Things I know about Rome

This is just spur of the moment stream of consciousness after my 12th trip to the Eternal City– nothing real profound here.

  • The men who sell the cheap little toys in piazzas are great weather forecasters:  when it is going to rain, they trade their toys for umbrellas. They do this in enough time to give you warning to get in – when you see them with umbrellas on their arms. Where they store their stuff remains a mystery to me.
  • The Africans who sell counterfeit purses have a very sensitive system for alerting each other when police are coming.  They give a slight thumb gesture and it is seen and recognized over 100 feet away.   Of course, they are basically the only black people around – which makes it easier perhaps to focus on the signal giver.
  • The center of Rome – around the Via Condotti – is basically nothing more than an upscale lifestyle center.
  • The tiny tip of the “horn” of the city – that which juts out into the Tiber west of the Piazza Navona – is perhaps the only “real” part of Rome left on the east side of the river – just a wonderful place really – an area tangled with tiny streets, local shops and restaurants – I really feel like in at home in that place
  • Italians generally all wear the same kind of clothes – maybe they want to blend in, be part of the crowd…
  • Rome has one of the best classical music stations – listen here
  • There’s an intimate scale to Rome – even when viewing the entire old city from high above in the Pincio in Villa Borghese – Rome’s central park. Most of its streets are narrow, the architecture is finely detailed, and the street life is finely textured – nothing is too large.
  • Despite its place as a tourism Mecca, the old part of Rome feels like a small town.
  • Rome streets are very dirty – cigarette butts, spit, and dog poop are everywhere.  You have to overlook it, as you would something unsightly on a person you love.
  • Urban life is clustered into villages in the old city.  Each village spreads around one of the major piazzas:  Navona, Campo de Fiori,  de Spagna, Pantheon.  The street system connect one to the other.
  • Winter doesn’t discourage outdoor life. People bundle up and get out.
  • Cabbies in Rome are generally friendly and helpful. Rides are inexpensive for such a large city.
  • The center of old Rome is very much a hardscape place.  There is very little greenery anywhere.  A few potted plants.  Some rooftop gardens. The fantastic Plane trees along the river.  That’s about it.
  • I’m not sure I really feel good about the monuments of ancient Rome anymore. They were products of a false economy based on slavery and booty.
  • The attractiveness of Rome depends very little on its ancient sites – except for the Pantheon.  The real beauty of Rome is just the city itself – the narrow streets, the people, the anticipation of good things to come.
  • Watching people one day it occurred to me that I could have been doing the same thing 2000 years ago.  Sitting under an awning at a café and watching the world go by is as old as urban civilization I guess.
  • St. Peter’s square and the street leading to it are seriously out of scale to the rest of the city.  It’s a good thing they built it where they did and left the fine textured old city alone.
  • In the early evening, after the reposo, the pedestrian streets around the Pantheon literally hum with activity.
  • People drink out of fountains across the city. Water is so vital to the community that they give some of it away and have for 2000 years.  Part of Rome’s city planning genus is that it is at the bottom of the hills, thus water can flow freely downward.  Lexington sits at the top of the hill.  If we were to start again and plan a city for 300,000 we would never put it in the place that Lexington is now.
  • Bikes are becoming much more common than in the past.
  • Cops are very rarely seen, but when you do see them, its machine guns all around.  Makes you wonder what they expect.
  • Rome reminds me that great cities need great passive parks – Villa Borghese is one example.  Lexington is sadly deficient in this regard.
  • Rome has walls.  Imagine the greatest power seen on earth up to that time needing walls.  Well, they weren’t installed until the decline began.  Seems kinda phrophetic.
  • Low energy built Rome and its done ok for the last 2000 years.
  • Don’t people in Rome know that their national economy stinks?  They sure don’t seem to worry too much.
  • Rome reminds me of a small town.  The people are friendly, helpful, and trusting.  My family and I carried out $20 worth of food and beverage to sit in a Piazza without having to pay first. Other than our own consciences, there was nothing to prevent us from dashing.   Does that happen in NYC?  London?  Here?
  • There’s a large (for Rome) supermarket in the underground passage between Via Vittorio Veneto and the Villa Borghese.  Grab some picnic supplies, including the cute little baby boxes of wine, and head to the park for a great lunch.
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