Memories are precious – my first memories of Rome certainly are.
I have a photo that was taken during my first trip to Rome, Italy. I’m sitting on the Spanish Steps, wearing a t-shirt with a famous Life Magazine photo — a nurse kissing a sailor on V-J Day. The word “PEACE” is written in capital letters on the front of my shirt. “Peaceful” is the word that describes how I felt on that day. This was Rome before the addition of McDonald’s and other Americanisms. This is the Rome I choose to remember.
Often, we’d prefer that our initial contact with a person or place remain unchanged. Strong emotions can be attached to first experiences, so these are often the most memorable. This is what we want to hold on to.
I was enroute to Perugia, where I would spend the summer studying Italian at the University for Foreigners, otherwise known as Universita per Stranieri. Traveling solo in the most sensual of cities, I was struck by a sudden sense of freedom and independence. It was both frightening and enticing. Even for a streetwise New Yorker, Rome could be challenging. Simply crossing the street from the Coliseum was an adventure!
That said, the Coliseum is one of those “must see” sights of Rome. When I think of it, I see the thousands of cats that call this ancient amphitheater their home. For me, images of the architecture are vague, but the cats and the traffic around the Colloseum hold distinct places in the forefront of my memory.
The trick to visiting Rome involves understanding its paradoxes. The Eternal City is both frenetic and laissez-faire. Daily life moves at a fast past, but when it’s time for afternoon siesta, there’s a lull, and time for a rest. Spending an afternoon sipping espresso in Piazza Navona is just as much a part of the Rome experience as a visit to the Trevi Fountain. Meals are leisurely experiences. The Italians savor their food. After your evening meal, a passegiata, or evening walk is in order. This is one of the best Italian traditions. You get to people watch and burn calories at the same time!