So, once more she was back in Rome’s airport, few steps away from the center of her dream;
the city she has woven zillions of visions around; the city which has kept her going until now, sustained by the hope that one day, she is going to be part of it.
With her luggage she ran to catch the express bus which will drop her at Termini, the central station right in the heart of Rome, where she could pick up a cab to her hotel in the St. Angelo area.
Despite the teary skies, she still kept her mouth stretched with a heartfelt smile; how could she not be happy or even dare complain or moan about the weather. It’s Rome! It can choose to be whatever it wants and she will just continue to love it, just the way it is.
Behind the bus window, Rome glittered under the soft rain droplets. Down the streets, modern and old buildings embraced past and present. People ran away from the rain, and people slowed down to enjoy the rain.
In the traffic light, a man tried to impress the passengers with an acrobatic show, hoping that in this city of arts, someone will stop and acknowledge him. She wasn’t sure if he was just after the money or if he was on a quest for an audience to witness his talent.
After a long battle with her crippled bag under a-now-heavy rain, she arrived soaking wet at the hotel.
An exquisitely dressed young handsome Italian man, received her with an immaculate distant bookish hospitality. The man was provokingly decent in his dark blue dry suit. He was too composed for her taste; how could Italians be so cold?! Wet from head to toe, she would have preferred some more sympathy and help than his; “How can I help you?!” Well; Help me, please. Take the luggage, offer a towel, say something nice, show her the nearest bathroom or get her into her room for God’s sake. But all she got from the speaking statue was: “you can stay in the lobby at the other end, because your room won’t be ready until three more hours!”
What?! F****! She would have slapped him easily and shoved his arrogance down his throat, if she just wasn’t so tired, and so relentlessly insistent to have a good time despite everything.
She walked helplessly tired, wet, and cold to the lobby. She took off her shoes and socks, breathed in deeply and managed to attract her own attention to the stereotyping trap that this incident had set for her. She shouldn’t generate a judgment just because the first man she met in the hospitality business in Rome has no idea what the word by definition means.
She could sense the phone buzzing in her lap merging with a strange low murmur of: “Signora!” What? She is not a Signora, why is she hearing Italian? The word was being repeated slowly, and her phone was still buzzing, she was being ushered into consciousness bit by bit after a fatigued slumber on the lobby’s small couch.
Her eyes locked with charming confused hazel grayish eyes. Was it the trance of sleep or are they really so deep? She couldn’t make out any other face features of the person who was waking her up. It is definitely not the receptionist, his eyes were stony and cold, but this.. this is so warm.
Before she was fully aware and before she could make any sense of where she was, her eyes traveled slowly to the phone that was vibrating its last breath out, as the battery went dead on her! Of course! With the excitement of going to Rome the previous day, she forgot to recharge.
Finally, she looked up-
Oh! That’s definitely not the guy she encountered this morning. In fact, he is not any other guy she expected to call her “Signora” down the streets of Rome, and – surely- not on her very first day or in this small old hotel. He is also definitely not the guy she wants to meet in her current miserable condition!
Suddenly, she was too conscious of her messed up image. She was experiencing a moment of female vanity; being too aware of how completely unfeminine she must have looked. Her pants were muddy all the way up to her knees, her hair is probably horrible, and her face is so pale and sleep deprived without a single drop of makeup.
She whispered, immediately breaking eye contact, realizing she needs the distraction. Sleep was evaporating now and she could feel the tears pricking the back of her eyes. Tears?! Stop the silliness.
– “Your room is ready for youuuu now, Signora. We are verrryy sorrryy forr keeping youuu waiting for sooo long!”
“Yes, you should!” Of course in her head, the live never crossed her tongue. In reality, she was struggling to overcome the mesmerizing effect of the sweet Italian accent. She fumbled with her scattered belongings all around the room; luggage, bag, mobile, laptop, ah-yes, of course.. her shoes and socks, really?! Kill me .. kill me now!
She knelt down to pick them, turned around as she went up again, and …
– “Oh… Sorry!” he apologized.
They almost bumped head to head…
– “No problem..”
– “Please let me help you with your baggage.”
Where did that sound come from, now? It’s totally not hers! Seems she is still not fully awake.
She walked into the perfect feminine room; the small cozy one with the white baroque bed and pink accessories, and the dreamy paintings of romantic school landscapes and melancholic figures, whom she has always pictured as herself.
The minute she stepped in she forgot all about the bad experience earlier or about Mr. Grey eyes behind her, who was showing her around the room. He must have said something about breakfast and Concierge, she couldn’t make out what it was exactly, as she stared away through the window that overlooked one of the oldest streets in central Rome. The residential buildings were pieces of art. They were so close; she could see what’s happening behind the windows of the building before her. Oh! She won’t have any sleep tonight; She will reconnect with her old habit; sitting and imagining what is happening behind closed doors; make stories of people, and play with their destinies all without them even knowing that she is doing so.
It was still early in the day, and the rain had stopped for some time. She showered, changed into a warm comfy, yet flattering outfit, and ran down to the reception to get a map and kick off her tour. She looked for … oh … she doesn’t remember his name. Well, he wasn’t there anyway! The girl at the reception for the afternoon shift was very helpful, Valaria, she loved how her name sounds, it just made her smile and made her feel like she could speak Italian.
