My Neighborhood is My Oyster

Walking Through New Doors

(Continued from last week’s blog post)

I miss the Tree.  I miss the Crows.  I miss the old apartment.  I miss having a designated parking spot (posto auto).  I miss my old neighborhood.  I miss my old newsstand, my local Tigre supermarket, and the bar (coffee shop) we’d go to Saturday mornings after doing our morning errands and shopping.  I miss:  going to the nearby open air market for produce, getting the newspaper at the edicola, stopping for a cornetto and capuccino breakfast along the way, carrying on to maybe pay a bill at the tabacchi or pick up mended shoes at the calzolaio, popping in to the pet-store to get cat food, così just doing regular Saturday things.  I miss all of that.  While it is true that I can do all of that here where I live now, it’s not the same.  It’s all new.  It’s starting over.  Beginning again.  It’s hard to be a beginner.      

I remember how foreign everything was when we first moved to Rome.  I didn’t understand a thing and was totally confused for weeks.  Everything was complicated and difficult to decipher, and it all seemed impenetrable, from the rules to the protocol to the language to the people.  Rome seemed unconquerable.  I had been to Italy several times previously, and like so many children of the Italian diaspora, believed that my heritage and the smattering of phrases I had learned growing up would somehow fast-track me into integrating into life here.  Not so.  I knew nothing.  It didn’t help that it was so hot and humid the day we landed here.  Pro-tip:  don’t ever move to Italy during Ferragosto.  Not only is it horrible weather but everything is closed for the summer season.  Everything.  Markets, shops, restaurants.  Not downtown of course where tourists get to roam freely, unaware of the ritual of fleeing from the city’s unbearable heat, walking around dehydrated and mosquito-bit entranced nonetheless by the beauty of Rome.  But other than supermarkets and pharmacies and the random corner store, everything is closed.  It’s too hot to work and everyone deserves a vacation anyway.  So setting up house jet-lagged, confused, and sweaty is not ideal.  It took till the end of September to really get a sense of my neighborhood because only by then was everything back up and running after the summer break.  

I came to love my old neighborhood.  It was so well located, near a subway stop and various bus lines, near two parks, a private clinic, an open air market, the main avenue was lined in shops and boutiques, there were several pharmacies, multiple fruit stands and small grocery stores, a few specialty food shops, lots of churches, and even a couple of ancient ruins.  C’era tutto , anything and everything you wanted you could find.  It was like a little village, un piccolo paese.  The thing is that all neighborhoods in Rome are like that, each neighborhood is its own little microcosmos and you never have to leave it if you don’t want to.  Weeks could go by and I wouldn’t leave my little village, not even to go down to centro storico to gorge on the beauty of downtown Rome.  I was busy making friends with my new home and settling in.  

I’ve written about this before, my old neighborhood was the perfect place to spend the Pandemic.  Everything we needed, all of those essential services allowed during the early weeks of lockdown were just blocks away from the apartment.  Being able to walk to get my food gave me such a sense of safety during that time.  I remember feeling such gratitude for that.  I still do.  It is possible that I trauma-bonded with my old neighborhood, afterall Italy was the first to impose the strictest lockdown measures in Europe, and after weeks of not being able to leave our apartment but for essential services, well, my neighborhood became my world.  

Of course I will soon come to love my new neighborhood.  I’m looking forward to exploring it, finding my new favorite café, newstand, corner store.  Soon enough this will be home and my old neighborhood will be a far-off village I see on the horizon: a place I once called home.   

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