Of the superstitions that I believe, the wish of the Trevi Fountain holds me. Ten years ago I peered at Neptune's feet and threw Lira in the proper fashion: facing away, holding the coin in the right hand. Into the pool of countless coins, I found myself throwing Euro…last July.
The booty-pinching and hairy armpits that shocked the naïve ten years ago have been replaced with smell. Perhaps with the Pope at the Sydney youth rally, the incense had been locked away; this city could use more incense. The dizzying traffic exhaust combined with Metro body odor creates a daily spring of stench where I once grew hair. Oh, did I mention the cigarettes? Now banned from public transport and indoor restaurants, locals try to refrain. The cartons are printed with SMOKING KILLS in letters larger than the brand (catchy). Yet, the smoke is incessant. The ninety degree heat melts into garbage perfume and binds to your sweat. Is this where I wished to return?
The sites haven’t changed much: Coliseum, Sistine Chapel, Pantheon, Forum, Vatican museum…
This is the city where I wished to return, and I wished again. The legend states that if one throws a coin (right-handed over the left shoulder) into the Trevi Fountain, you will return to Rome. Other versions of the legend include two coins begetting luck, and three coins incurring a romance or a divorce. The heavy-coined visitor can be entertained with many variations from local, self-appointed fountain guides.
The endlessly overwhelming beauty placed casually in surrounding busyness illuminates the thick juxtaposition of Rome: an ancient, modern city of contrast and sensory experience. The endless list of travel books is correct. Every site as a stand-alone is worth going back, time and again. The sites and history have been covered better than this author would dare attempt. Instead, I offer pieces of daily impression, where smell and stench are enjoyable. I offer pieces that bind into a magical memory.
The scooter brigade has overrun the streets, and at times, the sidewalk; it didn’t look like a Hepburn movie even ten years ago. Current progress (measured in modern traffic) crawls past ancient ruins of civilization.
The recent addition of air-conditioning mocks the luxury of upholstered walls trimmed in wide moldings, all the way down to the marble floor. In the heat of the late afternoon, it is a toss-up as to which I appreciate more.
Trendy shoppers explore the latest Fendi, Armani, and Gucci designs. Stiletto height and cobblestone dexterity signal a whose-who amongst women. A pickpocket warning away are most of the grand tourist sights, with sidewalks lined in fake Prada bags. Tourists add their counterfeits to flowered blouses while standing next to ancient stone.
A corner market gathers transsexuals smoking thin cigarettes in the sunlight. Adam’s apples and various types of breasts mix with the sounds of friendly conversation.
My favorite beggar (with bulbous head growths and a Parkinson’s-type tremble) turns into a nimble coyote with a hat. Twice.
The “slow food movement” is in response to the growing number of fast food establishments. Kiosks of pizza and wine compete with McDonald’s. Ah, the food and wine…for another time. I mention only that I happily stained my clothes with familiar Chianti. Then there is gelato: fruit; intense, chocolate; rich, cream; thick. Even an unexpected mix of ricotta cheese and fruitcake did not disappoint. I ate gelato every day, just as I had ten years ago. Yes, when in Rome… (go ahead and gain ten pounds, I opted against the vomit practice).
Someday, over my left shoulder, I will throw again. The question will be how many coins will I throw?