*WINNER* Eyes on the (Eternal) City
Updated: Feb 24
Rome without its tourists is like an instrument without its musician: it does not stop being beautiful but it suffers because of its solitude. Before this pandemic, it was not usual to the Eternal City to face embarrassment, feeling inadequate before its empty avenues. The quietness is deafening. Each rione (central neighbourhoods in Rome), drained of the astonished foreign eyes is left to its uncaring inhabitants, too occupied with thoughts to pay attention to the Bernini’s sculpture or the ancient Roman obelisk to their side.
It has been a week of rain. It looks like the guy who picks up the weather card for the day and the government agreed on keeping people inside for this grey winter break. Besides, not living in the centre is a pity. I cannot help thinking of the ones who despite the heavy rain can sit in front of their privileged window and observe a segment of the Great Beauty. Who would not appreciate an open view jutting out toward a random Roman excavation, such as at Largo Argentina? What about a tiny apartment with its tiny window facing St.Peter’s Dome? From my window instead, I see a concert of lights, coming from ugly 1970s buildings, popping out of the hill covered with fluffy green crowns. Sadly, after the mid-20th century, Rome's great architects decided to shove off and ugliness gained ground, turning suburbs into a manifold of tastes and shapes with no apparent nor substantial sense. Thus, here I am, a victim of a sloppy city growth.
Despite all, sometimes I manage to overcome my laziness and walk out the door of my less-of-a-dream flat. In the end, I am just a few metros stops away from my fantasies.
Every single time I come back to this city, I behave like a freshly landed tourist. When my friend and I go for a walk - which to be fair, is the only thing we are still allowed to do - for the thousandth time, I hardly believe my eyes stepping into Piazza Navona. This elliptical square, which used to be the Stadium of Domitian during the Roman times, is now a jewel of the Baroque Era in Italy. The two fountains at the ends, although impressive, are nothing compared to the majestic fountain in the middle: The Fountain of the Four Rivers. Each of the four personified rivers overlooks the square from its heightness, quickly making you feel an insignificant ant walking on their sides. The sight of this fountain reminds me of all those foreign friends I walked here, anxious to reveal its absorbing legends, its mysteries and secrets. I cannot refrain from feeling upset, uneasy almost as if a rib went missing from my chest.
My friend and I are now walking around the tiny lanes, branched off in the centre of this city as veins in a human body. I look at the shops’ gates: they are all down. It is not a Monday morning, it is a Saturday and yet, the small shopkeepers made their choice, they know no one will be buying today. I had never realized before what made spending an entire day wandering around Rome so comfortable: it was its sparkling life through the alleys, crowded of university students mixed with pilgrims, while the shopkeepers and the artisans were yelling to each other from their own boutiques. It was because of them that in Rome, unlike plenty of other Western capital cities, roaming through the centre could not help feeling like a stroll in a familiar village: the popular dimension endures. Only after this pandemic Romans realise how Rome’s beauty becomes stripped of its glory and life once tourists disappear.
The rain is back now. We find refuge next to the church Santa Maria in Vallicella. It is an oratory, and apparently, the architect Francesco Borromini designed its facade. As we enter, we see a chapel, just on the left side; here, a golden organ dominates the room. My friend and I stop in this timeless holy space for a while I could not quantify; we climb the stairs, knock at the first door but nobody replies. Some errand boys are carrying piles of boxes we find out, incredulous, are stuffed with books. Apparently nowadays this building hosts a library which belongs, of course, to the Vatican. We consider the possibility of crashing onto the secretive library. But I am too scared of being caught, so we give up.
Very soon, it will be too late to be around with the new national curfew. I say goodbye to my friend then I look around, taking one last glimpse to the marble Church next to the oratory before my next visit. My bus is here, so I leave.
While starring at the rainfall roaring outside my window tonight, I cannot help thinking it is Rome, crying all her tears, begging her admirers to come back, to make her streets full again and her inhabitants aware of the privilege they have.