The Italian summer did not disappoint. It was hot. Relentlessly, endlessly hot. Each day the same. Each night only just bearable. The sky was cloudless and blue, the days windless and still. The evenings had breaths, whiffs, occasionally something that could be called a breeze. During the day the bright yellow sunshine bathed everything in its happy colour. The baby blue of the sky lit everything with its peaceful tincture. Yellow and blue met you as soon as you descended from your apartment and hit the street. Tiredness from lack of sleep, worry, jet lag, heat, or having eaten and drank too much the night before, disappeared after a few steps into the soft warm colour filled day.
The streets of my old suburb were decorated with rubbish piled up every 10 metres, overflowing from the communal rubbish bins provided for each apartment block. The stench of rotting garbage assailing me and stopping me in mid conversation every couple of steps. How sad. One of the many results of the Italian financial crisis, less public services. It marred the stone cornices, circular sweeps of entrances, and leafy corridors.
We walked to the metro station of Garbatella and stood in the shade on a Sunday to wait for the train to take us to the centre of town and to our favourite Sunday park, Villa Borghese. The station had been built in wealthier times, huge utilitarian platforms of square concrete with smart black, non-slip surfaces, and chairs to sit on. The walls were covered in graffiti and the floors caked with nearly a decade of dirt. A city camping in its own filth. An old but popular Italian song was playing loudly over the speaker, singing about how beautiful all women are, and how wonderful the female sex is, with no irony. Just at the edge of the platform, under the road, were three dilapidated old campers. I watched people come and go, obviously not temporary and not on holiday.
At the stop close to the park, well into the centre of the city, the train was delayed. We saw a group of young teenage girls being shouted at by a man and woman and menaced over by another couple of police officers. The police officers came on board the train as it began to move. They walked up and down the carriages shouting in English and Italian to be careful because there were gangs of gypsy girls, referred to as ‘baby gangs’ whose intent was to steal from tourists. I remembered my first mugging by gypsy children almost 25 years ago.
I started to cry.
“You’re crying because you’re happy aren’t you?” accused my husband.
“Yes”, I admitted, “yes”.
I am happy that the rubbish still stinks and that gypsies still steal your money on the metro, because it is still the city that I know and love. I am happy that it hasn’t been ‘cleaned up’ or ‘modernised’ or ‘homogenised’ or ‘right sized’ or made more consumer friendly. I am happy that it is still the city that doesn’t exist for the pleasure or use, or consumption, by its current set of inhabitants or visitors. The city that makes you work to enjoy it, requires effort to access it, and cannot be consumed, because it is Eternal. The city that has existed for more than 2,500 years, the city of the Etruscans, of Romulus and Remus, of Julius Caesar, of Michelangelo, of Mussolini, of the Popes, of Federico Fellini and of Beppe Grillo.
I’ll admit that things have waxed and waned over the centuries but Rome has always endured and managed to provide its citizens with shelter, water, sunshine, food that is so plentiful it grows between the cracks in the footpath, wine that flows from the mountains just outside it, and opportunities to be part of history, a great ruling power, flex your political or artistic bents; or just sit and relax amidst stone, sunshine and leafy canopies, enjoying music on every street corner and sipping sweet cold orange juice over shaved ice.
“It’s from my garden”, proudly explained the woman who was squeezing it barehanded over our glasses full of ice.
Definitely not homogenised.