“Walking is also an ambulation of mind” – Gretel Ehrlich
Italy, on one hand, is cradle of the Renaissance; muse to countless artists and artisans; house to the authority and magnificence of the Holy See. It also retains a shadow identity as a model for what I am calling ambient non-compliance: highly entertaining, and sometimes aggravating – individual arbitration and public chaos.
As if I needed an example to illustrate the point – upon presenting our credentials and family lineage qualifying us to rent a car with Hertz at the Rome Termini, we were informed by the good-natured representative (who splayed a wet cough over my passport, credit card, and license) that the fuel level on our car was essentially on empty (“too busy to refuel the cars today”). But, we were told, it was OK, as we could return it in a similar operating state.
(This is not to diminish appreciation for our beloved, yet diminutive, Fiat Panda – one rental category up from a Vespa, …but I am getting ahead of myself.)
We have embarked on our fifth consecutive “sabbatical” (at this point let’s call it a compelling six-week diversion) to Italy, Austria, Budapest, and this year, Paris.
I make no apologies; we have returned to some of the most beautiful, comforting, and evocative settings in our travel experience.
Landing in Rome was an immediate immersion in urban style, earthy colors, Classical architectures, sublime coffee, fresh insalatas, roasted meats and marinated frutti di mare, and dramatic seasonal transitions (summer to winter overnight) ushered in with lightning, wind, and a Mediterranean downpour!
Of course we had to visit Vatican City via the Metro, still buzzing with popular approval of the new Papa. An hour absorbing the incomprehensible grandeur of St. Pietro goes a long way to satisfying cultural guilt pangs to spend time in museums.
Adding to our self-satisfaction basking in the arts was an evening concert of Brahms’ Requiem sung in serious German by an earnest flock of amateurs at “St. Paul’s Within the Walls”, the first non-Catholic church built in Rome.
However, most of our time was dedicated to endless hours strolling through now-familiar quarters of Rome reviewing the beauty, charm, and energy that animate this city. These ambitious exertions are punctuated by indolent pauses, sipping caffeinated drinks at stylish cafes.
This being “Holy Week,” the city is besieged by touring school kids from every corner of creation. Italian children in particular, seem to be schooled in the essentials of fervent gestures and coarse admonitions, as essential preparation for Roman civic life.
Our base is the Cernaia Suites, a humble pension, in a cosmopolitan section near embassies and ethnic restaurants. Renato, our host, oversees order in this tiny yet immaculate grouping of rooms in an apartment building.
His Filipino assistant, Giselle, wakes us every morning with tea and hot cornetto (Italian croissants) served in our room. We overlook an internal courtyard that connects other flats and enunciate the soul of the neighborhood – laundry drying in the sun and getting soaked in afternoon showers, the morning aroma of onions sautéing for someone’s evening soup, laughter and shouting into the night as hard partiers let off steam, and …above the concerns of the impassioned residents, the songs from unseen birds.
We ‘re off to Umbria today, cozy in our brand new, yet alarmingly un-fueled Panda, to bear witness to the verdant emergence of spring in the ancient countryside…
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