What? You didn’t fall in LOVE with Rome?

“I’ve been to Rome.” How I’ve come to fear this response when I tell people where I live. I shouldn’t be so concerned. And yet on hearing those words I feel a throbbing urgency, an imperative to ensure they have fallen deeply in love, have spoken not of traffic or pickpockets or the heat or the crowds… but of my version of Roma. Why do I feel so compelled to defend this city? It’s done fine without me for thousands of years. It’s not as though it’s a compliment-deficient destination. This instinctive sensitivity can’t even be justified by some family ancestry or the nostalgia of whimsical childhood summers spent holidaying here. I’m like the girl who introduces a new love to family and friends, earnestly whispering, “Well? What do you think? Isn’t he amazing? I want to know what you think of him! Tell me the truth!” But actually, no one in love ever wants to hear the truth. They’re simply aching for the affirmation that you see their partner in the same resplendent vivid colours they see before them. This is how I am with Rome.

Try as I might to be phlegmatic or just smile sweetly, I can’t handle it when they remark, “Yeah, we enjoyed Rome… I mean, it’s not New York or Paris but we saw the Colosseum and we had some great gelato and those Italians are a little frisky but on the whole it was a great three days.” That type of response makes me want to stage a kidnapping and show them 24 magical hours of a city that has been completely misunderstood. Because anything less than “I love Rome in a way that is dangerous to my marriage, my work, my bank account and my complacency as a human being” is not enough to convince me they have thoroughly enjoyed the Eternal City.

You think I’m just talking about conversations with friends; I wish I were. I was at London airport recently and the man who stamped my passport gave me a “Ah, you live in Rome? Me and the missus have been there. Nice place.” It took all my discipline to resist grabbing him by the shoulders and crying, “Noooooo! Don’t live another day with Rome inducing anything less than superlatives in your subconscious! Please come back! I’ll show you so much more. Rome is SO MUCH MORE THAN NICE!”

Perhaps, for all Rome’s accessible beauty, it is fundamentally a city that fools visitors with a false sense of transparency. My lifestyle here allows me to live as a flaneur and I’m reasonably fluent in Italian, yet after all this time I still feel as though I have so much to learn about this city. This is why I become so passionate when visitors claim to have ‘done’ Rome. In this city it appears to be all out on display, ripe for the taking (or the judging), ready to be wedged in between Bangkok and Barcelona in the traveller’s holiday heirarchy. According to them, it’s monuments, it’s cobblestone, it’s fountains, it’s pizza, it’s Vespas, it’s crowds, it’s gelato – they see it, they Instagram it and they check out at Fiumicino. But, at least for me, the reasons to love Rome, are so much smaller than the Colosseum or the Trevi Fountain. I was in London briefly this month and returning home to my apartment I was hit by a million little details that made my heart swell…

I love gliding at full speed on my bicicletta across a piazza with my basket full of fresh vegetables, flowers and bread from the market, skidding to a stop beside a free-flowing fountain to fill a bottle to take home. I love turning the corner of my street and spying the curious man who greets me vaguely with his eyes but never says hello as he sits in his little workshop crafting violins by hand. I lock up my bike and two gentlemen in tailored linen suits passing by pay me a compliment that is poetic and reverent, in marked contrast with what I’ve found to be a myth of overly lascivious Italian males hassling females on the street. I love fumbling for my giant fairytale key that opens the two-storey-high front door of my Renaissance palazzo. As the heavy timber heaves shut behind me, I then unlock the wrought iron gate and am always intoxicated by the heady scent of marble when I climb the ancient staircase. I think I’ve mentioned this smell before; for me it’s so potent and so entwined with my fantasies of who may have come through these doors since the palazzo was built 500 years ago.

I love writing late at night with my shutters open and hearing couples fight passionately in the street or my neighbour calling down to her son who’s parking his Vespa. The acoustics are brilliant in the centro storico; everyone is a part of each other’s business. I love the lack of privacy; I’ve heard Italian friends complain but it dispels the alienation one can suffer in most cities. I love that people will be watching and talking over their cornetti domani if a male friend walks me to my door. I love that in the mornings the signore above me plays classical music on his piano, while in the afternoon the men repairing antique furniture in the street below sing and whistle vintage Italian love ballads. I even love that most foreign females have to dress more conservatively and show less flesh or be frowned upon. I come from a beach town and this took some getting used to in the heat of summer but I truly advocate ‘when in Rome, dress as the Romans do’. I’ve heard some argue that they should be free to wear what they please… and they are. However, I’ve found you’re more likely to be invited into the lives of locals, strike up a conversation to practise your Italian or even avoid being crudely propositioned or pick pocketed if you show cultural respect and don’t stick out like the consummate tourist.

