When In Rome . . .
Sit and sup, think and breathe, it's all possible
I blame my grandfather, Leonildo Tazioli, for my love of sitting.
For savoring every morsel of food, for craving every drop of wine, for carrying a thought — uninterrupted — to its conclusion, for music and family and life.
And, yes, for sitting.
Louie, as he was called, never budged in his later years. In winter, you'd find him reclining on his couch in the living room, a cigar butt jammed into the pipe he'd use to get every last puff from the smelly things. In summer, you'd find him lounging in the hammock he'd strung between two enormous cherry trees in his backyard, doing the same. Forever pontificating, instructing his grandchildren, always perfectly content.
He was a man who knew his favorite places and his favorite pastimes and, without apology, indulged in them.
And now, so do I.
My favorite place is Rome. My favorite pastime is living in that city.
For the past several years, I've been lucky enough to spend a few weeks there every summer, subletting an apartment near the Piazza Farnese and the Tiber River and going to language school. I'm determined to learn Italian well. I'm equally determined to indulge myself in the lifestyle I've loved since I was a kid.
Perhaps this is a terrible thing for a travel editor to admit, but I wouldn't read guide books if it wasn't a required part of my job. I wouldn't sign up for tours, I wouldn't wander around towns with a map and I wouldn't hop from place to place on some set agenda — Paris on Tuesday, Nice on Friday, Monaco on Saturday morning, Cinque Terre Saturday night. Makes me nuts.
Instead, give me one place, a little bit of time, a room, a quick lesson in the local culture, some polite and necessary phrasework in the native tongue, and turn me loose. I'll make my way, and I'll be happy. Just call me Louie Jr.
Otherwise, I'd rarely have moments like these:
Savor the city
Travelers often complain that Rome is chaotic and noisy as they dash between ancient ruins and Renaissance churches. There's no doubt that life pulses in the Eternal City where Armani-clad Italians on the latest-model motorbikes zoom along the same streets where Julius Caesar strolled. But visitors should do as the Romans do: Stop sit and savor the city's sounds
Listen to the sounds of Rome
Terry Tazioli filed several dispatches from Rome while he lived there this summer. You can read them here:
Ciao, Roma! Travel dispatches from Italy
• Being able to stare down my least-favorite market clerk, who would glower at me for not having exact change every time I bought something. I declared victory the day no one else in line but me got that treatment, and I looked at her and said, in my very best and firm Italian, "What's your problem?" She gave me change.
• Learning a little drinking ditty from the guys of Contrada San Martino in the Tuscan hilltop village of Montisi where I'd gone for a weekend, on the night before an annual summer celebration when I wandered into the room where they were taking a break from preparations. And then being baptized into the neighborhood association by chugging the regional red. I can sing you the song if you're interested.
• Upholding my reputation at school for being the master of invention and misinterpretation when, in an effort to explain and transfer "Run for the hills!" I mispronounced the Italian for hills and told a rather startled listener to run for the little butts. He happily set me straight.
There are so many more moments.
I was thinking about all this while I was sitting by the Tiber late at night on this summer's trip with a couple of fellow students from Italiaidea, the private language school we all attend and where I've been going for years.
We were at a bar on one of the broad walkways that line the river, the bar itself one of a number of temporary tents set up there for summer merriment — vendors of food, wine, beer, gelato, clothes, live entertainment, you name it. There's even a temporary swimming pool.
We were Susan, from Scotland, a mother whose children are grown and who had returned to university to study Italian art history. Mariusz, whose home is Poland, but who had spent the past 12 years in school and then living in Germany, then in Portugal, Austria and now Italy. He's studying Italian business in hopes of landing a job.
For a while, I just listened to the two of them, watched the crowds, stared at the dark river and the surroundings lit up at night like some dream Hollywood set, and I marveled at it all.
I live here, I kept repeating. OK, so it was only for a month. But I live here!
The three of us spoke in the only language we had in common — Italian. Broken as our phrasing was, uncertain as we were with our newly practiced skills, we managed to talk about our lives, our dreams, our families, all the dumb things we'd said in Italian. Susan talked about her dad and his dying, Mariusz his journeys and his life across Europe, and me — what I intend to do next in life, all of it eloquent enough to hear the passion, see the teary eyes and crack a few jokes. Not bad for a bunch of foreigners.
When I wandered back to the apartment sometime after midnight, I grumbled to myself that the lesson I needed to learn from this night was to take more time when I got home for this very same insight and conversation.
I think now, though, that there was more to my grumbling. I think now that I also was covering up. What had happened that night and what happens every time I spend a long time in Rome is that I give my soul time to breathe and stretch, and it had taken the opportunity to get back to me in no uncertain terms — let me out, let me go, you've kept me bottled up far too long.
It is an amazing moment when that realization comes, and it does a lot these days. Perhaps it's why I travel, perhaps it's the only reason I travel the way I do.
Terry Tazioli is The Seattle Times travel editor.