The sublime and the slum: that’s how I see Rome. It seems to me to be polarized between a Mecca of art and history, and a dirty, dangerous city. When wandering in the ruins of the Colloseum and the Forum I saw ancient graffiti mingled among the grandeur of the Capitol. Perhaps things haven’t changed so much after all.
Being with a group from the college has its benefits, but also its disadvantages. Fortunately it is a small group, so we don’t have the demeaning experience of following a tour guide holding a scarf on a stick, nor do we have to wear a silly yellow neckerchief as many I’ve seen. Groups like that make you an immediate target. Though, speaking English and taking photos can be a signal as well.
We were followed by gypsies one afternoon. There were three teenage girls, I saw the leader in front of us, looking us over. I looked at our local guide who nodded to me, confirming my suspicion. When I looked back, two other gypsy girls were coming up behind us, close to two of my friends who were lagging. We stepped aside and regrouped, letting them pass us by.
We were quite rushed to see all those essential monuments of Rome: the Palatine, the Trevi Fountain, the Parthenon. It was a bit overwhelming. Perhaps that it is why I found our unscheduled excursions the most rewarding. We went to the Protestant Cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried. It was like the eye in the center of the storm that is Rome. It contains the only pyramid in Rome and is home to a feral cat colony.
After a customary massive dinner one night, we walked down to the Victor Emmanuel Monument, all lit at night. Beyond it we could see the glow of the Coliseum, lit in the middle distance.
Those were fine moments. I’m not sure if I’ll come back to Rome. I’m glad to have had the experience of the art and the history, but it’s not the kind of place I could see myself living.
We’re in Florence now, which is more my speed. It is small and medieval in layout. It lacks the extreme bustle of Rome, which suits this country girl. There is also something inherently romantic about its quaintness. My professor took us to the street corner where Dante is said to have first glimpsed Beatrice while he was trying to tell us the story of proposing to his wife we were nearly hit by a car. I intend to write more fully about Florence after I’ve been here longer.