If you ever wondered what is the best way to get to know the city of Rome, this is the peculiar way I suggest: change apartment. I had lived in Rome over a year before deciding to take my relationship with her to a new level. This entailed moving out of my undocumented single room where I lived with a fabulous Sardinian roommate and her four-year-old daughter. I wanted my own place, so Rome and I could have some privacy. Get to know each other better. Seems like a normal step after a year of dating, right?
Well house hunting in Rome is different than any other city. First of all: she is a big girl. There are nearly 20 different official neighborhoods, and within these neighborhoods little mini-divisions, which the inhabitants are proud to claim as distinct zones. My search for housing led me to down some of the most secretive and seductive streets in the city, streets that I would never have found otherwise. These are areas they don’t take you on your group tour of Rome, nor do they mention them on your private tour of the Vatican, but with Through Eternity you do and you can find out why Vicolo dell’Atleta has this name and what was discovered there. But I promise you folks – they should not be missed! So here is my recommendation: get to know Rome like I did. On a personal level. Give yourself a private tour of Rome, away from the hustle and bustle of the historical center. Here are my favorite forgotten Roman roads that I discovered while house hunting:
Vicolo dell’Atleta – Trastevere
I stumbled upon this tiny side street when I was visiting a house in the “other Trastevere.” By the “other Trastevere” I mean part of the neighborhood to the south of Viale Trastevere, the main road where the tram runs. Usually this side is forgotten because to the north is the central piazza, all of the fancy boutiques, and the American university. This street is classic Rome – just barely wide enough for me to fit down with by bicycle. It was the original location of the Jewish synagogue, and the Jewish community resided here until they were moved across the river to what is now known as the Jewish ghetto. The house I saw here was as old as the zone itself, and the owner was an 84-year-old woman in a wheelchair. She was a sweetheart, born and raised on Vicolo dell’Atleta. Unfortunately, the room she was offering was tiny and I had accumulated far too many possessions, mostly from Rome’s famous flea market Porta Portese, to fit. So I had to pass on sweet Gaeta’s room on Vicolo dell’Atleta.
Via Dandolo swings down across the Gianicolo Hill in swooping lazy curves in the middle of one of Rome’s greenest neighborhood – the Gianicolense. Nestled between Villa Doria Pamphili and Villa Sciarra, it is a nature-lover’s paradise. It swoops across the hill, and on a bike the descent is one of the greatest you’ll find in Rome. In fact, I fell in love with the street on that sunny February afternoon, winding down the hill on my bike. The owner was a gorgeously tan gay Spanish man who opened the door shirtless and grinning. Things hadn’t looked so good in… well, ever! I was imagining my Roman relationship evolving into something quite luxurious and comfortable when from behind Alejandro out popped Mario. Mario had stopped by last night to see the room. And he had taken it. Alejandro insisted I sit down and have a glass of iced tea with them, even though the room had already been spoken for. Brokenhearted, I obliged. At first I was angry with Alejandro for making me come all the way out to see this place that had already been rented. I mean, come on, why tease me like that? But in the end, I left satisfied. Because you, Via Dandolo, were worth it.
Via di Donna Olimpia
Those of you on a cinematic tour of Rome may have heard of this street, as famous Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini lived here for a few years. While he never filmed anything here, he wrote extensively about the boys of Via di Donna Olimpia in his prose and poetry. It was quite a trashy zone in the 70s and is still mostly forgotten. But it is, perhaps, one of Rome’s best kept secrets. It leads to a side entrance of Villa Pamphili, Rome’s largest public park. The street literally ends at the gates to the villa. Walking down the street, wafts of fresh pizza, supplì (fried rice balls with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce inside), and fried artichokes invaded my nostrils. However, these odors weren’t enough to convince me. It was the modest studio apartment, number 14, that got me in the end. In fact, that is where I’m writing you from now. It is the first time I have lived totally alone, but I never feel lonely. This area is like a small-town community. I know the bread-maker, the pastry chef, the fruit seller, the fishmonger, and the cashiers at the local market by first name. They are all proud inhabitants of Via di Donna Olimpia. We are a sort of makeshift family, and they welcomed me in from day one. The cook at the pizzeria underneath my apartment helped me wrestle my belongings up the two flights of stairs when I was moving in. From that moment, I was in. This is home. And please, come visit, you will all be welcomed with open arms and hot supplì.
~ Challis Popkey ~