I am back in Rome and in quarantine for two weeks. I look at the city from my window and long to get back out there and embrace it. To cheer myself up as I wait, I resort to a tradition that my friends John, Julia and I created during lockdown. We sent images or a sentence to “pick each other up” and called them Tiramisu. I asked my friends Ilaria and Alessandra and my brother Giorgio to share memories and favorite moments with me and with you. I am delighted by the many facets of love for Rome and would really like to know what you would add…
Traditions and Humour
Il Rito del Cocomero – The Watermelon Ritual
At the beginning of each summer, which for us Romans does not necessarily correspond to June 21 but to the first day to hit 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and 70% humidity, the much-awaited Operazione Cocomero – Operation Watermelon strikes at my house. Phase One consists of cooking and eating everything in the fridge to create space, and then we (my husband Giulio and our kids Francesco and Livia) go on our expedition to buy the first watermelon of the year at Pasquale’s fruit stand. In the summer, watermelon stands appear all over Rome, but Pasquale has earned our trust on this most serious matter and we would never betray him. In Italian, his sign rhymes enticingly: Solo da Pasquale il Cocomero Speciale; there are always lots of people at every hour of the day and night eating big slices on the spot, and he even provides proper knives and buckets/spittoons for the seeds. Our standards are set in stone: very large on the outside and very red on the inside. As soon as we get home, cradling our watermelon lovingly in our arms like a bambinello – a new-born baby, we obviously realize it will never fit in our fridge. Every year we make the same desperate attempts, everyone suggests a different strategy, “try this angle”; “push a little harder that way”. In the end we resign to the inevitable and someone always says, with the grave tone of wisdom and fatalism acquired over many years, “oh well, who cares, it’s gonna be good anyway”!
Ornithological Encounters in the Eternal City
The passing of the seasons in Rome is marked by many delightful things we always look out for: the wisteria and the poppies in the Forum, the scent of jasmine in the alleys in the evening, storms of starlings creating incredible patterns in the Autumn sky. In recent years, the Roman seagull population has increased exponentially, and many show a specific interest in archaeology by nesting in the Roman Forum. We always greet the arrival of the chicks with enthusiasm and find them incredibly cute but then – ahimè – alas – they grow up, all the cuteness vanishes, and we find ourselves in a Hitchcock scene! One of the worst mishaps that a guide can incur is to be pooped on by a bird while waxing poetic over an ancient Roman temple in the Forum. If the bird happens to be a seagull, it is fair to define it a catastrophe! Yes, it happened to me and I remember it for the great embarrassment but especially for the kindness of the travelers who were with me and came to my rescue with wet wipes and comforting words, the second more effective than the first…
Unconscious Roman Humor
The Romans are mostly very willing to help, especially foreign travelers they assume to be lost and in need of precise directions. Many years ago, a very dear friend of mine, known for his very scarce command of English and ignoranza proverbiale, proverbial ignorance of his city’s cultural heritage, met a foreigner who was looking for the Circo Massimo – the Circus Maximus – the site of ancient Rome’s chariot races. Maybe because this happened in a suburb way outside the city center or because of the man’s uncertain pronunciation, my friend understood “cErco Massimo”. That one vowel difference changes the meaning to “I am looking for Massimo”, a very common first name here. In Italian nome is the first name and cognome is the last name. My friend was rather perplexed but sincerely wanted to help locate this Massimo person. Trusting that the substantial difference between English and Italian is that Italian words end with vowels, he decided that dropping the vowel would automatically produce English, and proceeded to ask, “Do you know the cognom?” I like to imagine the two of them, my friend and the hapless traveler he wanted to rescue, wandering around to this day in search of Massimo…
I was born and raised in Roma and lived there half of my life. I try to go back to what I will always call home at least once if not twice a year. Unfortunately, in this difficult 2020 this cannot be, so favorite memories have an even bigger value for me than ever.
