I love Rome. I even find it relaxing. I treat the city as if its whole point were lunch. This attitude is relaxing for Benedict Ambrose because in Rome I don't care what we do or where we go just as long as we are in a tried-tested-and-true trattoria by 1 PM. In fairness to B.A. and history, I should admit that this wifely equilibrium was some years in the making. I have been to Rome eight times now, nine if you count just waiting in the railway station.
Even the trips into and out of Rome have improved. We fly to Ciampino, and we take the shuttle bus (4.50 euros each) to Roma Termini railway/bus station: no problem. When it is time to go back to Termini, we find a cab and ask the driver, "Trenta euro?" Thirty euros is the set price for Ciampino, so if the driver argues, we leave. We have learned to ask BEFORE we get into the cab.
On one memorable occasion, I got out of the cab shouting and made the crook take the luggage out of the trunk. This was at Termini, so the crowd of other cab drivers watched the drama with interest and one immediately offered us his services. When in Rome, do as Romans do: shout, refuse to be taken advantage of and embarrass the poor British onlooker with your opera diva antics. Meanwhile, the risk of an argument with a rip off artist is worth the avoidance of the bus back to Ciampino. The timetable confusion and the crowds of anxious tourists is insupportable.
Last Wednesday we arrived in Rome on the bullet train from Florence and had the new challenge of going straight into the city without buying a two-week rail pass. (Normally we stay in a seaside town and commute.) Fortunately, I remembered that you can always buy bus tickets at tobacconists' stands, so I led B.A. to one in Termini. After the signora had finished selling a whole roll of lottery tickets to the elderly person in front of me, I explained that we wanted bus tickets, but only for one trip. (For the first time in ten days, no Polish slipped out.)
The signora understood exactly what we wanted, and they cost only 3 euros the pair. We joyfully sped towards the buses and took the 64 towards S Andrea delle Valle. (We would have taken the 40, but while we hesitated, a million people all crammed into it at once. ) There was some marital comedy as I watched for landmarks and B.A. offered erroneous information as to our whereabouts. In about eight more years, he will finally believe that not only do I know the 64 route, I know the way to the Ponte Sisto and, therefore, Trastevere.
Anyway, after more marital comedy involving a map and the drizzle, we turned up at the door of our two-night rental flat, pushed the buzzer and had no reply. The aged building in which the flat has been carved faced a bakery on one side and other aged flats on the other. The streets were narrow, wet and cobble-stoned. They shone under the streetlamps. It had grown dark, and it was all very romantic except that my phone wouldn't make real calls in Italy, and I was furious at the landlord's agent's no-show.
I began to text a message while facing the stubbornly locked door, and while we were helplessly standing there, along came an African street vendor. He began immediately to chat up B.A. with the opening "Where are you from? Are you from Africa?"
B.A., being Scottish, took this as good-humoured banter. B.A. will banter with anyone. He is a kindly person and hates to appear rude or stand-offish. Also, the ability to banter back is good defense against drunken and/or class-chippy Scottish drunks. I have seen him win over a gang of the latter by bantering with the former. I, having an "American" accent, kept my mouth shut and merely admired.
"No," said non-African B.A to the African vendor last week in Trastevere. "Ha ha ha."
"Where are you from?"
"I'm from Scotland. Ha ha ha."
I have never enjoyed seeing Ecuadorian pan-pipers in the streets of Edinburgh or Africans selling fake designer handbags in Rome. Both have become fixtures, and no doubt someone thinks the Ecuadorians are as Scottish as bacon butties and the Africans as Italian as fear of air-conditioning. I, however, think they are a pain in the tuchus.
"Where are you from?" asked the pain in the tuchus of me--at least, I think he did. His questioning was accompanied by violent poking of my upper arm, which made me see and hear red.
"Non mi toccare!" I snarled without a moment's hesitation or trace of Polish, and to my surprise, the PITT stopped at once.
"Scusa, scusa!" he said and walked swiftly away. I looked after him with rancour.
"Non mi toccare," I said again, rather aggressively.
"Scusa, scusa!" he repeated and quickened his pace.
A South-Asian shopkeeper chatting with neighbours in the street asked us if he could help, and then did so by shouting "Ingrid! Ingrid!" to an open window across from us, ringing her doorbell, and calling her on his mobile. After some delay, a Far East Asian head appeared in the window, and I shouted at it that we were us. The head disappeared again, and after a suspiciously long delay, a youngish Far East Asian lady appeared. I was livid that we had been left in the street to be poked by a street vendor, so B.A. did the talking (in English), being polite and "paying the taxes", going downstairs with Ingrid to the South-Asian's shop to change our 20 Euro note, the hapless Ingrid having no change.