Valaria told her how to get around the sightseeing areas close to the hotel by foot. Few seconds and she was on the road; walking along with a silly smile on her face, an umbrella in her hand, a backpack, and a brain that is trying to register every single detail to ensure it sinks pretty deep inside her heart.
She talked to Rome as she walked. She sang to her too, she recounted all the stories and tales she has imagined to have experienced between the streets of the city. She also told Rome about its aging sister Cairo; the resemblance between both of them was unbelievable, except that beside Rome, Cairo looked very old and senile. Nevertheless, for eyes that could see beneath the superficial, there is something that testifies to ancient beauty. Cairo seems to have given up on life, while Rome as throughout all of its history, is still hanging on playfully to life. That’s why she had felt home all along, this was like being in Cairo when it was still young, bright, cheerful and hopeful.
The day was full of tours across the Vatican dome and museums, the fantastic streets leading up to it, with the most hospitable sweet Italians stopping her on the way to chit chat or flirt or offer their services. Even non-Italians seemed to pick up their sociability as well. As they queued up to get into the Vatican, tourists around her were very supportive offering help with taking pictures, thoughts, and artistic analysis.
The loveliest thing about Roma is the fact that everyone in Roma becomes part of Roma. Doesn’t make any sense, right?
Once you step foot in Rome, you integrate with the beautiful image; the experience of living like the Romans. Everything in Rome strives to keep its special historical atmosphere. The smell of the past rises with pasta sauces to hang in the air, it is spread and circulated over the tunes of the decorative chiming of the cathedrals’ bells. The way Italians and specifically Romans talk to you, the way they decorate their shops, or the way they handle every tiny detail of their day, complements the romantic perception all of us have of Rome in specific and Italy in general.
One has no choice but to melt with the colors of the picture; act like the people in it, dress like them, walk the way they walk, sing the way they sing, linger over the sunshine the way they linger, smile like them when it rains, use one’s hands to emphasize, or even get angry the way they do, remember the saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, that’s absolutely true.
She tried for a couple of days to just walk around in her tourist shabby clothes, but she couldn’t. Italiane ladies make it hard not to dress up when walking around. Dressing up in Rome has a completely different aspect. You are not doing it to stand out or for the attention, you are doing it because the whole set up is so beautiful, you don’t want to distort it.
When she returned to the hotel on her first night, she saw posters all around with the picture of the nice guy she met earlier. The poster said he was an image consultant and a personal shopper too. She saw him sitting before a computer beside the reception desk, when she walked in around 9:00 pm (life stops in central Rome with sunset- literally the only outlets that remain open are restaurants for dinner and cinemas).
She looked a bit puzzled seeing him behind the desk and on the poster she was holding in her hands. He realized she was confused so he said in his tantalizing Italian accent:
– “Ah, yes. I am the concierge for the hotel, but I also provide these two services to our guests and their friends.”
He smiled, looking her up and down, probably wondering how come she could look so clean after the scandalous image he saw in the morning.
– “Ah, I see. Nice!”
Silence. She decides to head to her room.
– “My shift is over now, would you like to join me for a drink in the hotel restaurant? It’s our happy hour.”
– “Thanks, but I don’t drink,”
He moved around the desk and started walking towards her. And as if she didn’t just decline his offer, he was guiding her towards the restaurant. He asked:
– “Oh, really. Where are you from?”
– “Egypt, but I don’t live there- I live in Qatar, not sure if you’ve heard about it.”
– “Of course, I have been to Dubai once for a business venture but it didn’t work out- I am quite familiar with the Middle East. But you don’t look Egyptian at all”
They were now seated on a nice table by the window. This street looks as charming by night as in the morning. Will she ever stop drooling over Rome?
– “Am not sure if that is a complement,” she laughed
– “No, I don’t mean anything. I know lots of Egyptians and they are all very nice. You just don’t look the way they usually do, your features are more Mediterranean.”
– “Well, thank you… I guess!”
A moment of silence as he got himself a drink, she asked for orange juice.
– “Well, I am only here in Rome for four days, one of them is already gone. I want to still get to enjoy the artistic and historic side of the city tomorrow, which will not leave me much time to enjoy modern and shopping Rome. So I was wondering if you could assist me with my shopping escapade especially that am on a tight budget too,” she said.
– “ Sure- we could do it anytime you like. I can take you to some nice shops that will give you the Italian experience you are looking for and you won’t have to pay as much.”
– “Excellent- how much will you charge me?”
– “Nothing,” he smiled.
– “Nope- I have to pay for your time.”
– “We will discuss it later then.”
Her stomach was twisting, she didn’t eat anything since her early lunch. She has to go
out and start looking for a nice spaghetteria somewhere close by.
– “Alright, I have to go now. I need to go eat something. It has been a very long day.”
– “Great- I haven’t had dinner too. Let’s go get some pasta or pizza.”
Hell, yeah. Why not! She has been alone enough for the past week or so. She can use some company, plus the streets are really empty now and she will be sort of worried to go wandering on her own.
