uring a recent trip to the United States, a colleague of mine asked me if I thought of my Rome life as glamorous. I laughed. Though flattered, the questions confirmed my impression that Americans tend see the grass as greener greener on the other side.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard the glamour remark. Plenty of Americans seem to think that their expat counterparts live a glamorous lifestyle just because they’re at home away from home.
I hate to break the news, but living in Italy can be well… hard. And at times it’s anything but glamorous.
Generalization is risky since everyone has a different story, but my case doesn’t involve a home in the city’s historic center or waking up to birds chirping before sipping on a wonderfully-made cappuccino on my lovely terrace with a view of the Colosseum.
The truth is that I live in a very normal working class neighborhood considerably further than a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps. It’s crowded and full of traffic. Instead of birds chirping, I hear i romani coatti — hardcore Romans — screaming underneath my balcony while playing calcietto in the park. This bothered me at first. I’m a light sleeper and I wasn’t accustomed to hearing street noise late at night. Now, I can safely say the coatti’s calcietto banter at 1 a.m. actually helps “lull” me to sleep.
Then there’s public transportation, or its absence. On a good day (meaning no strikes, floods, accidents or anything else that might interrupt my daily routine), it takes me a bit over an hour to get to work. The hour can become two or more if anyone even mentions the word strike, two drops of rain fall, or the city decides to cut tree branches during rush hour traffic.
“Aren’t they building a new subway line in your area,” say my friends, trying to reassure me. That’ll help, they add. Maybe. If only the planned line weren’t into its fifth year of construction.
Sure, I could always drive to work. But that would mean rising at the crack of dawn not only to beat traffic but also to make inroads in parking rat race. Rome has a population of three million people and nearly half (if not more) drive cars. A parking spot is enriched uranium.
To make matters worse, the historic center (home to many offices, including mine) is off-limits to non-resident traffic. Park illegally and you’ll be hit be a heavy fine or get your car towed. Granted, the very vigili — traffic police — who write you up are nowhere to be found after an accident or when traffic gets snarled.
I say this to suggest my days aren’t about sipping on cappuccinos in the heart of Trastevere or throwing back glasses of Brunello on the rooftop of a gorgeous terrazzo. I get up and go to work like most people around the world. I face the same gruesome traffic as my counterparts in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and every other big city that suffers from overpopulation and poor urban planning.
The only difference is that unlike my Stateside friends I do get to pass the Pantheon, Piazza Venezia and Piazza Navona on my way into work. Scenic it is. That’s the reality of living in Rome.
Do I love it? Sure. Who wouldn’t? It’s undoubtedly among the most beautiful cities in the world, has the best food, and, honestly, who couldn’t love Romans? For the most part they’re helpful, hospitable and always quick to crack a joke.
Living in Italy also lets me explore and experience the other beauties — and there are many (whether they involve food, art, mountains, music, religion, and so on). But Rome and I have a love-hate relationship. I guess Miamians could make the same argument to Italians who look adoringly at Miami and imagine life there as the next best thing to sliced bread.
While we dream of sipping cappuccinos in Rome, Romans imagine Miami life as one long “Baywatch” episode. For more than one Italian, “Baywatch” is Miami.
“I hate to break it to you,” I once crushingly told a friend. “But ‘Baywatch’ was shot in California.”
But if Americans want to see Rome as a landscape of terraces and cappuccinos, Italians are entitled to mistake California for Miami and lust for 1990s Pamela Anderson and 24-hour beach life. To each their own imagined glamour.