I love that I can arrive two hours late and all my friends are tranquilli. I love that you can’t pass through Piazza del Fico on a Friday evening without being stopped 20 times by friends you haven’t seen since Ponza/Tuscany/Amalfi/Cortina/Milan… I love that every conversation or phone call or email or text message is finished with kissing and hugging, irrespective of your age or gender. I love that the youth of Rome laments the lack of opportunity, the nepotism, the barren start-up culture but then over cacio e pepe in a trattoria my friends will violently turn on anyone who suggests spending Ferragosto on a beach that is not Italian; anyone who intimates that one eats well in London. I love that they then spend the evening affectionately embracing each other and singing their lungs out to quaint 50s songs in dialect in a piano bar. In fact, it is when Italians sing together, not songs from MTV or iTunes, but classics they have heard their parents and grandparents sing to celebrate Italia, that I cannot help but absorb that infectious pride gushing from them. And it’s moments like these when I feel so consumed by the warmth and romance of it all, that I want desperately for every visitor to Rome to know there is more to this city than pizza and gelato.

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  • As an Italian who grew up in the States and spends more time than is generally considered normal in airports… This is an absolutely fantastic article. Very well done!

    • Thank you so much Flavia. Seeing as you have an understanding of both the foreign and Italian perspective your comments mean so much to me! Gentilissima! 🙂

  • Carinissima trasmissione due simpaticissimi ragazzi ,e finalmente dei veri piatti italiani e non i soliti pseudo piatti inglesizzati rovinando il vero itlianfood! Abito a Nettuno vicino ad Anzio dove ci si imbarca x Ponza bella puntata! Complimenti ancora!

    • Grazie Gianni! Siamo molto contenti che ti sia piaciuto il programma! Adoro Ponza – e’ la mia isola preferita.

  • After studying in Roma, I know exactly what you mean! I can’t stand listening to friends who “feel like they’re spending too much time in Rome” – I just want to shake them and yell, “You’ll never have enough time!” Your article brought tears to my eyes – grazie mille!!!

    • Thank you Ashley. You’re so sweet to write such a kind comment. It’s great to know you feel the same way – now I feel slightly less crazy about being so defensive about an adopted city. 😉 Thanks again for reading. Xxx

  • “I love Rome in a way that is dangerous to my marriage, my work, my bank account and my complacency as a human being” How did you get in my head?? I have just returned from my 4th visit to Rome and have been trying to articulate the pull the I feel from this amazing city. I must have lived there in a former life and I envy you for your life there now. Thank you for a great article!

    • I’m so glad you can relate to it, Linda! I remember returning from a holiday to Italy and feeling like nothing in my life back home made sense anymore. It was such an extreme case of post-holiday blues that I was incapable of doing anything but daydream about running away to live in Rome. Italians told me when I first moved here that this infatuation would fade after three months once I was no longer a tourist on holiday… I’m pleased to report that after three years this still hasn’t happened. 🙂

      • I absolutely loved hearing you describe Rome, because you see the magic that so many people don’t! I first came to Rome about 4 years ago, and every time I come back it’s better than the last. I’m from California, but I currently live in the Provence region of France, and I’m in Rome now to escape France and get some writing accomplished.
        I truly admire that you came to Rome and continue to see the magnificence that you saw your first time, and it’s so wonderful that you’re also able to write about it too. In fact, I’m curious how you came to find writing jobs, and delve into the writing world, especially abroad, because this is an avenue I really want to begin investigating.
        Cheers to loving Rome!

        • Hi Lesley. Thanks so much for your encouragement. I’m obviously a little sentimental when it comes to Rome and I do get frustrated just like every other expat or local in the city… but I think if you’re even remotely creative then it’s hard not to romanticize this city. Freelance writing about Italy in general is very hard. I’ve seen so many articles written by journalists for big publications who have never even lived here and find all their facts simply by Googling. This can be infuriating, especially when you need the money to put pane on the tavola. 😉 However, if you continue to write well and get your work out there for less than it’s worth (or for free) inevitably someone will take notice. It’s near impossible to make a living just on writing in Italy but if you’re willing to take on another job part-time you can carve out a career for yourself over time. At least, that’s been my experience and it echoes what expat friends who are journalists have told me.

  • I so know what you mean.

    My first trip to Rome shook me to my core.

    I’ve been to other cities, no one is Italian in my family, why this love affair with crazy Rome?

    Five years after quitting my Hollywood job and moving to Rome, I’m still trying to answer that question!

    • Five years is impressive! Wow, isn’t it great after living long term in Rome when you realise it’s a love affair that has lasted so much longer than that first holiday? That it wasn’t just a crazy idea induced by too much gelato and sunshine? 🙂

  • Sorry but… are we living in the same city?

    As a native Roman, I have to disagree with what you wrote; I reckon that we locals don’t live in the glamourous historical centre goin’ around on bikes and buying fresh vegetables from old ladies at the market! Or singing passionately old songs (mostly pop anyway, not something that grampas passed down on us)… something I’ve never witnessed.

