Rome For Eternity
by Samantha Mangino
Rome For Eternity
It hit me on a rooftop in Rome. At LITRO wine bar to be exact – with a glass of fizzy, peach-toned wine and a plate of salted anchovies draped over buttered toast in front of me. The Eternal City was in view. I sipped my wine, eavesdropped on the group of American expats chatting next to me, and pretended to read my book. That day, my second evening in Rome, I knew this was a perfect place. A destination that felt impossible to leave because it wasn’t somewhere you wanted to just stay for a few days – instead you could spend your whole life here. That night I strolled down the hill into a square in Trastevere, got my second cone of apricot gelato and then leisurely traveled back to my AirBnB to rest. It was a night of a vacation that I could imagine becoming an every day.
As time moves forward, the city of Rome does too. It isn’t trying to escape or leave anything behind. The dishes served on tables and the buildings left standing are all reminders of Rome’s ability to just let anything be as it is. The Colosseum doesn’t need to be rebuilt to look just as it had on its opening day. Instead it can remain a ruin, and tourists will still come. The classic pastas of Rome will stay on the menu because diners will still order them. So much of Rome can never be changed because of how it chooses to honor its own heritage. Menus may change. New contemporaries may be born. Yet, the classics stand tall.
In Rome, I would stroll down streets navigating with a map. I let go of the attachment to anything giving me notifications about a message or email or post I was missing. I wandered the streets letting Rome surprise me. Just around the corner from where I stayed, I was struck by the delicately carved sculptures just tucked away on a building on this regular intersection. Moments later, I turned down an alley and met the Trevi Fountain nearly without warning. Humbled by its beauty, I understood why 50 people at a time were trying to take a photo of it on their iPads or with selfie sticks.
Don’t dismiss the profound sites available to you in Rome. But anywhere you may find yourself traveling, don’t go just for the sites. You should see them, of course. Stand in front of the Trevi Fountain and feel the water gently spritz your face. Take a picture so you remember how beautiful and blue the water is as it reflects on the smooth, precise stone sculpture. Stand in the Pantheon and let amazement wash over you. Be surrounded by the nearly two thousand year old structure. Look up at its oculus as it fills the entire room with a beam of light – the only light source in the temple. Visit the Colosseum and stand in its grandeur. You will feel so small being in its massive structure but also because you will be reminded that you are just another moment in time at this place. A thousand or so years ago, it was a place to go for amusement and entertainment. Now the place itself is the attraction, and you are the spectator. Rome preserves much of its history through these sites giving the entire city an air of grandeur that can come off as just a place filled with attractions.
If you get it right – and aren’t there just for those sites – and instead are looking for the experience of trying out a life you can only get there – you’ll be in for something spectacular. You’re in store for a slower lifestyle where you can walk anywhere in the city and be in the shade of thoughtful architecture. Days start later here. At 6 o’clock - American dinner time -begins aperitivo time. A few hours to ease into the evening with bitter drinks or glasses of wine to arouse one’s appetite. Dining and leisure are experiential and integrated into the culture in a way that encourages good quality food and beverage.
The meals are enlightening, familiar but elevated to the highest degree. Breakfast could just be a yeasted bun filled with whipped cream, a Maritozzi, from Pasticceria Regoli. Beside a cappuccino, such a simple meal felt like a luxury. Or from Panificio Bonci, a perfect sandwich is just 4 euro and is freshly cut porchetta on a roll that was made earlier in the day. There’s not special sauce or extra toppings. Instead the tender fat that accompanies the soft meat melts into the bread, crunchy roasted pork skin providing a crunch.
A perfect evening begins at Il Goccetto, a simple wine bar with a wine list posted on their blackboard and paper menus with typed words crossed out with handwritten replacements. You can lounge on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette or petting your fellow drinkers’ dogs. A simple salad of honey, apples, celery and Primo Sale cheese is served with a large basket of rustic whole wheat bread. It’s thoughtful, with ingredients I’ve often had in my kitchen all at the same time, yet I’ve never thrown together. Their wine list is made of rotating bottles from well-respected natural producers. I met Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 Bianco for the first time there. It was handwritten on the menu with the words ‘(orange wine)’ squeezed in just beside it. It was like nothing I’d ever had before – crisp, herbaceous like basil, with a deep golden, nearly orange haze. In Italy, I’d assumed that these standards and traditions of wines were simply perfected and unchanging. Yet, finding something new to my palette, a wine that felt like a departure from the classics, yet a classic in its own right.
Later at Roscioli, the only reservation I had made well in advance, the meal was full of foods that I had encountered from my childhood, the recent trends in American restaurants, and what I made when I only had basics in my fridge. Katie Parla, an Italian-American journalist who is based in Rome, had met me for a beer the day prior and as we talked about freelance writing and the changes of Roman cuisine over the last hundred years, she asked me what my eating plans were over the rest of my trip. For my trip to Roscioli, she provided clear instruction on what to order: start with the mortadella and burrata, then get any one of four classic Roman pasta. I followed her instructions precisely, choosing cacio e pepe for my pasta – a dish I’d had many times even making it for myself. You can have a meal plenty of times, just like you can see pictures of the Colosseum or the Trevi Fountain in books and movies, but there is nothing like eating it from the people who create these meals everyday. The simplicity of these dishes is impeccable when they come together to taste like exactly what they are supposed to,enjoying each ingredient in the dish while experiencing the way they interact to complete the whole.
Rome feels achievable. It’s a place that with all of the novelty and fame still feels like a place to be at home. There’s a way of finding familiarity in the places that you’ve seen in photographs before ever seeing in real life. There’s a lifestyle waiting there that feels different but comfortable. It’s the leisure of vacation incorporated into everyday. And it’s the embracing of fine things. There is so much left lingering in Rome as historic ruins remain standing but time never slows. There is history still being written