Roma, 10 febbraio 2021
Dear R. ~
Because today was one of those splendidly sunny days that are so Rome, the sun using some sort of filter that makes the sky that particular shade of Roman blue, and since it’s been a week of rain, I knew I had to go downtown, go in centro to enjoy it. The morning was gorgeous, bright and crisp, and like Charlotte’s Web it spelled RADIANT all over Rome. I try to take a neighborhood walk daily no matter the weather, Covid regulations permitting of course, but today’s light was particularly dazzling and it just needed an equally dramatic backdrop. I chose to go to Piazza Navona where the light reflecting off of the white marble Bernini fountain would give me more than my daily dose of Vitamin D. The collection of peach and orange colored buildings that border the expansive piazza are also classic Rome and make the scene that much more beautiful.
I drove in and found a probably not so legal parking spot right at the bottom of the Pincian Hill. I wanted a longer than usual walk to get my exercise in and walked from there through Piazza del Popolo ending up at Piazza Navona. Because Friday is the start to the weekend the police had barricades up controlling the flow of people and cars on Via del Corso into the heart of downtown as per the new safety measures. I walked along the Via di Ripetta because I love pretending I’m on my way to class at the nearby Accademia di Belle Arti, even though it is currently closed due to you know what, and as usual I lingered at the few art supply stores that are on that stretch, just window shopping, because I’m still building up courage to go in there one day and purchase a charcoal pencil, or a pastel set, or gouache paint like I know what I’m doing. I carried on past the Mausoleum of Augustus – actually reopening in March for tours after almost a decade of repairs– running along the Tiber through the few blocks of upscale boutiques, novelty stores and food specialty shops on the edge of the Field of Mars neighborhood. I passed a gaggle of journalists in front of Palazzo Madama, the Senate Building, surrounding the leader of the right-leaning Lega political party, completely hypnotized by him. I briefly considered going to the Pantheon, just a block to my left, but it’s also closed right now of course, otherwise I would have gone in because I usually just can’t help it. Passing the San Luigi dei Francesi church where my favorite Caravaggio painting hangs, I finally crossed Corso del Rinascimento and walked into the light-filled expanse that is Piazza Navona. It is even more light-filled now without the crowds, sunlight seemingly bursting from the Fontana dei Fiumi, the fountain spraying rainbows of light. No longer trampled by tourists, tender grass blades dare grow between the cobblestones and I too dare sit on a bench to soak in the sun, furtively lowering my mask a tad to literally catch my breath (the price we pay for the luxury of Rome to ourselves without tourists is huffing and puffing in our own CO2 as we run from one monument to another in disbelief that the city is so empty) just a bit before the policeman walks over and kindly asks me to keep moving. I allow my eyes to slowly climb up the Obelisk of Domitian and land on the symbolic dove that eternally sits at the top.
While this under two mile walk might seem decadent, wading through history’s timeline just to catch some rays on a whim (yes pinch me I’m not dreaming and yes I am grateful and yes like all Romans I have paid my dues to live here too – did you read my letter about the trash situation here??) for me it is still marking an X on the city: I was here. I am here, and often I am still in awe. I am still learning how to get around, figuring the city out. It is still an exercise for me, not totally familiar yet and certainly not a routine yet. For me living here, three years now, still feels like a field trip, and yes there is awe and fireworks, like falling in love over and over again, but I do have to work for it, it isn’t easy navigating Rome, understanding how it works, learning the language, reading the people. I dream of becoming a Roman one day, of belonging to this city, of fully knowing it. I crave having a regular routine like everyone else here, I want to have somewhere to be, something to do that defines me, play my part, makes it so that I belong, makes this my home. That’s what I am looking for. I want to be like all the people I saw today out and about, going to the post office to pick up their monthly pension, walking their elderly mother to the corner store, going into their usual bar, the one where Enzo knows how you take your caffé because it’s always been that way.
Nel frattempo, in the meantime, I wish you were here,