It was a nice little flat with VIEWS, a big white bed and the latest British Instyle magazine. The rooms were scrupulously clean, with a tiny-but-adequate kitchenette up one step, and a tiny-but-adequate bathroom three steps up from that. Contemplation of its perfections restored my equilibrium, and I was amused by the very Roman shouting up at windows.
B.A. and I soon went out to meet a friend on the Ponte Sisto and be taken by him to some joint back across the Tiber where we had supper. On the way we spied a Scots College seminarian we know eating supper outdoors with two Scots College chaps, one in a collar, and he looked extremely surprised to see us. There were introductions, attempts at plans, regrets regarding busyness, and then we continued on, with waiters shouting "Eat here, Father," at our non-clerical pal.
We had a good bottle of wine, aubergine (eggplant) parmesan and an absolutely delicious amaretto semi-freddo. Then we went back to the Ponte Sisto, said good-bye to our friend, and went directly to bed.
The next day was our one full day in Rome, and we made it count by sleeping in and lying in bed reading. Eventually we got it together and went to the bakery across the street for croissants and to the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere for cappuccino and a visit to its world-famous Chiesa. Next we went to the less famous Chiesa di Santa Dorothea so I could have a chat with my patron saint, whose bones are in a little box under the high altar. Then we marched along the Tiber towards Vatican City to have coffee with a curial pal and his wife.
While we were having coffee, the heavens opened and the Mediterranean fell on Rome. Rain in Edinburgh is a half-hearted, drizzly affair. Rain in Rome is vertical machine gun fire. After coffee, B.A. and I took refuge in S. Spiritu in Sasso, the Divine Mercy church, which has a ginormous photograph of St. JP2, and then--when the church closed for lunch--hid in the colonnade of an 18th century ospedale. When the rain let up a little, I marched us straight to our favourite restaurant--in the Piazza Pasquino--and hoped B.A. was thoroughly impressed with my unerring sense of direction.
Lunch was divine.
After lunch we discovered our old internet-printing stand-by across from S. Andrea delle Valle was SHUT (horrors), so after a fruitless search for another, we went back to our flat for a nap. When we emerged, we found the neighbourhood internet joint, printed off our airline tickets with help from the Filipino manager, and went in search of the Tempietto, a bit of High Renaissance perfection over the spot where St. Peter was crucified. We found it, but the gates to the courtyard were already locked, so we admired the structure through the bars before turning around and finding our way to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at Santissima Trinitá.
After Mass we picked up a few groceries and had a small dinner back at our flat and, being old, did not rush out into the wet darkness to partake of the noisy Trasteveran nightlife, but stayed in and read magazines until we went to sleep. On the way back, I had noticed an largish young American man who was sitting in bar speaking rapid, fluent Italian to a young Italian man, and I contemplated how many people from different countries now make their home in Rome (especially Trastevere), which is a return--I imagine--to the days of the ancient Empire.
The next day, we got up at 7. I washed the dishes and tidied up, and then we hiked through the pouring rain to the taxi stand near the Teatro Argentina. ("Trenta euro?") The driver, a friendly young chap, drove us down the Old Appian Way towards Ciampino, The traffic was nevertheless so terrible, we tipped him 5 euros.
I was divested of my big bottle of Felice Azzuro talcum powder at security by a tutting guard. "But it's not a liquid," I wailed, but only half-heartedly. I was once caught with a 200 mL of sun lotion, and the lady guard looked at me as if I had murdered a child.
And that was our short and rather leisurely visit to Rome.
In light of Europe's migration crisis, some further observations may be pertinent. Although certainly multiracial, I would not say that Rome is as yet obviously multicultural--at least not when you leave the area around Termini. There I saw a tall African chap in full Islamic garb--white prayer cap, white thob. I also saw a very ragged looking African man sitting on the pavement with his pipe-cleaner legs stuffed into boots. He had an open box of biscuits to his left and a quarter-full bottle of some orange liquid to his right, so at least he had food--of a sort. Meanwhile, although it was over 80 F the man was wearing a winter coat. His head was huddled over his knees, and I thought that whatever he had expected when he left for Europe, it surely was not this.