The Pine Trees
Every time I return home, as the plane descends towards Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport, after an overnight flight from New York, still coming out of sleep, I always rejoice the exact moment my eyes first catch sight of the Roman pine trees. Some line the roads, others form pinete, dense pine woods, and are an absolutely identifying trait of the Roman area. I often shed a tear or two of emotion at this so familiar view since it brings me closer to my loved ones, my family, my friends, my Roma. As a background of an ancient aqueduct or other marvels of the city’s glorious past, the sight of the tall pines always feel like a warm Roman welcome, especially at dusk when they form dark silhouettes against the sky, after the beautiful colors of sunset are gone. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. As little kids, my sister Francesca and I used to pick the pine-nuts (pinoli) that popped out of the pine-cones when they smashed to the ground. We used to fill a dedicated toy bucket and eat them one by one; I can still hear the sound of the hammer as we cracked them and offered the best ones to each other, a cherished memory from my childhood.
My First Roman Meal
One of the moments I enjoy the most even if I am alone. It is always at lunch, when my sister and all my friends are usually working and plans to meet them have been already made for later in the day.
After having settled, showered and changed, with huge excitement and a smile across my face I head towards one of my favorite restaurants in the Prati neighborhood, close to the Vatican. It’s called l’Isola della Pizza but they make everything. I go there also to see my favorite waiter, Lello, an incredibly kind and hardworking man. After the usual hugs and kisses and sincere joy of seeing each other again, I sit at my table. I love this moment; it is the best because my whole vacation is ahead of me and all the stress has been left behind.
I love lunch in Rome, it is always relaxed and a great transition to the evening meals with friends and family that always get chaotic and loud. I have my antipasto, usually a huge buffalo mozzarella with either cantaloupe or Prosciutto di Parma. With my lightly fizzy acqua minerale and a chilled white house wine, I finally look around in total happiness. Lello brings me some complimentary specialties from the owner’s farm, and the laughing and joking between us and people at the other tables he serves has a true Roman vibe for me, and always feels easy and genuine.
Then comes…The Gricia, my favorite Roman pasta: a hearty and deceptively simple dish made with pork cheek, cheese and black pepper. I end with an espresso and a couple of biscotti that send me off to my two-hour nap so that I will be ready for the late afternoon and evening’s intense social schedule of fun with family and friends.
My soccer team since I was born is A.S. Roma. I grew up walking distance from the Stadio Olimpico and I could hear the crowd cheering and roaring even before going there with my first flag at age 5 with my dad. If you are a true Romano you can only be a Romanista. The team has the name of the city and its identifying colors , purple and gold/ yellow and red. I remember arguing with other children in elementary school who were born in Rome yet went for the second team- Lazio – a non-worthy team with pale, discolored blue and white jerseys, or for the team of another city. It was unacceptable for me even at age 6, it just made no sense! I try to go to the stadium with my friends every time I am in Rome if the season is on, in the Curva Sud where the warmest fans are.
In New York I have the great fortune to follow games with appropriate participation thanks to my friend Sue who founded the ” “Lupi di New York“, the Wolves of New York
In Rome, we sing our anthem Roma Roma, along with the entire stadium before the match, and Grazie Roma at the end, no matter the result, and, again, I get goosebumps every single time. We chant and yell as homemade panini and surprisingly elaborate food is passed around and shared -Francesca remembers going with me as a child and envying the lasagna people a few rows down had brought. This experience is intense because, as devoted sports fans know, when the players come onto the pitch, they are not just a team, they are Roma, the spirit of the place, challenging the contender.
Rome has always been so much more than a city for me. It is soul and it is heart, it instills incredible, deep energy and emotions in me. It is like a second mother that opens her arms to me every single time it sees me, just like those pine trees that greet me and tell me…sei a casa – you are home!
A Bike Rider’s Whimsical Impressions
On a very silent afternoon as I was riding my bike on the ancient Appian Way, I stopped by the gate of the Quintili Villa. It was closed so I looked through the bars of the gate and was hypnotized by the sight of this window open onto the Roman countryside, and by a twig which kept on swaying in the soft breeze. That window was not only open on the countryside but on the past that never ceases to amaze us in a city like Rome.
I love the light of Rome: soft and with a shade of amber. It emphasizes Rome’s breathtaking beauty.
A bike ride in company of the ancestors: ancient and new technology live together.
It’s mind boggling…
As I stood there I was under the impression that I could meet somebody from 2000 years ago. What would they say, looking at me on a modern “iron horse” with a helmet and pants? I wonder if my familiarity with them, after so many years of studying and guiding, would allow me to be less surprised then they would be if I appeared to them suddenly from the future. I daydream about that as I ride along the arches of the ancient aqueduct, wishing such an encounter could really happen…