I had lived in Rome over a year when my dad came to visit me for the first time. He had been before, with my mom, on their honeymoon. It had been a rather disastrous journey, as they had booked their hotel for the following evening. It was the week of Easter and every hotel was full. They ended up “sleeping” in the back of their 1982 Fiat 500 rental. They flew out the next day.
This time, I was determined to show my dad why I had fallen in love with this city, why I didn’t want to come back to the States. I knew it wasn’t an easy mission, as he wanted nothing more than to have his baby girl on the same continent as him.
So on our first day, started with a surefire win: La Bocca della Verità, or the Mouth of Truth. My dad loves Audrey Hepburn. He has a framed photo of her above his hearth, and even a button collection with all of the different movies in which she acted, including Roman Holiday.
So we strolled across the Palatino Bridge, my dad already snapping photos of the Tiber Island to the left. This was good. We arrived at the portico of the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin, home of the Mouth of Truth, and like Gregory Peck, I grabbed my dad’s hand and led him inside. His eyes lit up. “It’s just like in Roman Holiday!”
I had done my research, and smugly spit out Peck’s line about “if you stick your hand in there and tell a lie, the mouth will bite your hand off!” He started laughing and like Audrey Hepburn, hesitantly put his hand inside the Pavonazzo marble statue. The local legend is that the Mouth of Truth is really the God of the Tiber River, but most probably it is an ancient Roman manhole cover from the first century.
My dad quickly pulled his hand out and embraced me. But not for long, because we were missing an important photo op! After asking some members of the Rome group tour that had come in behind us to take our photo, we headed into the church to check out the remains of Saint Valentine. Then, it was up to the top of the nearby Palatine Hill.
The Palatine Hill is the most central of the Seven Hills of Rome. It is not my favorite, but my dad is a history buff and I knew he would love the view of the Roman Forum on one side and Circus Maximus on the other. Once on top, I told him the story I learned on a walking tour of Rome about the Palatine Hill. It is the legendary site of the Lupercal cave where brothers Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf, or Lupa. The brothers would go on to found the city on the banks of the Tiber, but Romulus would eventually kill his brother in the heat of a ferocious argument. And that is where Rome got her name.
I could see my dad was impressed by all the history I was learning, but I wanted to show him something even more special. We headed to the neighboring, and my favorite, hill: the Aventine. There is a rather plain-looking doorway that most people would walk by without giving a second glance. The doorway leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, and through its keyhole is one of the most majestic views of the city. I brought my dad to the door, and he looked confused. I urged him to peak through. His eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped in awe. Without giving away too much, you get a view through an arched window, through the gardens of Santa Maria del Priorato, to the perfectly centered Saint Peters Basilica in the distance.
And that was all it took, the touch of fairy dust to win my dad’s heart. Gone were the memories of a miserable last night of the honeymoon. He had seen why I love this city. Rome never fails to surprise you. The most non-descript keyhole can hold the most beautiful panorama you’ve ever seen. This is the magic of Rome.
~ by Challis Popkey ~