I have been struggling with what to tell you about Rome in the past few weeks. It doesn’t feel necessary to talk about how beautiful this city is, even though it continues to astonish me every time I leave the house. I imagine you would get tired of reading about gelato, though I found a place with better pistachio than Fassi. Though I am constantly inspired to create, the fruits of my labor don’t yet illustrate the contours of my experience here.
So what can I tell you, a month and a half into this adventure? I don’t really have the words to describe how content I feel here in my room with high ceilings, or to truly describe the glorious minutiae of my days doing nothing. To say I awaken gratefully each day doesn’t come close to expressing the pleasure I derive from simply existing in this place. But I owe you an honest attempt, because the only thing that could make this better would be to share it with you.
My roommate makes espresso, and I sip at leisure while reading the news. Some days I walk to the market and sift through vegetables with a stern face, rejecting cabbages until I find an optimal combination of price and quality. It pleases me to play the discerning buyer, and it has made me some friends among the vendors who consistently prevail. They have the brightest, most fragrant fennel and their chayote has the right waxy sheen. They give me good deals on beets and carrots, of which I buy a lot to experiment with fresh juices, and they always answer my questions when I ask about things I’ve never seen. One woman, whose greens are always beautiful, gives me tips on how to prepare quintessential Italian contorni like the grassy agretti currently in season.
I make lunch every day, sometimes just a salad but more often a pot of soup. Last week it was meaty, sweet borscht with the beet greens wilted on top under a drizzle of olive oil. Then a classic Mexican caldo de res, with its iridescent swirls of fat from the marrow bones and lots of oregano, lime and chili. My roommates eye my creations with dubious faces that become smiles as the first taste settles into their stomachs.
Dinner tends toward the Italian, especially at the frequent dinner parties we are hosting. This past weekend brought two seafood pastas, one with calamari, langoustines and cherry tomatoes and another with clams in white wine and parsley. I like to push the boundaries of tradition with second courses, and so we served a roast chicken with paprika, oranges and fennel one night and mussels in beer and fennel broth the other (we had a lot of fennel). The chicken, a particularly meaty specimen, furnished a leisurely Sunday lunch alongside my roommate’s fragrant Iranian currant rice. The crunchy part from the bottom of the pot was resplendent soaked in the chicken’s citrusy pan juices. The beginning of this week continued to benefit from the same bounteous chicken, whose carcass became a clean broth full of vegetables best eaten with a squirt of sriracha and cilantro.
If it sounds as if I spend my days cooking and eating, I can’t deny that I do. But I also read, in Italian to boost my vocabulary and in English to stimulate my intellect. At museums I let the grace of marble sculptures awe me, so that I am filled with the beauty of their frozen movements. There is always a different church to rest in when I am overwhelmed by the echoes in this ancient place. Laundry affords the singular pleasure of inhaling the scent of sun dried towels, pressing my face to each one as I take it off the line.
Lest you accuse me of omitting the awkward edges, most days I argue with clerks over absurd details in broken Italian. The lady that lives downstairs is convinced we’re trying to destroy her house with our bad plumbing, so she calls and calls as if yelling will make the pipes reseal. I listen to the list of our transgressions in vague comprehension, though I suspect no amount of Italian will help me understand. Time flies by while I wait in line, only to realize no one is being served in any particular order. My grad student roommate and I commiserate over the egotistical habits of professors and bureaucrats alike. I wait for someone else to clean the bathroom, or take out the trash. On Wednesdays I journey to tango class via a bus that only comes when I’ve given up hope of getting there on time.
Living in Rome is like being in love. You struggle over the smallest, most banal details, but when you go to bed at the end of your day you are suffused with the rightness of being together.