Roma è Montagne Russe

Rome is a RollerCoaster

This morning I walked to work. I stepped out of my house, and I took a deep breath of crisp, fresh air … and I smiled, and I was on my way. Yesterday was a random Italian holiday, I may as well be starting my work week on Wednesday … what could be better?

And then I passed my first Italian on the street. And I was in a good mood, so I stepped aside to make room for her on the sidewalk. So she could pass between the dumpster and the lamppost and the overgrown foliage first.

And I smiled at her.
And she ignored me.


but the sun is shining! and it’s a beautiful day!

And then I passed another neighbor, who stared at me as I approached – and I smiled! And he just sorta … kept staring.

It continued like this all the way to work. For the record … I was dressed neither sexy nor slovenly. (Though to be fair, my hair was offensively damp.)

One of my personal favorites was the woman who was sitting on a stump. She started watching me when I was almost 50 yards away. as i got closer, she turned her head so she could continue to watch. I smiled, nothing. so I said “Buon Giorno!” and she sorta winced at me, and mumbled something that the optimist in me hopes was an appropriate response.

I think four people smiled at me: a landlord, a hired dogwalker, a garbage man, and a mover.
The people who didn’t smile at me: the fancy lady on the stump, the fancy man going into his building, the fancy lady who couldn’t figure out where she was going, the lady who lives around the corner, the man who lives up the street …

Do you notice the trend? I live in the “high end”/”rich” area of Rome. And you know what? The nicest people in the neighborhood are the staff. They probably smile at me ’cause no one else ever smiles at them. And they’re not really used to being looked in the eye. (I once had a cab driver tell me that he likes Americans ’cause they treat everyone equally. “You guys get your start flipping burgers … so even when you become successful, you still have respect for the guy who is flipping burgers.” Damn straight.)

Anyway so … by the time I got to work, I was the crazy lady who waved and smiled and said “Buon Giorno!” in my happiest cheerleader voice to everyone I passed. And I may or may not have continued to talk out loud after I passed each person saying things like “See, you say hello to people. just a little smile! You don’t get to stare if you’re not going to smile!”. I’ve learned a lot of things about culture, and my cultural assumptions. I know now that when Italians cut me in line, they’re not trying to be rude. There are no lines. It’s that simple. But somehow there’s something about people staring and not smiling that I’m just not able to accept.

So, not wanting to arrive at work in that kind of mood … I took my coffee from the American Embassy coffee shop – where they know me, and smile at me. And I sat on the roof in the sunshine, and enjoyed my coffee, and a warm cornetto that a friend gave me. (I sent her an email shortly thereafter to tell her that that cornetto was the best part of my day so far.)

The rest of my day was … you know … work. But when I left … my day took an unexpected turn.
I walked outside, chatting with two coworkers – and the sun was in that warm place where you know it’s going to set soon. And the breeze was fresh … and my blue Vespa was in the parking lot… and I decided I was going to do something I learned about in Greece. I decided that I was going to get home in time to watch the sunset from my balcony.

With this in mind, I dodged motorini and cars, and humans … and I headed home. When I was almost there, I saw the flower stand that I see every day. And every day this flower stand makes me smile because it’s just so beautiful. But I never buy flowers. Flowers die. And … I’m hardly ever home. And I don’t know how much they cost, and … and … and … but …

Then I remembered that when I passed this morning (on foot) I had seen 4 shades of peonies. and I LOVE peonies.

So I pulled over, parked the motorino, and went right up. I swear … I must have looked crazy with how large the smile on my face was. I picked out some crazy huge bright pink blooms. And it was 15 euro for 5. And I was so excited. And he asked me “Is this a gift, or is it for the house?” and I said “It’s a gift for me!” And he smiled at me, and he started to wrap them up … and then he changed his mind and went back and got the rest of the blooms in that color, and put them in there. And he said “I give you a gift for 15 euro”. And I said thank you, and I told him how happy the flower stand makes me every time I pass it. And he said “I’m happy.” and I gave him a 20 euro note, and he asked if I had a 5, and I looked around in my purse, and I checked what other change I had … and I didn’t have a 5. So he just gave me 10 euro change, and he said “It doesn’t matter”. And then he walked the flowers over to my motorino, and he said “Do you have to go far?” and I said “No, I’m right around the corner.” And so he tucked them in between my handlebar and my windshield on the motorino. (Paint this picture in your head … blue vespa, pink peonies in white paper tucked in by the handlebars … I mean, does it get more romantic than that?)


And now I’m home, and I’m sitting in a dirty camping chair, with my feet up on another dirty camping chair. And I have a folded TV table with a beautiful bouquet of peonies in a pitcher, ’cause I don’t have a vase. And my plant boxes only have dirt on them, and my balcony is covered in pine needles. And my view is gorgeous except for the 3 buildings right across the street … And I have a glass of organic white wine from a winery we visited in Montefalco …


And I couldn’t be happier.
Rome is a Roller Coaster.



Filed under Reflections, Rome

2 responses to “Roma è Montagne Russe

  1. Marcia Nowicki

    Love it.

  2. This post made my morning! If happiness could be sold, I think florists would have most of the market cornered.

    Your observation about the richer folks being less friendly than the staff/worker types is fascinating. I felt similarly when commuting using a the bus and Metro combo in DC. The blue collar types on the bus were much friendlier and polite than the white collar types on the Metro. Interesting….and kind of sad.

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