This time last year we were just getting ready to come back from Rome; my wife, two friends and me. It had only been a brief visit, but was nevertheless very enjoyable. Although the weather was not exactly tropical it was far from that experienced last weekend when our television showed the fountains in St Peter’s Square with frozen cascades!
My first visit to Rome was back in 1973 when my parents took us on a family holiday. For my father it was in the nature of a pilgrimage because he was in Italy during the Second World War and had memories of Rome – virtually undamaged as it had been declared an open city – but more especially of Salerno and southern Italy. We went by train, and early in the morning we passed Monte Cassino, shining brightly in dawning glow. “Last time I was here”, said Dad, “there was barely one brick standing on another.” One of the reasons Dad booked us on this particular trip was that it was a two centre holiday, and part of it was spent in Amalfi. During the war my father had had the task of driving troops there for R&R and had got to know the place – and one particular family – well. It was very moving when we managed to meet up with the family again.
Then in 1999 I had a consultancy post with the United Bible Societies which meant that for a year I had to travel to Rome for about a week each month. Do try to sympathise – it was work! 🙂 There was a major reconstruction project going on at Ciampino airport which made leaving the place quite exciting at times: there never seemed to be any consistency about routes!
There wasn’t much consistency about the places I stayed in either. (Autocorrect had just replaced ‘places’ with ‘palaces’ but I didn’t get to any of those!) My favourite was the Casa dei Cleri on the via Scrofa, which was quite near the Pantheon. Another was a guest house run by a German order which was on the other side of the Tiber. Walking to work in the Spring mornings with the city waking up was a magical time. Then the traffic started!
One favourite guidebook claims that there are only two sorts of pedestrian in Rome – the quick and the dead! – and that is not far from the truth. There was a pedestrian crossing that I needed to use to get to the office on the via IV Novembre, and it was absolutely no use waiting for a driver to stop and courteously let us cross. The only way was to march boldly on, avoiding eye contact but being very aware of the scooters who were going to challenge one’s machismo. But don’t try that if you hear police or ambulance sirens in the distance: they are not that distant! I was quite bemused one day to find that I had somehow attracted a party of Japanese tourists in my wake as I made the crossing. Alas, that sort of thing will not happen now as the crossing has been replaced by lights and the motorists – even the scooters – must stop