    It can be argued that the real Rome is everywhere BUT its city centre (including Trastevere), where expats wearing rose-tinted glasses like to pretend to live like us… try getting out of there and live like a real Roman – then tell me if you find that romantic! 😛

    • Marco, sono d’accordo! I agree with you. But I think you missed my point. This is the Rome I live and I get upset because tourists, who come to centro storico and have the opportunity to see all this beauty, end up spending time in queues for the Colosseum or eating at red and white checker tables in Piazza Navona or Piazza della Rotonda when they could be discovering a whole other side to the centre of Rome. I hate Trastevere because it is overrun with tourists and expats. And my first Roman boyfriend lived far out of the centre so I’ve certainly seen further than the cobblestone. But even when living at his place ‘in periferia’ we would hear the neighbors singing Rita Pavone… and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in a car full of Romans at the end of night of dancing all singing A Fare L’Amore Comincia Tu or Bambola (Tu Mi Fai Girar..) or Luigi Tenco or Renato Carosone. 🙂

  • Kylie, i absolutely adore your programs ‘When in Rome’ and When Patrick met Kylie… I love them because you show the Rome and those little towns that the typical tourist don’t see or visit. You share those little hidden secrets like a nice plaza, a historical monument, a whimsical store, an incredible restaurant, and you show how to prepare a wonderful dish. I look forward every Sunday to watch When Patrick met Kylie..There is something that strike me about you two and is that happiness, glow and zest for life that comes across in every scene. And what an incredible setting for that but Italy. You make anyone love Italy.I was in Rome last August and I felt so happy. I was practically by myself, and there was no one moment that I felt alone or lonely.There was something about that city, something enchanting, inviting, friendly, something almost ethereal, like an halo, a shiny halo, that draw that city into my skin. I said when I left, I will come back, and I will, I know. Someone asked me after my trip, if I had the opportunity to live somewhere different than Toronto, where would i go?, and I answered, I will live in Rome with no hesitation and I would leave right now if i could. I get absolute pleasure seeing happy people and more over those ones who share that feeling. Congratulations Kylie!

    • Pilar, I don’t even know how to begin to thank you for such a DOLCE response. Your words make my heart swell and I cannot stop grinning! I can thoroughly relate to your feeling of happiness even when completely alone in Italy. Stay focused on your dream – don’t let it become something you think you ‘could have done’. It will feel like a challenge financially and you may be told “oh but everyone dreams of making their Italian holiday last forever – it’s not realistic”. You obviously have a deep love for Italy and I’m living proof that the reality can be just as beautiful as the perception of this country you have after a short vacation. It’s not easy and you have to make a few sacrifices and be patient but it’s absolutely worth it. Thank you again!!

      • “Your words make my heart swell.” That’s a vintage turn of phrase. Your life in Rome clearly impacts your relationship with your native tongue. There is something very romantic about Italy and Italian. Of course, I have only seen it from films which are already over romanticized. There is something enticing about a culture that can show appreciation for femininity of any age without it being lustful or inappropriate. I have always been tempted by old world courtliness which you don’t see much of in Los Angeles, except by new transplants. No plans to visit your part of the world in person, but I am enjoying reading about your experiences. Che Dio ti benedica.

  • This article was great! I’ve spent the last year studying here in Roma and have less than a month left and I could already feel my heart aching and not wanting to leave! I had a friend come here last week from Canada and although we had a week to see Rome, I still didn’t get a chance to show her everything I wanted to! There’s just SO much to see and do and learn in this city I can’t imagine people who can spend only two or three days here before going to another destination!

  • I visited Rome three times. And I booked my tickets to Rome before Christmas already!
    What can I say… It was love from the first sight. And my love is growing and growing 🙂 I can say – something serious is happening.

    I love, when you just walk down the street and you feel like… ‘you are here and this is a place where you should be, live, love and die’. And this city is full of magic and secrets.

    When I walk those streets, I feel like the happiest person on earth. It’s a gift to me.
    This is one of the reasons why do I want to move to Italy. Rome especially. I don’t know – will I be lucky? I am an architecture student from Lithuania… Life can and will be hard for me. I know this. You can call me naive girl, but oh, well… Nothing scares me when I think about Rome.

    I loved you article.
    Thanks 🙂

  • I won’t use “standard” phrases like -well done or great job! i simply say that i really enjoyed reading this post, because i felt your attitude, love, tenderness that you experience, through the words. i feel you being sincere in writing it and describing simple everyday moments that surround you and make you happy here, in Rome. and i totally share your feelings. i came to rome 1 year ago to stay here…i knew before,it was my city…thank you

  • Roma è unica, in qualche modo mi sembra una creatura viva. A volte saggia e antica, a volte capricciosa come una bambina. Una stretta di mano da uno che c’è nato, e dopo tanto tempo ha ancora la sensazione di aver fatto poco più che grattare la superficie 🙂

  • No, I didn’t fall in love with Rome. In fact I loath it. It’s crowded, full of people trying to cheat you and the public transport is a bad joke.

    I heard one can get the best gelato there, I got rather boring and uninspired gelato, twice. The food is good but hey, one can get good food all over the world.

    As the Railways were on a strike I can’t say much about the Coliseum. San Pietro in Vaticano Was really great though.

    All in all. Next time I might go to Catania, better food, also nice architecture and it’s small enough so that the chaos can be enjoyed.

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