Articles By Gord
As I see it... Rome

May 2010 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

The way I see it... Rome

I first visited Rome when I was eighteen. There is no cool historical junk in Rome that is eighteen years ld. Eighteen hundred years old maybe, but if its eighteen years old in Rome it's most likely a crust of bread.

I was a pretty typical eighteen year old, shy, awkward and just doing my best to fit in. I was part of a high school group spending ten glorious days in Rome over a March break in 1973. Ten days! I was saddened, of course, to be leaving the folks, but much of my sorrow lifted after I bellowed, “Arrivederci Momma! . . . Catch ya later, Pops.”

Our chaperones had to be semi-crazy to take responsibility for shepherding twenty-five teenagers around Rome, but they sure showed us Rome. We began with the view from the top of St. Peter's Basilica where I took one quick peek and then froze. All I could imagine was falling over the rail and sliding down over the dome to my death. Much less traumatic was our visit to the Trevi Fountain where all I had to do was make a wish and pitch a coin. My wish? I hoped to never be atop St. Peter's Basilica again. We hung-out on the Spanish Steps and at the Colosseum. We hit all the biggies of Rome, the Pantheon, the statue of Romulus and Remus, the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Mouth of Truth. At each site the chaperones did their best to teach us . . . something. I can't remember.

The second time I visited Rome I was forty-two. There is nothing of historical value in Rome that is forty-two years old. Forty-two hundred years old maybe, but if its forty-two years old in Rome it's most likely grandpa's leather belt.

Rome had lost none of her appeal and I felt like this ‘kidult'. Part of me that eighteen year old who was anxious to show Catherine everything and show her everything at once. Luckily for both of us the forty-two year old adult side of me was able to curb that enthusiasm.

Cath and I did not stay at the most popular hotel in Rome. Nor the second most popular. Nor the third or fourth. We didn't stay in any of those because Cath has this knack, this ability . . . Let's call it a gift? Yeah, gift works. A gift for choosing the ‘out of the way' or the ‘odd duck' hotels and our hotel in Rome was no exception.

Nobody got off the crowded bus with us. I took that as a bad sign and began to envision our 'duck.' Broken beak, peeling wallpaper, molting. I mean our tour bus didn't even make the effort to go down the street to our hotel. The driver gestured that the roadway was too narrow. And so, he stopped. He dumped. He pointed. And then, he left. And so Cath and I reluctantly dragged our luggage along in the direction of the point. It was a horrible street, buildings lined on either side with battered garage doors and no people about.

“Cath, lets not go much further. This just feels creepy.”

“There's something that could be a hotel entranceway a little further down. Let's check that out and if it's not, we'll go back.”

The Hotel Tirreno was perfect.

Small with three walk-up stories, no elevator, no air conditioning, no television and no English spoken nowhere. Perfect. Despite the daytime heat our room was kept cool by the ceramic tiled floors, high ceilings and two tall windows that opened onto a courtyard and garden below.

Our bathroom was equal in size to the bedroom, but it had to be as the bathtub was equal in size to our bed. An enormous tub, with these ancient taps that produced the tiniest trickle of water. We'd start filling the tub Monday in order to bathe Thursday. So, while we waited, we drank wine. Not wine poured into long stemmed crystal goblets, but cheap red table wine poured into ordinary bathroom glasses.

There was a magnificent stillness to our room, to our hotel and to our courtyard. ‘Our' courtyard. We often ended the day sitting out there in the dark, savouring the warm air and sipping wine. Each night was like a piece of theatre. We, the audience watched and listened to the sounds coming from the occupants of adjoining buildings. Each night the show was different, couples argued, toilets flushed, a plate smashed and footsteps sounded from some distance in the dark. But we never applauded.

It turned out that our Hotel Tirreno was not in a creepy neighbourhood at all. We had got that impression because we'd arrived during siesta when all the shops and restaurants were shut down with those icky garage doors. It turned out to be a thriving community, which Cath and I explored most evenings in our search for dinner. We always tried a different restaurant and one night, Cath leapt to her feet, abandoned her meal and bolted with other customers, waiters and the chef down to the corner. I was mystified. I sniffed the air. Ruled out fire and continued to eat my salad. When Cath returned she was excited,

“He was right there! Less than ten feet away! And ME! Me without a camera. Not even a sketch pad. Pope John Paul the second.

There was so much to experience in Rome. Everyday Cath and I walked, got lost and eventually stumbled upon our initial goal. We had city maps, but unfortunately Catherine's map-reading skills start and end with her unfolding the map. That kind of touring proved to be exhausting, necessitating requent rest stops. One such rest came the afternoon we visited the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona. We found a table at an outdoor café with a high hedge that provided us with some privacy and blocked a view of the street. We sat for some time, but no waiter ever appeared.

“Gord, I don't think this is the waiter, but an arm has just pushed through the hedge between us. Palm up. Begging.”

I shook it and the hand withdrew.

One day we packed a picnic and headed off to the Roman Forum, as we entered the grounds I recalled my first visit in 1973. I had participated in a reenactment of the murder of Julius Caesar on the steps of the Senate. I played Brutus, after all I had the right hair style for the role.

Cath and I wandered about the ruins for a while and settled on a toppled marble column as our picnic table. So, there Cath and I were basking in the sunshine, nibbling away and every once and a while we'd take a cautious sip of wine, but only after Catherine had sounded the all-clear. We were just being so Canadian not wanting to offend the locals. Meanwhile two picnics over they're roasting a goat on a spit and stomping grapes with their bare feet. We paused, we pondered, then we took the bottle from the bag.

We were encouraged by our hotel receptionist to take Rome's subway.

“No, no. You no take taxi. Is too expensive. I think subway, si?”

We decided to give it a try. After all when in Rome...As we descended to the train platform level we were surrounded by six children, seven or eight years old and all fluttering newspapers at us as they closed in.

“These are gypsy kids.” sparked Cath. “They flutter the paper as a distraction, they're pickpockets.”

Well, Cath was having none of that. She snatched my white cane from my hand and in true Zorro fashion she cut a swath through the kids to our waiting train.

The train was full and we were forced to stand cheek by jowl with others, we were laughing at our brush with the gypsies when Catherine whispered. “Gord, this young woman next to me has just put her hand into my purse. She's not begging, this one's stealing.”

Cath casually gripped the gal's wrist and removed her hand.

“Was she upset at being caught?” I asked.

“No. Disappointed.”

The third time I visited Rome I was fifty-five. Nothing in Rome is fifty-five years old . . . (Well, by now you should know the routine.) It was last Saturday evening when Cath and I sat down to watch one of my favourite movies from 1953, ‘Roman Holiday'. The story is about a young princess (Audrey Hepburn), who is overwhelmed by the constant demands made upon her. One evening in desperation the princess flees the palace and for a short time experiences life, love and Rome. I think it's a beautiful story and the scenes of Rome always stir a desire within me to return.

When I next visit Rome, I'll be . . . It really doesn't matter how old I'll be. In Rome nothing will have changed.

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