Sunday, September 19, 2021

50 years ago ~ notes from Rome ~ September, 1971

It had been almost a month since I’d first arrived into Italy. I’d crisscrossed the country - down, then up, then down again - and now back up to Rome, to ultimately catch my flight back home to California. I’d wasted a little time on trains, and in Florence and Positano. But I also relaxed a little bit and got into “Italian time.” I imagined, that if all went well, I’d be back someday. I didn’t feel the need to “see everything” and “do everything,” an affliction which inculcates most American tourists. I’d find a way. Little did I know then, that fifty years later I had been able to devise a life and a career which took me back to Italy, on average, more than once a year for fifty years.

What Italy did to me on that first visit, my baptism of sorts, was to let me know there was a world outside of California, that was every bit (and then some) worth my time. Or not, if I chose not to. It was all up to me to pursue Italy. She wasn’t going to chase me. I knew that drill. I got it. I’d be back, someday.

The Italy that I first came upon, 50 years ago, is still there, in places. But like everywhere, there is an evolution, a progression. Yes, progress has been made. The three miracles for the traveler in these times are the ATM machine, the GPS system and the personal cell phone. Before them, Italy was a little harder to get around. Oh, it could be done. We all did it for years. But it’s so much easier now, and in that way, I think it is better.

What’s been lost in those fifty years? Well, as with most of us, the loss of innocence has been marked. Italy was coming out of a great war, the economy was rebuilding, the people were moving from rural areas to the urban centers, Rome, Florence, Milan, Torino, Naples, and many others. With that movement comes social change.

I remember going to the Paolo Scavino celebration of their Bric Del Fiasc vineyard. They had a slide show and during the presentation, the narrator noted that in 1964, most of the roads in the Langhe were dirt roads. Only a few main thoroughfares had been paved. Now, Piedmont is like many other wine country destinations, with fine hotels, wonderful restaurants, and passable roads, even with GPS!

If anything has been lost, in some parts of Italy, it is the personal touch. Forget most of the cities at first glance. They are driven by tourism and generating income. Oh, there are exceptions. But go back into a little town, maybe like Gravina in Puglia or Arquà Petrarca in the Veneto, where time moves a little slower. You can still find some of the old folks who recall an uncluttered, humble Italy. I search for it whenever I am there, and find it in the most astonishing places.

So, my time in Positano came to an end. I got back on the bus, retraced my steps in Naples, got on the train, went back to Rome, and settled in a little hostel near the train station. I had a few days left. I’d walk the city until I ran out of film.

Now when I go back, I look at the places when I first saw them. St. Peter’s, where you could drive up, it wasn’t crowded. Park the car, have a basket lunch picnic on the steps of the church and take your time. Now it’s all about restricting and queuing up. “Move on, hurry up, no pictures, people are waiting,” is now the refrain one hears in the Sistine Chapel. No lying on the cool floor and looking up, maybe with a pair of binoculars or a camera. You’re likely to be trampled upon by the hoards, if you’re not first removed by the guards.

The parks, one can still pretend in the parks. And the occasional little trattoria, in one of the distant districts, maybe Parioli, and come upon a wonderful Spaghetti alla Gricia. Or the Gianicolense, where one may find an authentic Rigatoni con la Pajata.  Caput Mundi has her silent sentinels stationed in every quarter. You won’t starve in Rome.

And just like my first meal in 1971 at the little trattoria near the train station, where I had a simple meal, with wine, with coffee, and then sauntered back to my room and took a nap that lasted well into the evening, one can still be entranced by Rome and Italy. I know I am. And I know, just like I said it the first time, in 1971, I’ll be back. I’ll find a way.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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