I first fell in love at the age of eight and am still in love thirty four years later. A childhood romance blossomed into a full-blown affair and then settled into an on-off relationship for the rest of my thirties. Despite many break ups and betrayals, this has been the love of my life. Therefore, on this Valentine’s Day, I dedicate this story to Italy, for it is Italy that has been my one, true, constant love.
Italy is somewhere that transcends being merely a country. It is a dream. Romantic, idyllic and breath-taking are but a few of the myriad words used to talk about Italy. Fellini’s Dolce Vita encapsulates this as the film moves between reality and dreams, much as those feel about Italy. Don’t get me wrong, I have many a time fallen out of love with Italy. And yet, like those sailors, I find myself drawn to her shores year after year.
I first came to live here as a child, attending school in Milan. At that point I fell for pizza, pasta, foccaccia and gelato, as any self-respecting eight year old does. Unable to shake off Italy’s spell, I returned to study at the University of Siena, where I spent lazy days in the Piazza del Campo, sipping on cappuccino and watching the world go by from the outside cafes that lined the square. I returned to live in Rome where I embraced the true dolce vita lifestyle, enjoying long nights out and days spent wandering this open museum of a city.
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‘La Parolaccia’ in Rome, is a restaurant made famous for the fact that its waiters swear at and verbally abuse the clientele. I can’t decide what is more astonishing: the fact that people will pay for this, or the fact that they are able to tell a difference between this and other ‘customer service’ in Rome.
The Romans are a proud people. In fact, to call oneself Roman is to call back on seven generations, many of whom could well still be living above one another in one of the main high rise buildings dotted throughout Rome. However, it is this ‘first’ generation who regularly hurl abuse at each other over the ‘cortile’ whilst all the while the tourists wander by marvelling at the “beautiful courtyards, so peaceful” seemingly immune to the sounds of the blaring televisions and histrionics of daily life. Churches with enforced silences abound whilst outside ambulances scream by. This is a city of contradictions. The Rome of ‘Roman Holiday’, ‘La Dolce Vita’ and, more recently, ‘La Grande Bellezza’ is the beautiful backdrop. Romans themselves take back their city from the tourists by spraying it with graffiti. Rome has often been described as an open air museum, but this is like the Breakfast club invaded the museum.
Rome, the eternal (ly) noisy city where a conversation is an act in a Shakespearean tragedy, where the audience of passers-by need not cross the street to hear the intricacies of any conversation. ‘All the world’s a stage’ and if the accent makes the language difficult to discern, the players thoughtfully add in subtitles in the form of gestures. Beware the unwitting tourist armed with their ‘lingua de Bocaccio’, the purest form of Italian; Roman dialect is a series of grunts and words more masticated than the victim of an encounter with a lion in the Colosseum. Given the adventurous lives of the ancient Romans (and I refer to their conquering of each other rather than countries) it should hardly come as a surprise that La Parolaccia is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the swearing and abuse. And even here, the earnest Italian scholar may find themselves a little confused when listening to expressions such as ‘mortacci tuoi/tua’ a phrase almost impossible to translate into English, but which basically insults your antecedents; a very Roman way of abusing someone.
Continue reading “No place like Rome” →
“Is this just a story?’ was a question once posed in a History lesson I was observing. The teacher was flummoxed. The child persisted. “Did any of what you told us actually happen?” He wasn’t being facetious. He just found it hard to determine what the past really was and how to engage with it. I was reminded of this student when I wandered around Verona today ahead of my tour group’s arrival tomorrow. If ever a country owed a lot of its tourism trade to Shakespeare it is Italy and if ever a city did, there can be no more worthy a contender than Verona. All over the town are signs to ‘Juliet’s tomb’ and ‘Juliet’s House’. Upon visiting ‘Juliet’s House’ you can touch her statue (supposedly grabbing her right breast will bring good luck, an idea no doubt put about by an Italian male although I can’t help but think that Shakespeare would have approved). Alternatively you can stand on ‘her balcony’ although the Romeos below mainly comprise American tour groups of girls who saw the film ‘Letters to Juliet’. Going one further is ‘Juliet’s Tomb’ and I was amused to read the top review on Tripadvisor, entitled ‘Empty’ where the reviewer ‘Travellingcuriosity’ wrote ‘I did not like this. All there is is an empty tomb’. Well yes ‘Travellingcuriosity’, this can’t have come as much of a surprise. They continued ‘I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this’. I think short of Romeo lying strewn across the coffin, this reviewer, who really does have the most apt name, being in my eyes, a real ‘curiosity’, was destined to be disappointed.
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