Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

August 7, 2004 Rome on a quiet day.

Rome is very quiet today – well, it’s quiet now that I’ve gotten away form the mob scene at St. Peter’s, which at ten in the morning was packed with groups of tourists being herded through the vast church. I joined a free English tour led by a very chipper young English girl who peppered her talk with jokes and wisecracks. I feel a bit as if I’m living the movie of A Room With A View, ambling through a city pakced with foreigners with their maps and their guidebooks (though no Baedekers). In St. Peter’s our cheery guide got into a spat with a snappish Italian woman giving tourist in heavily accented English. More shades of A Room With A View. The Italian wanted our guide to quiet down and move us along; she told first her group and then ours that our guide was strictly unofficial, illegal, and had no right to be there. I asked our guide; she said the Italians get angry at the native speaker guides, who draw the best crowds because their English is so much easier on the ears. I guess that’s another subculture – English girls who drift to Italy and end up leading tours around the city.

In A Room With A View the characters self-consciously have adventures. Yesterday I suppose I had a little adventure myself – this starts to seem like a parody of Forster after a while. Goodness, I was even kissed by an Italian – though it was hardly grand romance on a flower-strewn hillside overlooking Florence. Rather not, I think. I went for a walk quite early, having hopped out of bed at six a.m. I wandered through sleeping streets of Trastevere, where only a few people were up and about. A thin old lady in jade green pants emerged from a doorway and shuffled past. Two men on motorbikes rode past and parked. A cat ran away from me and hid under a car, but then came back to sniff, and then ran up to me to rub her head on my legs every time I stopped to take a picture. As I took a photo in an especially charming piazza, an old man sitting outside a caffé waved me over and invited me to sit down. In my best Italian, I told him I didn’t speak the language, so he asked where I was from. “Bush! Kerry!” was his reply. My Italian sufficed to make my preferences clear. He didn’t seem to like either of them. He asked if I wanted a coffee, which I accepted. He bought two coffees and a pastry, which he offered in sign language to share with me. Maybe a coffee and half a pastry made a fair trade for him planting a kiss on my cheek and trying to put his arm around me? I dodged the arm and went on my way.

As I started by saying, today it’s very quiet. I can’t say the Romans have left for the weekend – I don’t think there were any here to start with. From St. Peter’s I made my way up a long and uninteresting street that bordered a park – but with no way to get into the park till I made it up to the top of the long hot hill. From the Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi was a sweeping panorama to the east – which I’ll admit would have been more exciting if I hadn’t seen several other sweeping panoramas yesterday, all of them in the height of the day when the sun was at its strongest and the light at its worst for photos. I found a cool bench in the shade and ate nectarines that dripped onto my fingers and my shirt. Eventually I made my way down the hill through narrow back streets where I might even have seen a few genuine Romans having a midday meal at the neighborhood restaurant. At any rate they were speaking Italian, and there were no maps in sight. Finding a little bar and caffé in the shade of a building, I settled in with a dish of ice cream.

And here I am still. The proprietor of the caffé is a smiling middle-aged woman in a dark green waitress uniform, who wandered out a little while ago licking a cone of her own ice cream. From a postcard shop next door, a little white dog came trotting over to me and stared up with big round eyes. When I reached out to pet her, she licked a few sweet drips off my fingers. The owner of the shop came after her calling, “Mimi, Mimi!” Finally she picked up the dog and took her inside. Tourists drift past reading their guidebooks and studying their maps. A small boy passed by and entered the caffé, then left with an espresso in a small plastic cup, clearly sent to pick it up for someone else. A few tourists are resting their feet on the steps of the fountain in the middle of the piazza. I can’t see the fountain, but I hear a steady stream of water splashing. To my right, an older English couple has finished their ice creams and is deciding where to go next. The mailman just came to empty the postbox nearby. Two men have sat down on a ledge next to the building opposite me and are mixing paint in a bucket. Maybe they are going to paint over the graffiti scarring the wall? A slender Japanese woman with hair swaying below her hips just left my caffé and strolled up the street. Two French women passed discussing whether a bike would be the right way to get around Rome. Everyone looks tired out from the heat and the sun. Or maybe it’s just me, with my muscles aching from climbing hundreds of steps to see all those views?

The painters across the street are mixing, testing, waiting to see if the paint will dry the right color for them to cover the graffiti. The proprietor of my caffé is watching, and a man from the gallery across the street, and a waiter from the restaurant down the block. I guess they all want the graffiti gone, and they all want to comment on the paint colors. One of the painters has settled in to a table at my caffé, watching the paint dry. Another woman has come by to offer her thoughts on the matter. It’s going to take three men half a day to paint that wall, just testing and waiting for it to dry and testing again. I hope it works.

A man opening a shop next door is setting up things that block my view of the piazza – placards and prints on swiveling racks and a trite print in a hideous frame. I guess that’s my cue to head out myself.

Continue to the next entry.

Return home.

Unless otherwise indicated all text and photos on this site ©Joy E. Hecht.

p.s. I passed by later in the day. The graffiti was pretty well hidden, though if you looked closely you could see that it had been covered. Not too bad. I wonder how long it took them.