Carolyn’s Rome

Remembered September, 2021

Rome? For me Rome was Carolyn, it was Monteverde Vecchio.  It was going to the station in Orvieto, through streets that were still empty where blinds had been thrown open only here and there and the only sign of life might be a man in his undershirt stretching and yawning in the morning sun. The funicular was already running and hopefully the train would be on time.  On long distance trains, people talk to each other, revealing intimate secrets to strangers they know they will never see again. But here it is only a matter of an hour or so, one can read the newspaper, or a book, look out the window at the green fields and grazing sheep, with an occasional ancient arch or tower rising up on the horizon. One can even doze off, but in a couple of stops the train will fill up with commuters and students on their way to the city. 

End of the line, Stazione Termini. Then, a quick walk across the square, hoping you won’t have to wait too long for the 64 bus to come trundling up to the first stop in its route. The beginning of the line. Always a seat – not just because I am white-haired, but because that is what it is, the beginning of the line. It might just as well have been the end, for any surviving passengers make haste to leave and catch their trains to somewhere. Through Roman traffic, past the Coliseum, past the Circo Massimo, across the Tiber, through Trastevere, up the hill. Once through the ancient gate, and it’s time to get up and hang on to the strap as the bus swerves sharply to the left, ready to jump off as soon as the corner bar looms into sight. It’s already open, but Carolyn won’t be there till later for the cappuccino and brioche she can’t do without. And, of course, her newspaper. Next to the bar, the Philippinos and Chinese at the pizza place are busy getting ready for the onslaught of students on their way to school. On down the street named after one of Garibaldi’s redshirts. You have to ring your way through two gates and then hope the elevator won’t stop at the wrong floor. 

Across the way, the bougainvillea are clambering up the facade of the 1920s apartment house, almost art nouveau tending to fascist. A few streets further downhill there’s the market where a woman is paring artichokes into rosettes. The grocery store, where one gets staples, makes a dozen different types of bread, depending on the day. If you need paint and glue, an ironing board, or a mason jar, pop into the hardware/plumbing shop. The electrician for batteries or hand-held fans, Christmas lights, all half-price, is in another side street.  Cut across another couple of streets and there is Carolyn’s restaurant, Dorina’s, where she and the owner vie with each other to discover new mystery books – Maigret, Montalbano, Malvaldi. Carolyn always comes away with a piece of pear and cinnamon pie or some cookies.

This is Carolyn’s Rome where the man, who fits her for her corset and knows how to get rid of her muscle aches, lives just down the street and where she gets her hair cut in the place next to the bank. Where, two steps from her door on the right, a lovely American couple make real bagels and apple pie as well as BLTs. It’s not a Rome of ancient monuments and ruins, of noble palaces and… throngs of tourists. Yet it couldn’t be anything but Rome, for it has a Wall that serves as a sort of boundary for this “village” and hides a marvelous park. Le Mura Gianicolense, 1643. It’s Rome as it used to be, a real neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else, and everybody’s business.  The post office, the bars, the pharmacy, a bookstore. The hospital.  You might even run across a tailor perched on a high stool in the doorway of his shop basting linings on a suit lapel. In other words, it’s a place where people continue to live and work as their ancestors did centuries ago and where newcomers soon blend in.

10 thoughts on “Carolyn’s Rome

  1. You describe so beautifully the Rome some of my Roman friends speak of with nostalgia. And one so different from most of the city now.

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  2. This is a lovely memory. I was lucky enough to enjoy experiencing Carolyn’s Rome in the last years before she moved. We had lunch together at least once each January that I was teaching at the American University nearby. Always fun to see her and compare notes on whatever. J3

    Sent from my iPad

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My occasional visits to Rome (from Britain) have only taken me to tourist quarters and government offices, so this vivid description was a real treat!

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  4. Carissima, You give the gift of living…whether in Orvieto, or Rome….to all of us. Tantissimi BACI e ABBRACCI to a unique and extraordinary person who is, herself, a GIFT to all of us….

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  5. Keenly observed, as always. Ditto for the commenters. I’m glad to see how many this piece has touched. Of course thanks to your artist’s eye, you have made it YOUR Rome, too. Brava!

    Envoyé de mon Di-Phone

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