the fact that once I’ve dumped my bag at my airbnb and jumped under the unreliable (very Roman) shower, I am straight back out in the brilliant sun, picking my way through residential streets down towards the river. I have not had ten minutes of sleep to string together, but I’ve put on some sandals, a little red and black dress and I am half-charging along the Viale di Trastevere like the opening of Vivement Dimanche! – and it is finally, Sunday! and I am on my holiday.
In Santa Maria, with no Baedeker – Sunday, 14:21
I am very cross, very quickly when my friends do not meet me at the time I’ve asked them to. Like I say, I have had very little sleep. I am not in the mood to sit outside Santa Maria in Trastevere, waiting.
Earlier that morning I sleep-walked into WH Smith at Stansted, dozing my way through the guidebooks. I considered buying a Rome one, in case I needed keeping on the right lines. Out of a maybe absurd sense of familiarity, I picked up the latest edition of the one my parents got me after my second trip; nothing really seems to have changed in twelve editions, expect maybe the phone number of an anonymous 4 -star hotel. So, now I’m drifting into the church without a guidebook, straight into a scene that would basically be E.M. Forster plagiarism (scooped out of Florence and airdropped back into Rome) if you were to write it down, to ogle at the frescos and not understand a thing about them – except that they’re named after female saints and that they’re older than I can get my head around something being and still standing up.
La Dolce Vita – Monday, 22:00 and onwards
I am decidedly drunk. I have been drinking since the Villa Borghese, as you (I) do when you’re pissed off with particular unfunny jokes and people being late and a seeming fascination with an Irish Pub. FYI a handful of cherries blagged are not enough to sustain sobriety even if you blag them at the Campo di Fiori and add in two trips to Giolitti’s . I go to the bloody Irish bloody pub that my friends are hellbent on and sound off big time to the barman. I miss the 23:27 from Roma Termini to Civitavecchia (herein my “usual” train, and the last one that will get me to my place) by some considerable margin.
I am suddenly holed up in the hostel with my head on a familiar shoulder until 2:30am. Somehow, miraculously, I catch on to the fact that no good can come of the tempting headfirst plummet into staying over and set off for the hour’s walk home. And then, I change direction because I know with startling clarity where I’m going.
At night when no one’s there you can hear the Trevi Fountain rumbling from streets away. It is vast and clamorous but absurdly peaceful when it is empty. As per the famous scene, I have ever intention of jumping in, but the only other people there are the Carabinieri, who I feel like are probably there because of the social hazard caused by idiotic girls who want to jump in, as per the famous scene. Even so, I am tempted, for the second time that night, to embrace disaster and go for it. Is it worth risking immediate arrest to say you Anita Ekberg-ed it through the Trevi Fountain? For the second time, I stand still, say nothing, and just look.
That is not the only adventure of the night. When I was a little kid and we went to Italy all the time, my dad used to take me hitch-hiking. My mum disapproved but went along with it, because sometimes in Italy that is the fastest way to get somewhere. Suffice it to say that, still quite tipsy in the Piazza Venezia at 3:30am, I knew what to do. Soberly, the next day, I was frankly staggered to still be alive. But I was, and I got a lift with a really nice guy called Fabio who works at a restaurant in the Piazza Navona, and who drove me home past the Colosseum in the dark and under a massive sign on a railway bridge, appropriately advertising a place called “BINGO TRASTEVERE!”
Broman Holiday – Tuesday, 13:05
I cannot face the Vatican Museums. I know one day, as a Museum Goer by hobby, I have to face them but today is not that day. I am completely ready to mooch off and have a bit of quiet and go to the Ara Paxis Museum by myself. And then one of my friends says he’ll come with me.
We go along the book stalls by the Tiber and I buy some film postcards. We see the Ara Paxis in a little Museum that’s like a very small version of The Met and is full of aircon, and I do feel very peaceful. We go back out into the hot day and go straight to Giolitti’s. We mega-conscientisciously throw 5 cents each into the Trevi Fountain so that we can come back. We race each other up the Spanish steps – which was as disastrous as you’d expect. You don’t feel it when you’re running up, but it hits you all at once when you’re at the top. You turn around and see the height you’ve suddenly ascended to and it makes you dizzy. I leant against the little wall, leaning forwards and out of breath, swooning into the view, thinking “This is how it ends. This is how you’re going to be chalked up on that great scoreboard in the sky – you’ve done yourself in trying to imitate the scene in the Louvre from Bande à Part when you’re not even in Paris.” And I’m still laughing at the same time, we both are, semi-hysterical, both out of breath and heaving laughs out; “We’re ridiculous, we’re so disgusting, we look like idiots-…”
Leaving – Wednesday, 11:10
Due to a planning screw-up, I don’t see any of my friends the morning I leave. There is no cinematic reference I can think of to elegantly frame low-key sobbing behind your sunglasses to the Italian radio in an Uber your booked to the airport in a panic. I’ve tried it out since, and yeah, I can’t hear O Sole Mio without crying now.
I don’t know why I was crying, everything just felt so much, and I was tired and a little bit mad but I still didn’t want to leave. There was so much I didn’t see and do, and a half said goodbye over a shared can of Peroni, is no goodbye at all.