y sister-in-law Lakshmi recently gave me a Fitbit as a late birthday gift. No bigger than my thumb and dressed in a rubber, crimson case, the Fitbit could be worn clipped to my jeans pocket or even my bra. It would measure the number of steps I walked daily, she explained.
Lakshmi had also bought one for my brother as a two-year anniversary present, a surprising choice given his cheetah-fast metabolism and tendency to find peace by lounging on the couch and studying Latin for long stretches of time. “It taps into his love of quantifying things,” she reasoned.
Sure enough, my brother wore his Fitbit faithfully: though jumping jacks did not register on the small, blinking meter, sprints did, he told me. To get in a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, the newly married couple would walk to their local Indian market to pick up curry leaves and homely knobs of ginger. My brother’s Fitbit was advanced enough to monitor even his sleeping patterns. Lakshmi’s model, at first glance, looked more like a pretty bracelet, a flat metallic disk with pinpricks of light that lit up in laps around her wrist, signaling how many thousands of footsteps she’d taken. Waterproof, she could wear it in the shower.
My college roommate Kelly, known for her steely Type-A nature, set up a Fitbit contest with her work colleagues to see who could rack up the highest step count. She resorted to walking around the office in concentric circles, stopping only to answer the telephone. I imagined her entire division marching around the building, an army of Fitbit bots.
While I puzzled over their newfound worship of walking at first, I too was quickly swept up in Fitbit fervor. Perhaps it was my reluctance to join a gym, or a winter’s pizza love affair my upper thighs took to heart. In any case I was hooked.
Passing through security at the airport, I was given a quick pat down. “Fitbit?” the cop asked without even seeing it attached to the waistband of my leggings. I was now a part of a secret society. Later, I unapologetically paced the aisles of the plane in my hunter green fleece slippers, adorned with a Mallard duck print, ignoring the crinkled eyebrows of fellow passengers (5,600 steps).
Freshly arrived back in Rome, my Fitbit and I became a team. Sandals were immediately discarded in favor of a pair of sturdy, New Balance running shoes; outfits were chosen based on what matched well with my sneakers. Hoop earrings and maxi dresses were donned in a feeble attempt at “urban chic.”
I began studying the younger, well dressed Scandinavian tourists — how did they look so hip while wearing sneakers? Should I go shopping? I stocked up on cotton, low cut socks at H&M, only to find their elastic bit moodily into my ankles. I became an expert at glancing at my Fitbit through the cotton of my T-shirt, my current number twinkling merrily.
After a little over a week of daily walking, my Fitbit app alerted me that I had achieved my Penguin March badge of 70 lifetime miles, matching the distance of the March of the Penguins, the annual trip emperor penguins make to their breeding grounds. I smugly sent a screenshot to Lakshmi.
Soon, I racked up 21,000 steps a day, not just for the sake of the number, but because I was rediscovering the city that had grown mundane to me. I walked from St. Peter’s to Trastevere, and followed streams of sightseers past the Coliseum to Circus Maximus, sites I hadn’t seen in ages. I was reminded of Rome’s glowy, dappled beauty at sunset, and the way the air smells like jasmine just before spring gives way to summer.
The Fitbit, I realized, was a bit of an aphrodisiac between Rome and me; it rekindled our romance. After a few weeks of serious walking, a large blister has inevitably formed on my right toe. Today, I keep my feet elevated, content to sit and write. The Fitbit waits.