Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Never Lost in Rome

Last Monday, I finally had my run along the coast in Ostia. A breathtaking view of the ocean, cabanas, and a gentle breeze made five miles easy. I stopped at a beachside cafe for sparkling water and un cappuccino freddo (closest thing I've found to an American style iced coffee here), and plopped down at a table facing the water to write some very overdue postcards. I can't even put into words how beautiful it is here. Everything looks fake. 

Wednesday, I hit the beach again (really loving the new school schedule), this time to veg and pretend it's still summer. After a couple of hours, I decided I'd had enough skin cancer for the day and headed to the bus stop for Infernetto. I had only made it a few blocks when I heard "signorina, scusa, permesso, ce, etc..." coming from behind me. I thought I might have dropped something, so I finally turned around. We'll call him "Luigi" since I can't remember his real name that I'm fairly certain also started with an "L." Beginning in Italian, Luigi explained that he had been too scared to talk to me on the beach and so he'd followed me there instead. He went on to say that I seemed like a really "relaxed girl" (yeah cause most people are severely stressed when lying on the Mediterranean Coast?) and even though he didn't know me, he really liked me somehow. I tried to play the foreigner card by saying, "mi dispiace ma non parlo italiano," but then he switched to English without missing a beat. Poop, now what? I felt like I was being interviewed. Luigi wanted to know my name, age, where I lived, my country of origin, how long I'd be in Italy, etc. I gave him a flat "Sarah, United States, and 23," which was received with a big fat kiss on my hand. When he asked if I would come see him at the beach the next day, I recycled my "no Italian cell phone" excuse and made sure to mention my American boyfriend several times. The last straw was taking off my sunglasses so he could see my eyes and saying, "Oh mama mia, I want to kiss your eyes." And that's when I threw up a little in my mouth. Here ends the most aggressive pick-up I've ever experienced, which is actually not so uncommon here. I'm just glad no one was around to see how incredibly awkward and embarrassed I was.

Tuesday, I visited the city center. I hopped off the metro at colosseo, passed the Roman Forum and Piazza Venezia before finally arriving at Il Teatro di Marcello and Il Portico d'Ottavia, which Augustus built in honor of his sister, Octavia, in the early 30's BC. Il Teatro was constructed towards the end of the Roman Republic and housed dramatic and musical performances in an open-air setting. Unfortunately, no one is allowed inside the amphitheater today and the arch is currently under construction. Womp womp. This is when it pays to still have a childlike imagination I guess.

After visiting the neighboring Isola Tiberina (tiny random island in the Tiber), I happened on The Jewish Ghetto. I watched as a mob of worshippers filed out of the main synagogue and into the streets. I couldn't figure out why everyone was leaving such a beautiful building. I was just trying to get IN. Although I didn't see anyone resisting the flow of traffic and entering the church, I decided to make my way towards the entrance anyway and see if anyone tried to stop me. In retrospect, this is a pretty accurate analogy for my attitude towards life in general. Besides, I'm foreign and don't know any better. Well I did get stopped, by a fussy old man. "Signora! E chiusa!" Worth a try, always.

Having prematurely plowed through my list of sites for the day, I decided to brave the VERY LONG walk along the Tevere (Tiber) River and tour Castel Sant'Angelo instead. This is also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which Hadrian commissioned for himself and his family in the 130's AD. The edifice has since served as an elegant home to popes and is now a museum as well.  

One of the many statues lining Pont Sant'Angelo which leads to the Castle

Top terrace of Castel Sant'Angelo

St. Peter's and Vatican City in the background

Maria Maggiore (Cavour area)

Saturday evening, I met two friends I'd made through NATO Defense College functions for a happy hour near the Colosseum. Giulia (Italian, 23) just returned from an "Au Pair" experience in San Francisco, which sounded a lot more like a cultural exchange with an insanely wealthy family. And Theo (Greek, 22) is currently an intern at the College where his father also works. As we talked, laughed, sampled aperitivi and sipped on birra bionda (literally "blonde beer," but refers to light) in a swanky bar in the artsy district of Cavour, I had another one of those "this is my life" moments. 

Sunday funday in downtown Rome! Not-so-fun, however, is the Sunday bus schedule. Had I anticipated a forty-five minute wait for the 070 to EUR Fermi, I might have made it to church on time. At least I had good company. I'm convinced you can make friends just about anywhere if you really want to. I'm not sure we ever exchanged names, but I soon found myself deep in conversation with an older woman from Moldova, who was also working as an Au Pair in Infernetto. I had to laugh as someone who had lived in the city for two years was asking me for directions via Roman public transport. I still get lost in Falls Church City, and yet here I was escorting this lady to the train station in downtown Rome. Go figure. Between waiting at the stop and riding both the bus and the metro, we had spent nearly an hour and an hour and a half together before parting ways--my longest and most successful Italian conversation to date! Little by little, I uncovered more of her story and of her life here in Italy. After her husband left her for another woman, she had no choice but to say goodbye to her two daughters in Moldova and search for work in Italy. Without a contract or any form of legal documentation, she has zero protection against a family that clearly mistreats her. She is literally trapped. It was a heavy morning to say the least. There are so many women in similar situations and worse, even in a western European country like Italy. At least her job is legal. Miss Moldova would hardly refer to her work as an "Au Pair experience" as I have. Freedom is something I have come to expect and certainly take for granted on a regular basis. I am so fortunate.

Later that morning, I found myself "cruising" on the Tevere, the river that once carried goods between the ancient city of Rome and the harbor in Ostia. I welcomed this change in perspective. Enjoy the view from below!

Thirty minutes later, I jumped off at l'Isola Tiberina and tried once again to visit the Jewish synagogue. Thankfully, no cranky men tried to stop me this time. The tour was fascinating and I learned so much about the history of Jews in Rome, a community over two-thousand years old. For instance, during WWII, Rome was the only place from which the Jews were not expelled.  The Great Synagogue of Rome was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870 and was capped with the only square dome in the entire city. It is honestly one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been inside, and this is saying a lot. I almost wished I was Jewish just so I could worship there. Of course, photography was strictly prohibited, but enjoying a big fat falafel shawarma from a nearby cafe in The Ghetto lifted my spirits almost immediately.

Outside the Synagogue

This is a random cathedral I peeked in on l'Isola Tiberina. While impressive, the Jewish synagogue puts this bad boy to shame!

Thermal Baths--you know, the kind you find in the middle of your average Roman intersection

And I couldn't end the post without first explaining the title. As many of you may know, I have one of the worst senses of direction known to mankind, so you can be certain I've been lost in Rome. While technically this is true, when in a place so rich in culture, history, and beauty, can one ever really be lost? I've come to realize that no matter where I find myself in the city these days, I am always in the "right place," exactly where I want to be. As someone whose heart and mind are often busy spanning the lengths of time and space, this realization is a valuable reminder for me to take time and be still, to be fully present and live in the moment. 


  1. Luigi sounds like a trip! How awkward! Your eyes are beaut though, Sare. The man was right!
    Castel Sant'Angelo looks incredible! The yellow and arched halls look so rich. Could you imagine living in a time where interiors like that were standard to a class? Wow.
    The synagogue is also stunning. I wonder why it has a square dome. Falafel is the best!
    We (Schmands, Lyle, Anth, Leens, me) went out for Leens' birthday in DC lastnight and were thinking of you. Miss you bunches <3

  2. 1.i want to say that converting to judaism is an option...if you really want to enjoy the temple.
    2. i only wish men in cville were that forward... (luigi)
    3. you are going to now rome inside and out!! so proud of you for being so extroverted and adventurous! much more than im sure i would be...
    4. still no driving?