Two words I hadn’t heard for 10 years, but felt sweet on my ears. I felt like I was home, like I was walking back into grandma’s house for Christmas dinner after a long year away from home. A warmth grew in my chest, and my smile grew on my lips instantaneously. I’m not from Italy, nor am I Italian, but these two words immediately reminded me of a simpler time in my life that I cherish to this day.
As I walked up the carpeted steps toward the reception desk of the Hotel Tiziano, I remembered walking up these steps with friends after particularly long classes, famished and ready for dinner. I remember bounding down them and out the front doors to make it to my morning Italian classes on time. I remember arriving there, my first week in Italy, nervous about my choice to live there for a semester while studying. I remember walking down them on my last day in Italy, a completely changed woman who saw the world in a completely new light.
My sophomore year of college, I decided to study abroad in Rome, Italy for a semester, taking mostly general studies classes while peppering in art history and history classes, because duh, I was living in Italy! It was 2007, and the world was a different place then. I had no smart phone while abroad, meaning I had to ask for directions and rely on instinct to get me places. If I wanted internet, I had to go to internet cafes, and WiFi was not free. Anywhere. Ever. There were no GoPros to record my walks in the streets, no Instagram filters to add to a particularly pretty sunset, and email was the best form of communication with friends and family.
I learned by trial and error the best restaurants, the best evening strolls, and the best times to hang out at the Trevi Fountain. I quickly developed a life in Rome, and became a regular on small streets and in businesses frequented by locals. The cooks, the maids, and the front desk gentleman all knew me, and I knew them. I knew that the cooks went to the nearby Campo de’ Fiori every day to get the freshest ingredients for that night’s dinner. The front desk attendant knew my boyfriend would call on Sundays and try his best at asking to be transferred to my room phone in broken Italian. The maids knew I liked extra towels in my room. I became comfortable here, and felt like I had completely integrated into Italian society. Eventually, I considered myself a local, and hit peak study abroad goals when I was mistaken for a Roman.
Fast forward to 2017, exactly 10 years later. When I found out I would be headed to Croatia for 10 days, I just knew that I had to have a long layover in Rome. I thought it would be a great spot to relax while getting over my jetlag, but would also be a chance to relive my youth. I didn’t plan out my time for this leg of the trip, and I didn’t need to. Rome is such a part of me that I knew I this would be the easiest part of my trip.
And boy, was I right. I stepped off the plane and my Italian language classes came flooding back to memory. I navigated through the airport as if it was my second home, even knowing the best bathroom for a quick change before dropping my bags at the luggage hold. I hopped on the city tram and headed straight to the headquarters of my 18-year-old world, Largo Argentina. I walked through Campo de’ Fiori and recognized all the fruit and vegetable stands immediately. Spinning in amazement of how much the same the square was, I noticed not all was unchanged. A shop where I had shopped for jeans ten years before had disappeared and has been replaced with a new store. A bar I frequented was also missing. Interesting.
I nearly skipped down an alleyway to my favorite café, Pascucci, and was in shock at its modern renovation. I stopped and had my usual breakfast there, a cappuccino con crema and a cornetto con frutti di bosco. Don’t worry, it was just as delicious as I had remembered…no change there.
As I continued to meander down small side streets that I once shared with only shop keepers and neighbors, I was shocked, even upset, that they had become populated by tourists. Overpriced, over stuffed restaurants now lined the streets, and ushered in tourists for a dinner that looked anything but authentic. I was immediately saddened by this, and became angry that my little slice of Rome had changed without my consent.
Making my way past all of the tourists, I twisted and turned down old cobblestone streets I knew, and made my way to my favorite restaurant in Rome, l’Archetto. The once charming and completely unknown restaurant that was contained almost entirely within the four walls of a small alleyway restaurant now spills out onto the street with more tables than ever. I became nervous when I saw this. Would it be the same as I remember? Has it really changed this much? My first, second, third, and every bite of spaghetti thereafter told me not a thing had changed with l’Archetto, and all was still right in the world of pasta.
I grabbed a giant cone of gelato from Giolitti and made my way back to my room at the Hotel Tiziano. As I had when I lived there ten years ago, I did my best thinking while silently wandering the dimly lit streets back to the hotel, the cobblestone constantly reminding me to watch my step. At first I had reflected on my day thinking about how much in this beautiful city had changed. Places I once sought out for silence were now bustling places best reserved for people watching. Modernization had gripped my favorite businesses, and some failed to remain at all.
That was when it hit me. I had changed too. I now depend on technology. I live in a big city, have a full-time job, and actually enjoy working out. Cultures spread, technology changes, and life evolves. But above all else, life goes on with that evolution. Things will never stay the same for us as they were during one brief period of our lives, and the same holds true for cities. We only visit a place if for only just a blip in time. As we change over the years, so do places. It doesn’t make them any better or worse, simply different. Kind of like us.
As I rode on the city tram back to the airport the next day when it was time for me to leave, I looked out my window and was satisfied. Rome was just as incredible as when I left, and I know she will still be thriving and beautiful the next time I get to say “Buona sera” to her.