Living in Rome
I am back writing on this blog, after a five year interrruption due to my move to Ethiopia. It is the first time I return somewhere. Until now, I have lived an itinerant life moving from new country to new country, without ever returning to the place of origin. Out of all places, a return to Rome is an interesting proposition. It makes me see the eternal city with the fresh eyes of someone who has just arrived, but yet enriched with the knowledge and experience gained the first time round. I no longer feel the pressure to visit the many ancient sites and monuments to quench my thirst for knowledge, I did it all before; it is quite a liberating position to be in. While discovering the splendor of the ancient city, I was mentally exposed to the past, I now prefer to live in the present and document what it means to live in Rome at the beginning of the 21st century.
I will start with my area. I live in Parioli, the neighbourhood of Rome I like the least, but the only one where I could find an appartment large enough to accomodate my family. The whole area, close to Villa Borghese, was built in the 1930s and 40s for the wealthy bourgeois families of Rome, and it shows in the style of the appartment blocks. None of the uniform series of buildings seen in Prati, here, each building has its own style. Inside, the appartments tend to be spacious with ample service quarters and wide stanze di rappresentenza, an Italian real-estate term which translates into reception rooms. However, it also has another connotation, it is a representation room or a room indicative of one’s social status, like the piano nobile in the old Renaissance palaces, so the larger the better. The bedrooms can be very small, they are hidden from public view. Appearances are an important aspect of Italian culture.
Parioli feels empty. Next to our block, there is a another large building which is completely abandoned and has been so for nearly ten years. I was told that the company owning it went bankrupt. In other buildings, many flats seem unoccupied. I never see any light or movement at the window, as if their owners have left the city for good. There is no daily life in the area either. The local commercial activity is reduced to a small bar, a butcher and a grocery shop, and even those shops do not seem to be very busy. They mainly have regular elderly customers. Opposite the butcher, there is a contemporary looking beauty salon specialised in manicure and pedicure and using exclusively the fashionable O.P.I nail varnish, elegantly displayed by colour tones on the window shelves. It gets busy only on Friday afternoons and Saturdays.
To be fully considered a resident of Parioli, I am missing an essential feature: I do not have a dog. In Parioli, dogs are treated like kings. They have their own clinic, their own shops and are the best way to make new friends. As a matter of fact, the only time I see people in the area is when they take their dog for a walk, spoiling the pavement in the process. It feels like a daily gymnastic to try to avoid dogs’ waste on the walking path. In the local park, where I sometimes take my youngest children, I often come across small groups of people gathering to discuss the many virtues of their respective dogs. Needless to say that I remain excluded.
Another reason why I could not be fully considered a resident of Parioli: I do not undergo plastic surgery. This is another social feature in Parioli that seems to be endemic: women, even very young ones, commonly botox their lips, redo their buttocks and breasts while their mothers go for the full facelift. It makes them all look the same, especially when they dye their hair blond. They also wear very similar outfits with the sacrosanct Moncler puffer jacket with UGG boots in winter, and a light shirt-dress with Capri style sandals in summer. Their kids wear a K-Way raincoat in its winter (double-lined) or spring version. In fact, the only boutique which seems to do good business is a local clothes store specialised in the Parioli brands for ladies and kids. We walk past it every morning on our way to school. I did get a request from my younger boy for a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt and a K-Way which I adamantly turned down. Let’s see for how long!