If the pavement steams, church bells ring, everything around is chaotic, and floral-printed dresses dazzle your eyes, then Congratulations. It’s summer, and you are in Rome. You’re in the city where Caesars, Gladiators, impressionist painters, skater teens, and middle-aged people with weary eyes all walk together with nowhere to go.
It often crosses my mind, does everyone get as zealous as me before traveling? I always count down the hours and stay up for several nights ’till I leave. The worn out phrase, “Happiness is in the details,” never made sense to me, but when the plane is about to take off, and I see the fragmentary view of violet skies, then the meaning of this saying makes sense.
Whenever I think about the time I spent in Rome, the human ability to keep precious memories alive amazes me. It’s impossible to come up with any other way to explain how thoroughly I can recall the color of people’s clothes, the way they walk, my building code, and even the neighbors.
The neighbor’s cat sat on the balcony for hours being covered in the smoke of it’s mother’s cigarette, hypnotically sedated. Like the house I stayed at, there are many others built of red bricks in Rome. In the golden hours of sunsets, the sky appeared to burn to ashes, giving all of its liveliness to the night, and drowning in the sorrow briskness of the city.
Returning from Italy, people would ask me about my experience. With so much to say, there’s always a certain sentence I use as a response:
“IF YOU COULD SQUEEZE THE WHOLE WORLD INTO ONE CITY, YOU’D GET ROME.”
I know that this concept is difficult to understand because of its intangibility. The experience is something you must touch with your bare hands, something you must hear, watch, and smell. You must sit on the steps of Spanish Stairs and breathe in the air, streaked by people’s laughter, just physically existing in the same world, together. Everyone around speaks different languages, and still we understand each other without words.
Did I forget to mention that Rome is the city of street artists? People relentlessly dance the Tarantella on one side of the street while the sounds of Hotel California flood the other. In this total madness, painters aren’t minding anyone or anything. Men and women walk around them, clock arms turn endlessly, and painters continue to paint, simply and stubbornly.
Massive buildings and astonishing paintings might make you mistake that there is nothing modern about Rome. That’s exactly when you head to Tor Marancia. Going there feels like mankind finally learnt how to time travel. It’s both odd and satisfying to see how people look through the windows of the building painted in contemporary urban style.
That’s the first time I felt a day in the life of this city, the routine of everyday. I’ll never forget people’s surprised faces when I took pictures of their homes. They couldn’t realize how special and culturally vibrant Tor Marancia can be to someone new, yet these people’s attitude didn’t disappoint me, for it’s easy to take for granted the valuable things in our lives without truly acknowledging them in the first place.
As many others, I finished my journey at the Trevi Fountain. From the very first minute of coming to Rome, I saved a coin a day for the fountain. The crowd there was larger than expected. Perhaps, just like me, others wanted to throw coins into the fountain and leave with the hope of coming back some day.
I threw in my coins: one, two, three, four, and five. I later learned the local legend, one coin means coming back, two coins mean finding your soulmate, three coins mean a wedding, four coins bring you fortune, but five coins are a sign of eternal separation. But, legends are called legends because they’re not always true, right?
The day I was to leave Rome, I witnessed the most beautiful blooming sunset I have ever seen. My eyes caught a bookseller from the banks of the Tiber. As I looked at him, I realized that he would go on with his life as if I had never been there. The bookseller would sell books, meet new people, and go home to his theoretical family each evening. Unknowingly, thoughts about those five coins, parting from Rome forever, my neighbor’s cat, and the brick-red house all crossed my mind. For a split second, I was scared, fearing I’d never have the chance to see Rome again.
Once I returned to my country, however, I became aware of how pointless my fear was. You only leave a place when you don’t keep some part of it tucked in your mind and soul forever. I took the steam and the buzz and sorrow of Rome with me. Now, whenever the sun is about to set, and the world slowly showers itself with the night’s calmness, I’m reminded that a part of Rome lives in me, and a part of me lives there, somewhere near the booksellers and the narrow streets, between street musicians and tobacco stores.