Roman air always seems so very full. Not just from the breeze rising from the hot ground, but full of history and stories that whisper about your ankles as you cross the cobbles. A gelato, while we wait, won’t hurt? Surely? We tell ourselves, our eyes widening, as we look over the rainbow of options available. We sit on a wall, older than our imaginations, swinging our dusty feet over the swarms of tourists below.
Days of meetings and the quickest of tourist pit stops had led to a celebration of our time in the Eternal City. "Is this really it?" They say as we turn into an unassuming side street. No sooner said, a heavy wooden door opens up ahead. A small voice echoes out into the street. We are gestured up the wood-paneled staircase, narrowing, darkening, as it spiraled. The line came to an abrupt halt at a tiny door. The back of the queue is more brazen than the front, and stretches and strains to see what lies ahead. One by one we tiptoe with trepidation. Peeping round the doorframe, whilst that familiar breeze wraps itself around our senses.
We are on top of the world. Tangerine roofs and their sandy slates jostle to be seen, to be standing out among their lofty brothers. White marble domes and spires dwarf the spindles and florets of greenery that gently sway with life. On first glance, the scene is authoritative. It is formidable. Bigger, richer, stronger, holier; the words call out in the streets and emblazon themselves across the rooftops.
Our transfixion is brought to an abrupt halt by the prospect of dinner. The sun pours its drowsy light over the rims of the glasses, trails of shimmering waves bouncing across the stone table. Looking down, architecture comes to life. Delicate swirls of fusilli glisten in their coats of oil, jeweled by the occasional plump tomato. The steam twirls upwards, mingling with the evening breeze, as if to drape the city below in its fresh scent. The scene is prayerfully silent. On cue, the Campanone bell tolls from its corner of the Basilica. Startled birds dash from the trees, taking shelter in the eaves.
It becomes clear, as the evening sky washes the city in darkness, and the traffic and tourism settle into a low hum, that the time in Rome has not been a witness of power or prowess, although standing up here, above it all, one might disagree. Instead, what we have seen is pride. A pride in their history, their handiwork, and their home. A pride from the top of ancient, monumental columns to the dregs of a blushing Negroni lining the bottom of a glass. (Surely there is time for another?) As the Romans themselves say, "A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello." Whilst only a fleeting week’s visit, as we closed the door on the dusky Roman landscape, we imagine the nesting birds surveying the splendour of their Roman home for the night.