The second day was all about running around the streets of Rome, inhaling as much as she can of its beauty. She met up with a British student who had just checked in at the hotel and who was waiting for his friend to arrive. They were on a European train tour, and he wasn’t sure how to get to the Vatican. They got to know each other as she showed him the way to this part of Rome, which has grown quickly to be her favorite.
The boy actually studies science, yet he had a good taste for art and history too. She found that pretty interesting. Ever since she set foot in Italy, and whether in Trieste, Venice or Rome, the one thought that struck her was how the Italian renaissance was actually a celebration of the marriage between science and art.
When sciences have breakthroughs they find a way for artistic manifestation. The ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and the older Muslim Scholars all had one thing in common; they mastered science and arts. Never once was a field looked down upon by the other or disregarded. To think how we kill art in our science students by shutting them off the beauty of words and the voice of an expressive paint brush or any other literary field, disgusts her. And to isolate our artists from the science world projecting it as the world for the strict and cold at heart, freaks her out.
That day, she marveled at the Colosseum, the surrounding Roman forums and temples, the basilicas along the way, the gardens, the roman statues watching over the ancient city, the Pantheon, and lots and lots of museums. Other than Luxor, she couldn’t think of any city that has as much monuments and ancient history scattered around it’s corners as Rome does.
Beside the Colosseum, she was looking for a miniature of the building for her husband. She stopped at one of the stalls, then from the other side she saw this sleek well-built man coming close:
– “Can I help youuu, signora?”
– “Yes, please. How much are these small Colosseums?”
– “10 Euros.”
– “What?” she said in a tone that shows dissatisfaction with the price.
– “Alright? I will give it to you for 5, if you accept to have dinner with me tonight?”
– “What?” she said in a tone that shows confusion about such a blunt offer.
The guy looked super handsome and he was super serious. He doesn’t even know her and he is already inviting her to dinner. Is that how they do it in Europe? She wasn’t sure if she should feel offended and make a big deal out of it, or just laugh it off.
– “Is that the only word you know?”
– “No thanks, I can’t.”
– “Why? You are in Rome, you don’t want to make new friends in Rome?
– “No thanks. I just want to take the Colosseum and then travel back to my husband and kids.”
It was his turn to laugh.
– “Chill, it will be just two friends having dinner.”
God- people around the stall were beginning to stare, they want to see the girl the guy is trying to convince into an out-of-the-blue dinner. It was embarrassing.
– “Listen, here is the Colosseum for 5 euros. I will wait for you here tonight at 8:00 pm. I don’t want your number or anything. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Putting on a charming smile, he handed over the artifact to her. She smiled back, muttering a shy Grazie under her breath. What was that?! It felt like some scene from a movie. She started laughing as she turned her back. Rome was all set to give her the experience full blast, and damn it.. she just loved it. Not that she intends to meet the guy, but the attention is definitely good, all women like it whether they admit it or not.
The next day she met up early with Gabriele, the concierge and the personal shopper. As they walked down the streets that were leading to all the nice shops, he showed her around Piazza del Venezia, the Spanish Steps, Fontana di Trevi, and lots of other wonderful places; they were all part of Bella Roma.
She had an amazing time, and bought some bargain stuff too. But sadness was around the corner. The next morning she will have to say goodbye to her ancient city and to the friends she made over such a short period of time.
Back at the hotel that night, she had to say goodbye to Gabriele. He wasn’t going to be at the hotel in the morning before she leaves.
– “Well, I hope you had fun,” he said as he dropped the bags before her door.
– “It was great- Rome and Romans are captivating,” she said.
She was feeling uneasy under the pressure of the fact that she is going to be on a plane with her back to Italy tomorrow morning.
There was silence.
– “Okay- I had fun too, it’s nice to always make new friends… from around the world.”
– “Well, whenever you pop in Qatar, you have my number.”
Was there sadness in his eyes too? Of course not, she is just romanticizing the entire experience.
Gabriele left, and she was wide awake and alone with her luggage. It was time for packing. She looked out of the window; the street was sparkling with dim lights beaming out of the tall old lamp posts. She could see light coming out of some windows in the building before her. Voices in Italian laughing, shouting “Bouna sera” over kisses and clicks of wine glasses mixed with the smell of marinara sauces and fresh baking. It was so warm and so unfair; she was born to live here.
She hardly slept. She woke up quite early in the morning. One more place to pay homage to before she goes; Castello di St. Angelo. It was truly the best saved for last. For what is better than an aerial view of all of Rome to end her trip with. Climbing all the way up to the top of the Castle, she gasped at the view unfolding before her. She sprayed the city with her kisses, virtually hugging its colorful rooftops, statues, river, people, mini cars, vespas, churches, and greenery. In few hours, all of this will be just a memory, a dream, a wish that she will cast once more upon the stars.
Outside the castle, the pontes (bridges) spread to connect this protective building with the hustling and bustling life across the Tiber. She strolled lazily across one of them, and she stopped halfway wishing she could flow freely over the running waters beneath her.
And so, right in the middle of the ponte, she sat down and wept!