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Welcome to Rome, but where to begin?


By Robert Damien Santagata

The great Eternal City welcomes me into its big, cushiony bosom. It is a very hospitable city. I love and adore and admire Rome and its fortunate inhabitants. Its history is unparalleled in the world, as truly cultured, educated people know and appreciate.

As I catch a taxi that will take me to the Bernini Bed & Breakfast, jet-lag gradually setting in, it dawns on me: The world will not end today, for the Colosseum still stands.

I decide to take a quick shower and nap at the B&B, and then I will reenter the clear, comfortable May night and locate some typical Roman comestibles. I crave spaghetti alla carbonara, the quintessential Roman pasta dish, and then perhaps tagliato al manzo, or some other meat dish, for I am both more carnivorous and hungrier than usual.

I amble down the street. The Bernini B&B is situated in the vicinity of the Scalinata di Spagna (Spanish Steps). I decide to linger for a spell. I assume a sitting position on one of the steps. It is eight o’clock in the evening – a crisp, clear, temperate gloaming – and the steps are fast filling up. The usual suspects, tourists and lovers, are magnetized to this monument. Of course, the same holds true for all the famed monuments. I wonder what’s going on at the Trevi Fountain? Perhaps I will take a stroll there after la cena (dinner). I am both glad and appreciative that Italians, like all of Latin Europe, generally eat supper late. I find it highly civilized. I also admire the casual, leisurely manner in which they dine – it is neither hurried nor mechanical – and how the courses come out in waves, one after the other, until the digestivi are employed to help the meal settle. Dining in Italy is utterly pleasurable. I have eaten but one bad meal, in Venice, but aside from that, eating has been a rapturous pursuit during my time spent in Italy.

The Spanish Steps are awash with the azaleas that explode colorfully during springtime. The fountain is gushing with water in the piazza. I decide to ascend the 138 steps to the summit, where the Trinita dei Monti stands majestically, and take in the view from that vantage point. Thankfully, I can pause at various intervals. Once at the top of the world’s most famous staircase – a gift from those generous French – I inhale deeply, exhale, and behold the rooftops of Rome, her narrow cobblestone streets, the masses moving along them, partaking in the passeggiata. It is a happy, uplifting scene, and I am untroubled by anything in the world. I have returned to Italy. I see the “great beauty” from atop the Spanish Steps. I am home at last.

• • •

The sweet life is a state of mind, a day-to-day experience at which Italians, from north to south, excel. They have had an awful lot of time to perfect this sweet life, and though they have more than their fair share of modern social, economic, political, and moral problems, life in Italy is still comparatively sweet.
To what might this be attributable? There are many factors. The Italians are a proud – though not arrogant – people who know how rich and vibrant their culture is. They know how fantastic their cuisine is.

Natural and man-made beauty are everywhere – every region, every city, every small town, every square, every museum, every church, every archaeological site (there are literally hundreds of them!), every ristorante, trattoria, osteria, and every mamma’s kitchen.

• • •

I would love to be in a small, quaint, sleepy coastal village in Apulia, near Mom’s birthplace. I envision myself ambling down the narrow back alleys and observing the old men chain-smoking cigarettes, gesticulating wildly as they discuss soccer, food, and politics. What else?

The women are engaging in gossip, exchanging recipes for Apulian specialties, and watching their men at play. Dolce far niente: the sweetness of idleness. The Italians, particularly in the south, have perfected this pastime – doing a lot of absolutely nothing and savoring it – like no other culture on earth. This “pursuit,” coupled with writing and eating local dishes, would suit me well. I like peace and solitude, shun large crowds, and never party or drink excessively. I would enjoy an extended stay in the beautiful country very much. I would partake in the nightly passeggiata: when Italians stroll down the streets and savor their enchanting environs, people-watch, and either prepare for the evening meal, or walk it off, or both.

Italians are serious about fashion – as we all know – and wearing one’s finest clothing is sometimes viewed as obligatory, if expected. It can be a little intimidating to non-Italians. I remember when I was in-country some time ago and we went for a walk before diner. Everyone was so fetching in their finery – confident, proud, a smidgen peacockish, but not enough to the perceived as obnoxious.

The author of this series, Robert Damien Santagata, is a “rabid Italophile” and the author of the 2020 book “The Paradise of Exiles.” This series presents his vivid, evocative descriptions of his search for the soul of Italy – rapturous descriptions that the author attributes to Stendhal syndrome, a psychosomatic condition in which overexposure to any form of great beauty induces a state of euphoria that can include elation, dizziness, confusion, hallucinations and even fainting.

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