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When in Rome: Forget Monuments, and Focus on Lifestyle
by Raeleen D'Agostino
Rome is one of those places that never loses its thrill, no matter how many times one attends a papal audience on St Peter's Square, or tries to count the number of holes where the metal bars supporting the marble facade of Hadrian's Temple used to be, or feels the rhythm of street musicians, artists and mimes along the pulsing Piazza Navona. While technically you could spend a lifetime reexamining its sundry ancient ruins, churches, or museums, with nary a ho-hum, you will never achieve true intimacy with Roma (i.e., Amor spelled backwards) if your goal doesn't exceed checking off famous landmarks on an American-style "to-see" list. An intimacy with this ancient city-as with any relationship, requires that you move to the next level by absorbing the lifestyle of its native people. The route to cultural comprehension through lifestyle, however, can often be confusing for the outsider who wouldn't dream of coming home without a snapshot of Michelangelo's Pieta', as proof of a vacation well-spent. But here are 5 ways you can make you next trip to Rome more meaningful, and help you to view your Amor with a fresh new perspective. If only all relationships were this simple!
There is no better way to know Rome-than to gain a deeper insight into the lives of her people. The late Luigi Barzini, of the Bel Paese's most beloved journalists, once referred to Italy is a mosaic of relationships. That is your clue as to how you can get to know her best.
- Go to Rome's periphery, where there are more natives, and fewer foreigners. Right outside of Rome for instance, are the Roman hills, the Castelli Romani, and other quaint towns like Ariccia. Take a short train ride to a place like this and begin by visiting the local store at the train station. Go in and order a café and sip it slowly as you watch locals come in and out. Cashiers or the barista who makes your coffee, are most happy to engage in a conversation about their town, and tell you what places are worth frequenting for dinner, a gelato, shopping, or for a nice passeggiata (stroll).
- When you visit a typical tourist landmark, try to look beyond what everyone else is hovering around. I recently visited a beautiful church called Santa Maria in Trastevere. Although this was not a one of Rome's four major basilicas, there were still quite a few foreigners clustering about the most obvious points of interest-such as the magnificent gilded alter, the ancient tomb pieces embedded into the walls, and the geometric mosaic tiled floors. Instead of trying to get up close to a tour guide to get the scoop, or rushing over to what I knew must be a famous tomb or relic, I opted to centered myself by taking a seat on one of the pews, looking all around, and absorbing the details within visual range. In turning my head slightly to the left, I noticed a large statue of a dark skinned St Joseph holding the baby Jesus, covered by and standing in a pile of little folded pieces of note paper upon which Italians left their prayers, their requests, or their expressions of gratitude. What a treasure, I thought, as I took out a piece of paper, and added mine to the collection.
- Become a Regular. Whether a coffee bar along the Tiber, an out of the way osteria, or even a pharmacy that you visit for your daily needs, find a place that is fare enough off the beaten track to be a local spot, yet close enough to your hotel so that you are able to visit often, and have the opportunity to become friendly with the owner, or with other "regulars" so you can learn through comments, gestures, and daily habits what really makes Rome's culture tick.
- Ask a local instead of consulting a travel guide. Recently, while sitting at an outdoor café across from the Pantheon, it just happened that a retired Roman philosophy professor sat reading the paper next to me. Before long he began explaining how contemporary Romans react to the ancient architectural treasures, which they see, every day-- an insight no travel book in the world could have revealed with such authenticity.
- Engage in local customs. Forget touristy rip-off shops, and opt for shopping for everything from flowers to ceramics at the open-air market at Campo dei Fiori. Instead of using the hotel gym, head to one of Rome's many squares or the path that borders the long Tiber River, for a traditional evening passeggiata or stroll. Observe behaviors, watch how people interact, walk, notice the detail with which they dress. Make sure you stop and rest (observe) every once in a while on a strategically positioned public bench, where you might even make a friend or a family of friends with whom you may even feel comfortable enough to exchange email addresses .I have made some enduring and valuable Italian friendships in just this way.
Bio: Dr. Raeleen D'Agostino is an Italian lifestyle specialist and author of Living la Dolce Vita: Bring the Passion, Laughter, and Serenity of Italy into Your Daily Life (Sourcebooks, Inc). She conducts lifestyle retreats to Italy and lectures worldwide on the benefits of Italian lifestyle. For more information: raeleenmautner.com
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