Traveling back to Italy always reminds me that old broken things have their own beauty. Rome is a city of layers, ruins wrapped up in the new and modern. A city for time travelers.
This time made me think about my own layers; I totes had a Shrek and onions moment, where I realized, the Rome I loved exists in a time suspended. The Rome of five years where me and my poet friends were bright eyed college kids discovering themselves and an ancient culture doesn’t exist anymore.
Just like this is no longer Julius Caesar’s Rome or Augustus’s Rome. Gia’s Rome lives only in memory and photographs.
Just like the 21 year old me doesn’t exist anymore.
I was so excited to be back. After being bounced around airports and trains, bruised and travel worn I made my way to my AirBNB (with some help from super friendly locals). I showered and rested that night, thrilled to be in my city again and after sleeping in, I headed into the city to track down my old stomping grounds near the Campo di Fiori and Trastevere. I passed by the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon first. I thought back to the night the gang and I woke up at 3AM to walk down to the Trevi and then up the Janiculum to watch the sun rise over the old empire. I thought back to the nights we sat drinking and laughing up there, me catching lightning bugs in the long grass and reciting Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn back and forth to each other. I thought back and smiled a heavy somber smile.
I was amazed at how much the city was still in my body. I never needed to pull out my map.
I found my way back to the Campo and snuck into the UW Rome Center after saying hi to the statue of Girdano Bruno. I sat up in the brick alcove where my old friends and professors had gathered for lectures and impromptu poetry sessions. I nearly cried. It was empty.
I walked back to Trastevere, my old neighborhood in the warm rain. I stopped to get some gelato at the local place I love. It lifted my spirits considerably. Gelato has that effect, like a hug for your soul. I slowly ambled towards apartment 51 on Via Del Goffredo Mameli. I looked up at the balcony of the apartment I no longer had a key for and turned to walk up the Janiculum to look over the city from my old perch. Accomplished but heavy hearted, I dragged my weary body back to my room and cooked some dinner.
The last time, I never felt homesick once in the three months I was here. And I’m quite used to traveling alone. But that day, I felt very lonely.
The next few days I ate good food, flirted with the local cafe boy and walked everywhere. I was feeling jet lagged but happy romping around. I realized that I may not be who I used to be, but that part of my will always be part of me. Just like Rome’s ruins are always part of what it is now.
Soon it was time to head to Florence. I was leaving on a Sunday so the busses were running slower than usual. The one I finally got on took a while to get going. The driver hopped off to take a break. I grew restless waiting for him but relaxed when he got back on and started out into the city. About 15 minutes in I realized he was going a different way than normal. I figured on Sundays, the 71 went the long way past Villa Borghese. 10 more minutes into the ride it was clear that he had changed routes and I was not headed towards Termini station. I panicked, I was way farther from the usual spots I was used to and I had all my gear with me. I would not have the energy to walk to the proper stop from here. I stayed on til the bus came to it’s last stop and then walked towards the nearest metro stop underground. I had never taken the underground before. It was crowded and loud and I was anxious so it wasn’t the most pleasant ride. But it got me to Termini where I bought my ticket to Florence. I waited two hours for the train and then had to run any way because the train was leaving from a track away from the main tracks. The day just kept getting better.
But once I was on the train to Florence, I felt pretty good, if not a little worn out. I slept most of the way. And arrived ready to tackle something new instead of chasing my past.
There was a warm happy vibe in Florence with people milling in the piazzas and playing music. I walked past the Gothic Duomo on my way to my hostel and grew excited to venture out to explore.
I was greeted by a young energetic girl from the Italian countryside named Angelina. She checked me in as she explained the rules and handed me my key. I dropped off my bags and headed out for some dinner.
Feeling lighter without my bags and having left my memories in Rome, I decided to treat myself. I found a cute restaurant and had the waiter take me to the rooftop for a date with myself. I ordered some stuffed pasta a sparkling wine. I sat sipping and smiling to myself, letting the weariness of the day slide off.
My sister video called me and we spent some time catching up through my meal and the waitress brought me a delicious apple cake with gelato and I just about died.
After dinner I set out for an evening stroll. The piazza was still swarming with people chatting and wandering around in the warm light of the old cathedrals. A few minutes in, a young Italian man came up to me and offered to give me a tour of near by areas. Feeling adventurous, I went for it. Francesco and I spent a few hours wandering around looking at art and the views from the Arno River near the Ponte Vechhio. He told me some history and a bit about his family. I asked him about regionalism vs. nationalism and what sculptor was his favorite. It felt very good to be talking to people again. In Florence, I wasn’t lonely.
I slept fitfully because the person sharing my bunk with me kept snoring (I decided shared hostel rooms are not for me anymore. I’m too old and too rich for that shit) but I set out the next morning with renewed vigor and explored the city, I even went to the Galileo Museum of science. It was full of old do- dads that helped science usher in the modern age. It was awesome.
As I climbed up some hills to over look the city I ran into Manuel – a Colombian PhD student in engineering who was also staying at my hostel. We chatted and wandered through an old cemetery together and got dinner at the central market. It was good to have a travel buddy.
The next day I tracked down the beautiful Boboli Gardens and museums at the Pallazo Pitti. I was full up on Florence’s charms.
The next day Manuel and I headed to the train station to say our goodbyes. I was heading to my cousin’s house in Piacenza and he was headed back to school in San Marino. We promised to stay in touch.
My cousin fed me delicious Indian food – it had been days since I had roti and paneer and it was soooooo good to fill up on family and food. I spent the day reading out in the yard and drawing.
I love being in the country quiet. Hoping to see Milan soon, though.
Ciao for now!