We are on holiday this week. Sadly, not in Rome. Although the ultimate subject of this little essay will be featured during the week! Apologies if I don't get to anyone's blog to comment this week. These posts have been set up in advance.
There was only one thing on my ‘absolute musts’ list when I went to Rome and I was determined not to go home without experiencing it. I was fitting in the Eternal City around commitments on a business trip and it was hard to make time for the glories that I knew to be around me. As a first timer in the city I had researched as much as I could before setting off so that I would not waste a minute. I had a notebook full of ideas but only one thing had a big red star by it.
It would have been impossible to see everything in just a few days anyway, during snatched hours between report writing and emailing my office, but I managed to find a few of Rome’s gems. In The Pantheon, with its miraculous concrete dome that demonstrates the building skills of the ancients who established the city, I sat on a wooden seat and craned my head back to see a tiny hole so far above me. The roof sweeps upwards in a glorious curve, ending in a circular gap where the light passes in a bright column to the floor. The dome forms a perfect half sphere and I was so delighted by its geometry that I forgot myself and sat transfixed for quite a while. I had to keep rubbing my neck after I left because it hurt to look around at ground level.
I encountered the towering Trajan’s column with its carved details of the emperor’s war victories as I wandered near the Forum, deciding whether to spend time among the ruined market area or to continue my exploration of the Baroque city. I opted for the latter.
Rome has fountains, hundreds of fountains, and many are world famous. The largest is the Trevi, which even starred in movies and had a song named after it. The sculpture from which the water flows is probably beautiful, but the throng of tourists who gathered there made it impossible to tell. Traditionally, if you want to ensure that you will return to Rome you should throw a coin into this fountain and it is said you are bound to come back.
The elegant beauty of St Peter’s Square brought me close to tears with its sweeping colonnade, patterned paving and the imposing buildings of the Vatican. The Basilica itself is huge and ornate and slightly confusing, as if several churches have been thrown together. With other visitors I stood, pilgrim-like, before the Pieta, the wonderful sculpture of the Madonna weeping over the crucified body of her Son, in awe of the artist who created it, but ashamed that it now stands behind bullet-proof glass to protect it from vandals.
A restful stop along the way for a cool beer was chance to watch, while the well-dressed residents strolled by, or rode past on their ubiquitous little motor scooters. They ride, perfectly poised, with never a hair out of place. One woman rode pillion; side-saddle so she would not crease her immaculate skirt. On her lap was a small basket, from which peered a tiny dog, its hair tied up in an elegant ribbon bow.
The Colosseum has a Metro station right next to it, and I felt slightly off balance when I emerged from the dark tunnel and saw it ahead. It has such a familiar outline that it is somehow unreal when it is right in front of you. It is as if it should not actually exist except as a concept of Romanness.
Still I searched for what I believed to be the one essential thing in a trip to Rome, but it was not until my last night when I was lost in rambling, twisting streets that I spotted my goal. There it was, a small, hand-written sign, fixed to a batten on a crumbling brick wall. In front of it were two flimsy tables covered in red and white checked cloths. The paper was pinned up with a rusty thumb tack and many people would have passed it by without a second thought, but I knew I had found my holy grail. A broad smile spread across my face as I read: spaghetti vongole. I took a seat and enjoyed the best of Rome.