Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced. John Keats
Living in Rome is a little bit like falling in love.
You know when you first set eyes on each other that you are home. Still so much to learn and discover about each other, but you are home.
In the beginning, everything is starry eyed perfection. Magical. Fresh. You feel overwhelmed with excitement and the city becomes the object of all of your attention. There are no flaws. Each new experience together becomes significantly important. You get butterflies in your stomach when you step out on the street each morning because you still have no idea what to expect.
It all started for me many years ago on my first trip to Rome with my mom. I remember very clearly the first time I walked down the street and ran straight into the Colosseum. I was intensely struck by its significance and the enormity of history and everything I’ve ever been taught staring me right in the face. I had learned about it for years in school, but it was never real, to me. Right then, it became real. It was no longer just a picture in a book, words on a page. It was mine. My experience. Part of my history now.
Suddenly you have a whole new world filled with firsts. The food, the wine, the culture. Everything is better than anything you’ve experienced before and you realize that you’ve fallen hard and knowing what you know now, you will never go back to what you used to be.
It happens quickly, when you are least expecting it. Head over heels. Rome can do that to you.
With a little time, the vastness of the culture you’ve fallen in love with begins to be replaced with the little things you discover that you adore just as much, if not more.
Even the tiny tucked away neighborhood churches are intensely beautiful. Every man, woman and child is gorgeous and so impeccably dressed that it is a thrill to spend an entire day people watching in the piazza. The excitement of finding a hidden gem where the locals dine and you feel like you fit in. Ducking into a cool alley filled with tiny specialty shops to escape the hot mid-day sun. The shoes. All of the fabulous shoes. The joy of running into a stall along the Tiber that sells only candy, all of your favorite kinds, exactly at the point when you are in need of a serious sugar rush. Bursting into tears at what might be your seventh visit to Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s because, this time, you finally get it.
You rediscover beauty in the every day. This is your new reality.
The fabulous food, great wine, art, history, passion and romance coupled with the little day to day discoveries are the fun part. It is what sparks that initial flame and forms your connection. The real question is whether you will still respect each other in the morning when the magic wears off and the flaws begin to appear.
It happens slowly, not overnight. It is barely noticeable except when you think back to the beginning. Little things suddenly irritate the heck out of you. Things you didn’t notice before because you were just so in love and really, nothing else mattered.
The initial excitement of dodging scooters and taxis in the street is now a total pain in the ass. It is Just. Too. Loud. You begin to miss fresh air, despise the heat and crowds and crave just a little more green. The history which once stood in stark contrast to the modern city begins to blend into the background. The fact that no one bothers moving over on the street to let each other pass. Everything begins to taste and look exactly the same. You even begin to realize, that, yes, you can drink too much wine.
At this point, when things become more real, you understand that love is not just about those initial magical moments. True love is just not that perfect. It shouldn’t be. Those flaws are actually part of the charm.
I am not quite on board with those that say they have a love/hate relationship with this city. I think it is much more subtle and complex than that. I’m still learning. In my old age, I’ve discovered a shade of grey that I really appreciate. The unexpected makes things exciting.
I am just two weeks into my current Italian love affair. While there have been ups and downs of great magnitude, I know that the next two weeks will further deepen this relationship. I dread the moment where I have to say goodbye, but like with any good relationship, I know it will continue on after I leave. I do not need to throw another coin in the fountain to understand that this is just the beginning.