Getting Around It’s lunchtime in Rome, and you wander into a pizzeria by the Pantheon. The pizzaiolo cuts you a slice with zucchini and eggplant, you plunk down your ‚2 and walk back into the balmy air to find a place to sit down. Munching away, you look down to find that this round piece of stone where you have planted yourself is not exactly a bench. It is the big toe of an erstwhile colossus that loomed large above this street some 2,000 years ago. This sort of thing happens every day in Rome. The alleyways and thoroughfares are so thickly sprinkled with the remains of ancient history that you couldn’t possibly notice them all. Anywhere else, this marble appendage would have been carted off to a museum, but in the Eternal City, it’s merely part of the landscape. There are buildings that fell apart centuries ago, and no one has bothered to fix them. Flowers, ivy, and graffiti crawl over the remnants and fill history’s void with beauty, showing that, in Rome at least, time heals all wounds.
The cradle of Western civilization is a paradise for history buffs and people who enjoy life in the slow lane. With fine weather and smiling faces everywhere you turn, it is easy to sit around and wait out any hardships that present themselves. If patience is a virtue, Rome must be the most virtuous city of all. For everyone else, the city is a grueling test. Rome suffers from”or, some would say, enjoys”a syndrome called menefreghismo. This is the attitude that the present matters little, that problems like ringing telephones will eventually go away, and that nothing, ever, is urgent.
The city doesn’t bat an eyelash at new ideas. It has seen them all: democracies, emperors, popes, conquering hordes, dark ages, rebirths, more conquerors, monarchists, fascists, communists, and the sunrise and sunset of the Internet millionaire. Despite this, or more likely because of it, nothing ever truly changes. The city still has its popes, fascists, communists, and Internet entrepreneurs, all of them only slightly reformed. Even Italy’s exiled royals have been allowed to return. In Rome, a scandal today is forgotten tomorrow, and you will always be forgiven.
Rome’s live-and-let-live attitude has attracted admirers from all corners of the globe, and it has long had a lively English-speaking contingent, going back to the days of Byron and Shelley (now buried in the city’s Protestant Cemetery). They were followed in the 1950s by the caf-dwellers of Via Veneto, and later by crowds of tourists from the United States when air travel became affordable to the middle class.
Though it hosts millions of religious pilgrims and thousands of regular tourists, Rome has never been considered a cosmopolitan capital on par with the likes of Paris or London. When in Rome, outsiders were expected to eat and behave like the Romans, and they did so enthusiastically. Over the past decade, this has changed a little, thanks to the forces of globalization and growth in immigration. Where once there were modest trattorie, now there are Irish pubs. Corner stores in the historic center have become McDonald’s, and even a handful of sushi and African restaurants have sprung up. For cautious expats, this all means a gentle introduction to a foreign land.
It’s also a good place for them to find a job, since a number of English-speaking institutions are headquartered here: universities, international organizations, media groups, etc. Some U.S. companies operate out of Rome, though many prefer to locate themselves in Italy’s financial and business capital, Milan. (Jealous northerners will often remind their fellow citizens that modern Rome”much like Washington, D.C.”would be little more than a southern backwater had it not been for its fortunate political status and the jobs that this created.) Rome is therefore a good place for those fresh off the plane to land a short-term lease and try out their luck in the job market before planning a longer-term move.