Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roma Sogna: 4-6 a.m.




The alarm goes off at 3:50, but it’s sticky humid, and by the time we shower and get our act together, it’s 4:15, and we’re coasting down the deliciously curving via Falconieri, seemingly motionless, Nanni Moretti style, toward via di Donna Olimpia. Unlike our early April 4 a.m. venture, the main streets, especially, have some vehicles, many of them white delivery trucks making their rounds. Night buses (n-plus the # - the ones that never come when you wait for them) are on the streets. Vans, buses, the few cars, scooters: whatever is out there is going fast; drivers seem to enjoy not just the possibilities of speed, but the thrill of blasting through the flashing yellow lights that replace the stop lights operating during the day

An all-night flower stand is the only enterprise we see open – near Porta San Pancrazio.

Past the porta, we drop down to Acqua Paola: a couple embracing at the fountain’s rim; four young people talking, in Italian, across from the fountain, where we are; two people barely visible around the corner. And that’s it.

A quick turn and up in the darkness—a sliver of a moon tonight and here, no street lights—to the top of the Gianicolo: where there would have been couples a few hours ago, there are now mostly men, talking and sipping beer, the spectacular view of the city, with the Colli Albani towns sparkling up in the distance, no longer relevant. A food truck, concentrated fluorescent energy, provides all the light we need.

Snaking down the north end of the Giancolo, coasting again in virtual silence, we cross the Tevere, turn left up the east bank, cruising sweetly, comfortably, in cool morning freedom. A food van, selling shaved ice and other delectables, is open, shining its neon on the pavement (photo, below).

Right at Piazza del Popolo, through the marble barriers, onto via del Corso.
Nobody around but many of the stores are lit up (more than in April), cars parked here and there--perhaps the vehicles of the workers dismantling the ACEA light show in the Piazza from the night before. Again, we’re enjoying driving on a street that’s reserved for pedestrians, though not in these wee hours, when there are delightfully none.

Left on via del Tritone, past a POLIZIA car on the right, I’m wondering if this is the moment we’ll get pulled over, however unlikely it seems. A brief pause for a red light at the corner where the blue "Il Messaggero" (one of the main daily papers) sign dominates above; we realize it’s the strong blue light we’ve observed before—though not tonight—from the Gianicolo.

Up via Veneto--we’re grateful there’s not much going on—and out the porta (gotta go right to go left here), and back through it, down the hill (you gotta go down to go up here) so we can get up above the Spanish steps. Some taxis at the top of the hill, waiting for morning fares at the expensive hotels. We pull over. The steps, and the street that runs into them, are completely deserted (photo above top). Sounds of singing and guitar playing from below, in that assertive Italian style (I think about going down and finding out who’s singing and where). A bicyclist comes into view, picks up his bike, puts it on his shoulder and starts up the steps, stopping about 1/3 of the way up, satisfied with his view.

Back on the bike, cruising past Villa Medici, around the hairpin turns above Piazza del Popolo, yellow no-parking tape everywhere, stopping above the piazza to watch 40 workmen take down the ACEA stuff.

Around the piazza, back on via del Corso, a right into Piazza Augusto Imperatore, the heart of Fascist monumental architecture. Ahead we see that a clothing store where we’d once seen Totti doing publicity has been closed. A right, then a left just before the Lungotevere . Another left (I hope you’re following on your maps) takes us into the end of Piazza Navona, curving around it to via Vittorio Emanuele II, during the day a bustling thoroughfare known for its traffic and palaces. We head for Campo dei Fiori, but turning right realize we’ve gone too far and retreat with a U-turn one couldn't make during the day, find where it’s tucked in, drive into the Campo—no other vehicles are moving there--and park. It’s getting light.

