Paris and Rome are two of the great cities of the world. (London, Beijing, Dehli, Damascus, Jerusalem, Berlin, Stockholm, Alexandra, Athens, Istanbul, Singapore are, IMNSHO, the others. Tokyo, Saigon, Bangkok, Cairo, Mumbai, Jalalahbad, Kuala Lumpur, Manilla, Zurich are high up the list as well.) They contrast each other in so many ways, but they are so similar in others. Paris runs to its own beat, but Rome, Rome creates its beat. Paris is a garden, Rome a jungle. Paris is sophisticated, Rome is so far beyond sophistication, it can be anything it wants to be.
The people of Rome and Paris are so similar. Welcoming is a good word. We did not meet a lot people who were not aware their income is derived from people like me, that is for sure, but that does not hide any undercurrent of resentment if it is there. Half the people we met were, like us, visitors. The others were locals, but friendly. They may have been shopkeepers and waiters and hotel staff and museum guards and that, but they were all welcoming. When you are in a strange land, that is reassuring.
We could tell the local women from the tourists, they were the ones looking chic. The women of Rome are very stylish, except for one who was a mobile fashion disaster. (Stilettos on a cobblestone road when you are mutton done up like lamb – let’s say it didn’t work for me I can tell you.) There is an ineffable quality to the women of Paris and Rome that I doubt I would find anywhere else.
No idea what that quality is, and my wife picked up on it before me. She commented how the women in Paris and then Rome were so “stylish”, chic I thought. She said she felt like a middle-aged frump, compared to the women of Paris and that feeling hit harder in Rome. I knew I was trapped then, there was no way out for me! What could I say? “Yes, dear!” or “you might be a frump, but you are my frump!” “No darling, not true, you look gorgeous in your jeans and tee-shirts.” So I settled for the easy way, “What do you think they will look like after five kids a bout of cancer and six months of chemo?” I think I was lucky to not become a lifetime member of the Vienna Boys Choir, right then!
Rome and Paris are very different. Paris is, to the tourist, without the anxiety of a large city. Rome is hustle and bustle, lots of people all going the same way but without the frustration or anxiety other cities promote. There are some major differences in Rome though. The beggars in the streets. Coming from a place where this is still a very rare thing, to Rome, it is appalling that Government policy is such that people get ignored. (I wonder though, how much longer am I going to be able to say that?)
Rome is mm… mmm… “half-arsed”. That is the only way to describe it. We stayed in this lovely little hotel on the via Laurina, the Hotel Centrale. We got lucky with the room as it was at the end of a corridor, and was not disturbed by any other guests. The decor was really something I am unaccustomed to. So much marble, everywhere. Marble stairs, marble columns, marbled inlays, tiles, landings, surrounds, everywhere. (Some panels were imitating marble in the Trompe–l‘œil style,but of varying quality.) Some looked great, some just looked worn and tired. That is Rome, between tied and fantastic.
Being on the first floor, I thought we might use the lift, but the lift was large enough for our bags and one person. Well, what an adventure that was – just getting things into it. My wife took the lift up while I used the stairs. Arriving before her, I waited at the door. She got there, eventually, then tried to open the door from the inside, but there was no door to exit the lift shaft. The problem was that the door she entered on the ground floor was not the door she needed to exit from on the first floor. After sorting which door was which, we then had to rearrange the baggage, just to get the first floor door open! How quaint, I thought, but then it is only a tiny hotel, so it would use only a tiny lift. I have no idea how old the building actually is, but I suspect that the hotel pre-dates lifts.
When we got to the room, we found ourselves in this wonderfully roomy, open space. No joke, after the lift I thought we would be lucky to have enough room to be able to sit down at the same time. No, it was really quite a large space, separated from a large bathroom by a brick wall and solid door. We were really in heaven, then I looked around the room. The toilet seat was poorly fixed, it was also the wrong size and shape for that toilet, the shower screen swivelled off the bath, the open window did not seem to fully close. Then I looked out the balcony, well almost balcony.
It had a steel frame around it, with a wooden rail. It jutted out, about the width of the ledge running around the building. The big glass doors that lead to the balcony were partly opened, but when closing, they squealed, I mean squealed – loudly. There was a bar fridge, I think, but it was not turned on, there was nothing in it, no light so did not worry about it. That is Rome, something that looks good, and is great, but bits are falling off.
Having said all that, the next time we are in Rome, if we go back to the Hotel Centrale, it would be just as welcoming as it was when we were there. Would not have wanted to be anywhere else, it was charming, but it symbolizes Rome itself – half-arsed, as we discovered.
Sorting the room, unpacking a little, we went in search of food. Leaving, out the door of the hotel, into the street and nearly break my ankle on a part of the cobblestoned street that has collapsed. You seen the CG image of a black hole, that is precisely what this hole looked like, a circle that starts shallow and deepens into infinity as you get to the centre. That is Rome, and it did not take us long to find out it was half-arsed, and then looking at the place, it is not too difficult to figure out why it is like it is.
Rome is full of wonders, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the palaces, the Forum, the Circus Maximus. Statues, columns that have fallen over time, some that stand as memorials to what was there before. So much broken stuff. Not leaving Rome, I take it from others that the same exists all over the country. Who has not heard of Pompeii or Herculaneum, or the ruins on Capri, or elsewhere around the nation. If you grow up amongst all that broken stuff, will that not rub off a little? That is why the place is half-arsed.
But I loved it! It’s human, it’s not just romantic, or idealistic, it is just human. It’s Rome.
I really hope that future generations of Romans appreciate it and keep it half-arsed!