My ‘runs’ around the neighbourhood are by now, languid walks amongs the deafening sounds of crickets, and accompanied by the strong wafts of jasmine, rose, magnolia and lavendar that haunt my paths. I am almost entirely alone. The children’s swings creak ominously empty, no old men oggle me as I pass by, no women stare at me incredulously (jogging is not a big activity here in Rome). It is summer.
It is actually at the point in summer where the city evacuates. Three quarters of the population left last Friday according to the news. That is three quarters of Rome took to the autostradas of this tiny peninsula in order to “get away”. What actually happens is that they all get away together and arrive at the beach side resorts en masse to spend their holiday with the same crowds that accompany them when they are not on holiday. It is something an Australian can never understand. The fear of being in a large, empty space. The fear of not having any other humans close by, only nature. It is something we aim for on our holidays, and something Italians make sure will never happen.
Of course not all Italians are like this. My husband (who is Italian) and I are always at pains to stake a place on the beach or in a restaurant which is secluded and away from others. But without fail, whenever another group come along they choose to sit right next to us, rather than choose another part of the secluded area. My Italian friends who regularly camp in their motorhome were in Germany once, on the banks of a beautiful river, in a deisgnated camping ground. There was lots of space and only one other camper. They chose a space within yelling distance but respectfully away from the other camper, which was also Italian. Later that evening another Italian group came motoring along. They parked in the space between the two campers so close to my friend that they couldn’t shut their door.
Another Italian couple we know told us of the time they were on a beach in greece, miles away from the road, with nobody else in sight. A group of Italians came down onto the beach, walked to within two metres of them and set up. It seems that no one wants you to be lonely in this country.
Rome is so delightfully empty that we can park anywhere (this saves us nightly twenty minutes of circling our block) and we can sleep with the windows open as there is no traffic noise. The down side is that there is no where to buy food or have a coffee. The neighbourhood has shut down. We had our last coffee with our remaining open cafe (called bar in Italy) on Saturday. Like drowning people swimming towards whatever looks bouyant we had been changing bars every week for a month as our local closed down, then our next favorite closed down. Now we are left with a choice of a bar run by non Italians (almost unheard of here in Rome. In Australian terms it is like drinking beer made by Americans) or one run by an eighty five year old woman who takes so long to make your morning coffee its cold by the time you get it. We are left to our own devices and must make our morning coffee ourselves. The time honored tradition of going to a bar for our cappucino and breakfast brioche has come to a halt as everyone has left town.
There are some advantages to living in a city that has been deserted by most of its inhabitants though. You can drive anywhere in half the time. The city can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace without having to queue or be jostled the minute you want to stop and look at something. Everything moves slowly in the heat. Even the river flows gently. And one is left to enjoy the monuments, museums, parks, squares in silent, spacious splendour.
Photographs by A. Verhagen