It seems I’ve developed a rather interesting and expensive habit. Every 5 years I go to Rome. Seriously, in October for the last 10 years I have made 3 visits there. And interestingly enough, despite thousands of years of history, it seems to grow with me. A very compassionate city to take such a small insignificant being into account. Of course I’m being facetious, but it really does feel that way.
The first time I went to Rome I was 30 kilos overweight and about the same amount lacking in self-confidence. I had just deferred uni, switched courses and took 10 weeks in Europe to find myself. Unfortunately, I had a budget of only 6 euros a day which meant sleeping wherever I could find a spot and “finding myself” had to be squeezed in between finding a cheap place to stay, someone kind enough to share a meal with and of course cheep booze. Italy with its kind people and cheap (excellent) pizzas and wine made a great spot and I spent a lot of time there. Remarkably, the Rome I saw then was boldly naive and full of nervous excitement. Vibrant cobble stones streets, gold lamp light masked an underlying sense of awe at the first real glimpse of Europe. Full of white-marble majesty and monolithic skeletons with stories, histories and ghosts that I was just beginning to understand.
The second time I went to Rome- bizarrely I can barely remember it at all. But this is often the case when one doesn’t want to remember. It was foggy, rainy and I was sharing a dorm room with my then fiancé and 3 Spanish dudes who would turn the light on at 5 am after a serious night partying. My mind was foggy, confused and I had no more idea where I was going in my life than I did wandering those ancient streets. I remember being cold and wanting to pretend everything was fuzzy and warm when it wasn’t. I solved the problem of being woken up by unscrewing the light bulb on the second night, leaving me with my thoughts as the Spaniards fumbled around confused by the lack of light. A few months later I flicked off the switch on that period in my life. I have to fumble around in the recesses of my mind for something that at one time probably felt real and lucid. But such it is with all ancient history. We choose what it was, what should be remembered and what can be let go of.
Third time’s a charm, so they say and this time I again saw my own reflection in Rome. Mostly I smiled, when clutching a glass of processco in a quaint, friendly bar or with the first bite into the fluffy white heaven of fresh foccaccia. I laughed with the loud, incomprehensible, irrepressible Italians. I got irritated at the pushy rose salesmen or my inability to stay calm and live fully in the moment. Always pushing myself to see more, walk further and not accept maybe I was in the best part of my trip - even when I usually was. I saw Rome’s flaws and beauty that were both skin deep- flaky stucco and torn-up roads hit by dazzling light- and at the same time as eternal as the monuments which litter the streets and make Rome the intriguing, unique space it is. It’s a place where you can feel the immensity of eternity and your own insignificant human mortality fully, immediately and beautifully.