spent the last 12 months of August on the American East Coast where I’d occasionally wax poetic about missing Rome’s slow late summer, which traditionally culminates on August 15, the Ferragosto holiday. Though urban America slows down a little, its inbuilt hypertensive character keeps it from napping, let alone tuning out.
Whenever I’d mention this nostalgia to Italians, they’d snap at me. You’re getting old, they’d say. Rome isn’t that way any more. People need to work. Jobs are scarce. Now, they’d tell me, Rome is more like an American city. The sleepy August of the past are gone.
But this year I’m back in town and I have a word for those who told me of a new Rome filled with August commotion: you’re wrong. My advice to those who sell dreams of nonexistent summer bustle is to take a nap, or go to the beach; join the rest of the madding crowd, which definitely isn’t in the city. Forget American back-to-school lodestones such as Labor Day: schools don’t open in Rome until the second week of September, more than a month away.
It’s reassuring to rediscover a Rome as languorous as it was in Augusts past. Many shops around me are closed for a week, or two, or three. Two local supermarkets, large ones, will shut on the 14th and 15th, two full days. One tobacco store won’t open again until September 10th. Two out of the three local pharmacies are shut for at least a week.
More importantly, at least to me, the geckoes are out. Once, summer Rome was their domain, along with lizards — lizards by day, geckoes by night, Rome’s reptilian clock. But that clock seemed to stall in recent decades, when even hot weather failed to coax my favorite creatures. I assumed most had packed and found jobs in the suburbs, or moved to local parks, where they could at least form small communities and watch videos together. Still, I missed them.
Then, the other night, well past midnight, sitting on the terrace and listening to the kind of bold silence only a Rome August night can host, I dipped my head backward and above me was a gecko, tucked and suctioned into a tall wall, unmoving, unbothered and probably on the hunt for a stray piece of sushi, aka an insect.
Funny about reassurance: how it can come, unbidden, in the form of the first gecko you’ve seen on your once teeming terrace since the new century got started. I tried chatting up the gecko, but, as always — some things never change — it had nothing on offer. Nor did it move, content with its angular attachment to the external portion of my kitchen wall.
A gecko sighting doesn’t mean Rome Augusts are quite as deserted or outside time as they were half-a-century ago. But it does suggest the city hasn’t yet caught America’s 24/7 contagion. Rome remains stalwart in its southern-ness, the capital of a Mediterranean country that takes the summer sun as cue to put indolence ahead of industry for no other reason than temperature and temperament, Siamese twins. Even the act of closing up is natural. There’s no resistance to stepping back and away, turning off and tuning out. Night walls are gladly handed over to geckos and their ilk as humans take their noisy drama elsewhere. And no place hosts the absence of humanity better than Rome. Still.