Friday, May 22, 2009

from Rome: red, white and orange

Rome is a handful of neighborhoods, slapped together on very lumpy terrain. Each is separate and distinct. Not at all like its neighbor. Some are so separate and distinct that they aren’t really part of Rome at all (the Vatican comes to mind, but also the hip and artsy Trastevere on the “other” bank – if you’re from Trastevere, you identify yourself as such, rather than saying that you are Roman).

Thursday was the day for neighborhoods on that “other” bank – the one that is at one end basically white (the Vatican)…


… and at the other -- burnt orange (Trastevere).



[Why do I include red in the subtitle? At least two reasons: my daughter’s roving form in red gave a rosy sheen to the entire day.


…and, I want to pick up on a comment from Ann’s blog [where she linked to Ocean Rome posts and a reader noted:

Those are excellent photos but they do little to covey the sensation of sheer terror that is the unavoidable price one pays for daring to walk near the street at rush hour.

Gratefully, the natives seem to understand this and hardly give a second glance at lame tourists like me inching their way along storefronts, gritting their teeth with their backs against the wall, hyperventilating pure auto exhaust and digging their fingernails into solid granite.

I read it and thought: how true. At any street crossing, there is always the possibility that blood will spill due to some unfortunate encounter with a car or motorbike. Crazy traffic is so much a part of life here. I’ll throw out this comparison between three cities – all with the law that on crosswalks, you must stop for pedestrians:

In Madison, drivers who know that this is the law do stop. Many drivers, especially those over, say, 80 and under, say 20, do not appear to know the law. Watch out for that demographic.

In Paris, they’re lambs dressed as wolves. They rev up engines and roar across the city, but if you’re bold and venture out on a crosswalk, they apply brakes quickly and stop. You can count on it.

In Rome, they are wolves. They roar across the city and come straight at you as you cross. They don’t slow down. They know the law and at some level they want you to live, so I do believe they will stop if you ignore their aggressive show of force, but to me, they’ve won the psychological battle. The only way to cross is to hide to the side of equally aggressive pedestrians and let them take the hit for you. After all, you’re the guest here.

While crossing the bridge toward that “other” bank, I note that an enterprising fellow is offering rides on his cycle-taxi.


I cannot imagine a more hellish way to see the city. Thankfully, my girl and I have strong legs. We avoid cars, cycles, all of it. We walk.]

Our other bank ramble has the necessary foods to keep us going. Pizza with porcini mushrooms and arugula, and fried zucchini blossoms on the side…



...and, continuing down the list of people’s favorite gelato places, we sample some on this side of the river, at the “Old Bridge.”


This time I pick strawberry and coffee.

We had made the decision to bypass the Vatican museums. Both of us had been here in the past and neither wanted to commit a day for it on this trip. If in my images of Rome I include the Vatican, it is also true that the Vatican isn’t merely a separate chapter of a book, it is an entirely separate book. And so we stroll through St. Peter’s Square, we admire, we comment on our memories of the place, take some photos, watch others take photos…


…and we move on, along the Tiber (so different in spring than in summer! You could almost think that you’re in Paris here, no?)…


… to Trastevere.


Trastevere is thankfully mostly a pedestrian zone (though apparently scooters have the same rights as I do, which truly is not fair as their horse power is not equal to my horse power, even after all that pasta and gelato). It is also very very pretty.


And if I said that I associate burnt orange with it, that perception is especially strong at evening time. At this café , everyone was drinking freshly squeezed juice, as if on cue. We dare not be different.


We poke into churches, rest just a little, walk up one street and down the next, taking it all in, taking photos, watching others -- indeed, entire families -- take photos...



... and finally, as the sun begins to disappear behind the tall Roman pines, we head up the hill behind Trastevere, to where the views are grand…


…and the parks are expansive, with ample opportunities for more strolling…


...or solitary book reading under the pines...


…and the roar of the city grows to a very quiet hum, which is sort of remarkable, given the mess of cars and motors out there, in the gut of the city.

We eat dinner up here, west of Tevere at Antico Arco. Gnocchi with seafood, meats, wine from the region and this for dessert – with a touch of saffron. A perfectly orange moment.


The walk back to the hotel is long from here. But we’re not going to wilt now. Down the hill, across the river, up another hill. People are still out and about, still eating, now in the shadows of the night, white shirts against the deep orange-red walls of an ancient city.


It’s midnight. Shoes off, white sheet pulled loosely against the cooler night, I fall asleep.