Can a woman truly love two cities?
You know I love you but I have to admit I have been cheating on you with Rome.
I didn’t mean for it to happen. It was just a brief trip with the chance to say ciao and eat some really good pasta and maybe frolic in a fountain or two. I thought it would feel cheesy and a bit cliché but I vastly underestimated Rome’s seductive prowess. It’s much smaller than I expected, the historic center only about five square miles. As they say, however, it’s not about size but what you do with it, and there are many pleasures to be had.
The first thing you notice is there are no Starbucks. If you ask for a coffee to go, the waiter asks if perhaps you are having a medical emergency because any healthy person certainly has 10 minutes to sit and enjoy a cappuccino. As a matter of fact, you can sit at the table for hours with no one rushing you off. The locals are genuinely nice and don’t look like they are biting into a sour lemon when you butcher their language. And a beautiful language it is, with even a simple answer embellished with a slew of niceties and thank yous. You never want to go back to “Dude, whassup?”
The trick is to avoid the most tourist-ridden places where your three coins tossed into the Trevi Fountain will only hit a series of selfie sticks. Skip the Vatican for the Galleria Borghese with the Bernini sculptures that can even capture the power of human sexuality in stone, the big-name fashion houses for the open-air markets of Campo di Fiori, and the crowded piazza cafes for small hostarias down narrow side streets.
But let’s face it, it’s about Italian men — their finely tailored slim suits and neatly groomed beards and finesse. Love is in the air, and it is as essential as oxygen. Even though Rome is also the seat of the Vatican and Christian churches have been built right on top of pagan temples, you cannot whitewash the distinctive Bacchanalian colorings of the city and the seductive soundtrack underneath the cacophony.
Efforts have been made over different regimes to cover up the sexual side of Roman culture. Even Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel figures had small loin cloths painted over them and there are rows of classical statues with a fig leaf hastily added. In fact, so many of the male members have been separated from their owners that there are rooms of restorations trying to reunite Apollos with their John Thomases. Bodies are to be enjoyed.
Even if you want to be bland, Rome won’t let you. I stopped by one rooftop bar to have a glass of wine. The bartender suggested gin and I said no just wine would be fine. He suggested gin again. I said I actually would prefer vodka to gin then he proceeded to pull down a bottle of gin and make the most delicious cocktail with lavender, chamomile, hibiscus, lemon zest, and chipped off a hunk of ice then put in a silver straw. Okay, when in Rome…
After a few days the lull of jet lag, long lunches, lovers in corners, crooning street musicians, and greetings of Ciao, bella!, you enter a distinctly Roman holiday state of mind where things like stress and being so busy and SoulCycle fade way. You stop looking at your phone, greet everyone with two kisses, add extra sing-song syllables to words, talk with your hands, eat carbs, convince yourself you are super sexy, decide to rent a Vespa, decide actually not to rent a Vespa, and vow to become more of a Renaissance woman.
And when you return to Paris and they say, “How was Rome?” you can say, “You know, it was okay,” with only a hint of a smile.