What looks like a family, with Mama in charge, is just starting to set up their fruit and vegetable stand; they’ve got the fruit and the stand’s coming together. But right now they’re the only ones, with the statue of the heretic Giordano Bruno glowering over them. At the northwest corner of the piazza we watch two bakers putting loaves of bread on metal sheets into an oven (photo below). A man emerges from a side street pulling a sled of frames for a fruit stand, as if he were a mule. We can’t quite believe that Palazzo Farnese is Palazzo Farnese, because there are no people around and the palace seems to lack the familiar reference points, but that’s what it is. The huge tub fountains (stolen from Roman baths), and the Palazzo, are flanked by metal barricades—maybe to keep the drunks out. A man—the only one in the Farnese piazza—yawns and stretches at a café table – where the tables and chairs have been left out, unchained, even though the café closed hours ago.

We head out on the scooter, along via Vittorio Emanuelle II, past the taxi stand at Piazza di Torre Argentina, to Piazza Venezia, where we stop at the only open cafe we’ve seen so far, on the west side of the monument. (We had expected all-night coffee bars, but this is the first bar we’ve seen open; a few others start to open as it approaches 6 a.m.) We order due caffe'Americani and due cornetti (Euro 4.20—an inflated “centro” price) and are amazed that there are other people around at 5:40: 3 Italian girls who haven’t yet slept, at least not in their own beds, in short shorts one rarely sees on Italians or Capri pants and clever shoes; several men, workers probably, including a skinny guy in a tight red shirt whose trim body I envy, enjoying his cornetto. Sometimes, Dianne observes, you can’t tell the people going to work from the people who’ve been up all night--until they order either a coffee or a beer. Outside, an American young man who’s been drinking the night away asks us where the Hotel Palatine is, and while we’re thinking (and guessing where it might be, and trying to figure out if he has any idea where the Coliseum is –he’s not exactly close), he breaks off the conversation: “I’ve got to catch up with my friends. Thanks.” A pink early morning sky.

It’s just 100 meters to Michelango’s gently-sloping stairs (the other set, to the left, is much older) to the Campidoglio, which we have to ourselves. It’s lovely up here. Dianne points out THE “She Wolf”—the most famous one in Rome, and I wish I had my own bit of knowledge to contribute. We note the place where, a few years ago, we saw the three-wheeled scooter introduced to much fanfare; a standard Italian metal sound stage from a concert the night before; huge piles of stacked chairs. Around back left to catch a look at the Forum, cool and, in its emptiness, fascinating. A car pulls up, a man dropping off his wife for work in the back building. We notice one wall of huge tufo blocks, another of stones cemented together, both ancient, marveling at what’s here, and how visible and compelling it is when there’s no human competition.

Below, in Piazza Venezia, the day buses are running their motors at the head of their lines, in anticipation of their 5:30 a.m. start. On the bike again, we pass Bocca della Verita' (a Roman-era sewer cover that’s now one of city’s major attractions) on the left, then right and upriver to cross the Tevere into the heart of Trastevere, pulling over and parking in the first piazza.

We walk north on via della Lungaretta, past a mumbling woman on the steps of a church, a nun walking quickly, broken bottles. Some garbage maintenance has been done here—full plastic bags line the streets--but there’s still much to do. At Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, a newsstand prepares to open, the fountain in the center is poignant with beer bottles and plastic cups; two homeless men sleep in their not-so-private corners. On the trek back to the moto we pass a deeply tanned, extremely thin, fragile older woman, probably a drug addict, taking tiny steps in an effort to stay on her feet. At vicolo Del Cinque, pigeons pull apart a piece of doughy pizza. A very black black man stops at a nasone to wash up. He has a full backpack, but I’m not sure whether he’s going or coming, or from where. Dianne sees the words FORNO carved in stone above what is now a bar (they’re all bars, and beer is the drink they serve; a once-distinguished wine bar is now a birreria). At Piazza Trilussa, a blue plastic tote bag has been left behind.

Back to the bike for the home stretch: up viale Trastevere, chased by a bus, right on viale Quattro Venti, left at the fork onto via di Donna Olimpia, left on via Revoltella, and up the long, curved street between rows of sleeping cars, to home. As we take our things from the scooter--it’s about 6:30--we see a familiar small dog, then our always-cheerful newspaperwoman (the dog's owner); they're headed for her place of business directly below our apartment. She says "buon giorno." Her working day will end at 8:00 in the evening. We stop and buy a paper. Bill (with Dianne)

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