I feel a bit ashamed that I’m actually posting this blog entry because it is so hypocritical. But since this blog is meant to chronicle our year, I want to document the bad along with the good.

Here’s the backdrop: we’ve been lamenting the fact that we have only one year to spend in Rome. When asked, our conversational tag line has been that we miss our friends and life back home and we’ve never considered not returning to Madison. But one year isn’t enough and we wish we could have two or three years here before leaving. This is, in part, because Rome is so incredibly seasonal.  We’ve learned so much having spent a year here that we want to do it again and know what to expect. And of course, for us, this is largely based upon food. All of us have discovered some classic dishes and foods that are only available at certain times of the year. Although nearly anything could be available frozen, no self-respecting trattoria would offer dishes out of season. . .and very little is frozen here. When the puntarelle is gone, it’s gone. Same with the artichoke Romana, the special Roman broccoli, the peach gelato. . . there are so many things that I would have eaten more of knowing that they would go away so soon!

This was the main reason that I wanted another round here. But now I have another reason.

Having lived through it, I now realize that I didn’t appreciate the calm of November and February. When we first arrived last Summer, our heads were spinning with novelty and by the time we began to settle in the Fall, we couldn’t tell that the city—as well as our heads—was beginning to calm. But starting at around Easter time, the tourists began flooding the city, and. . .okay, let me just get it out there: I’m feeling so irritated.

I didn’t realize how good I had it here in the off season and how quickly the city would change.

After mid-September, when the summer tourists left, Rome felt gorgeous, pleasant, and familiar. November was amazing. Reputed to be the city’s rainy month, we actually had very few wet days and warm sunny weather. Reservations were easily scored at any restaurant, theatre tickets available at the last minute, there was space on the sidewalks. . .still no seats on the metro, but one can’t have everything. As expected, things got a little worse in December, with winter school breaks and family holidays, but it still wasn’t that bad or inconvenient and the holiday lights around the city were festive. What I didn’t fully appreciate was how amazing February was. It felt like we had the city to ourselves, easily navigating the narrow streets, clear views of anything that caught our gaze, unfatigued waiters, few lines at museums. Foolishly, I attended to the (relative) cold and the rain. How myopic! If only I had realized what Spring would bring.

Last week, I was nearly late picking the children up from school bus. I’ve been following the same route all year, but it now takes me about twenty minutes longer. On Friday, I stopped no less than 27 (!!!) times to allow someone to block the sidewalk and take a picture of their beloved in front of something. We now have to factor in extra time to dodge around the couples who have stopped mid-street to consult their maps. Today, at some points, more people were standing still on the sidewalk trying to figure out where to go than actually walking. Yesterday I caught snippets of three women berating their husbands for not asking directions (okay, I’ll admit that I smiled when I overheard “Gerald, I’m sure they all speak English. . .”). I’m now often getting caught behind large packs of tour groups wearing earpieces and following guides who are waving flags. The French groups seem to like to spread out and disperse, so I dodge between them, whereas the Japanese groups like to stay tightly packed together, so I have to squeeze around the outside. I went to a bakery today in Campo dei Fiori and realized that I heard not a single person speaking Italian.

The weather here has been spectacularly gorgeous, but sometimes I want my cold, wet Rome back. Ordinarily, this isn’t the type of thing I’d say out loud. Except today at the bus stop, as I arrived again feeling flustered from navigating through the crowds, another parent validated my experience. I asked one of the moms at the bus stop what her family was doing for the children’s Spring Break next week. And she told me that her family always tries to leave Rome for this school holiday because it is so overwhelming when the Spring tourists begin arriving and it is hard to transition to the crowds.

Indeed! Spring Break hits in never-ceasing waves. For Americans, the breaks start early, some as soon as the beginning of March. Then other European countries have their school closings. The school holiday is late here, with our children not having Spring Break until early May. And then the summer visitors will begin arriving.

But I temper my feelings of encroachment with two thoughts.

First, I remember that we were those people blocking the sidewalks just a few months ago. We couldn’t walk down a street without pulling out our camera. And we missed much of our surroundings because our noses were glued to maps and iPhones as we tried to gain our bearings. And when we are not in Rome this year, we’ve been tourists in other people’s neighborhoods.

Second, bless these wonderful tourists! Rome has been a tourist destination since the Middle Ages. We live at the old north gate to the city, where pilgrims would arrive, and for hundreds of years there have been churches, hospitals, and hotels in our neighborhood to greet them. I’m so appreciative that people have the curiosity and interest to visit this fantastic city, where so much of our present day civilization was first realized. These tourists fuel the economy and support the community here in every way (each night someone stays at a hotel here, 1.5 Euros go to helping preserve and restore the city’s wondrous ruins).

I’ve never before lived in a city that depended so heavily on tourism—and it is enlightening.  It just takes some getting used to. These days, I’m trying to navigate through crowded streets to pick up my dry cleaning or groceries, get to the gym, or pick up the children. But the clicks of the cameras are a great reminder to stop and look up, because almost anywhere in this eternal city, my eye will catch something that makes me think: “wow.” Who wouldn’t want a photo to chronicle a journey here?

I bet for our next visit to Rome, we’ll travel in flagrant violation of school holidays and aim for the off-season, favoring peaceful city streets over warmer weather. In the meantime, like our fellow Romans, we are leaving. We’ll spent our Spring Break in Barcelona, where we will block the sidewalks of the locals there—and probably ask them for directions, in English.

— Seth

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