The Native New Yorker
“You live a glamorous life. You have glamorous problems,” was what a friend said to me recently when I was having a down day. Now, I would not necessarily describe my life those terms, I’m much too indolent to stir for much beyond the life ordinaire. However for one short, beautiful week it happened to be precisely true. I had a glamorous life.
It happened because I got on a plane and went to Rome. I have a dear friend who lives there. A native New Yorker. A kind, gentle man. A piano player. A call-from-a-Turkish-prison-if-you-need-a-sad-song-played-on-the-piano kind of guy.
“Get your ass to Rome,” he emailed when I told him I had suddenly misplaced my husband. Any old time, he said. Didn’t matter whether he was there or not, I could have the run of his apartment. It’s perched near the Esquiline Hill, in a district called Monti. On a street wedged in between a swingers club and a strip club. It’s sunny and has a patio and is about as perfect as an apartment in the center of Rome could possibly be.
The dates I chose to go to Rome had meaning. The month is October, a month which happens to contain my wedding anniversary. I really didn’t want to be in New York, location of my honeymoon. Besides, there was Rome.
It’s practically impossible for me to be unhappy in Rome. No really. Even the coffee shop that I quickly made my local, made me smile like a silly idiot every single morning. The coffee was so strong it was the liquid equivalent of bunging paddles on your heart. The coffee slinger was Tobey Maguire’s better looking brother. All dark spikey hair and blue, blue eyes. And there must have been some unspoken door policy that only admitted customers who were squandering a few minutes before their GQ cover shoot.
I would wander in of a morning and lounge at the bar, trying to look as if I belonged, although the length of time it took me to drink my coffee gave me away. Romans slam coffee the way New Yorkers slam shots. I don’t think I can even raise my hand to my mouth that fast, let alone get my oesophagus around a scalding hot drink in one gulp. I decided not to try.
People watching is a treat in Rome. I don’t know about the rest of the city, but the neighborhood my friend lives in appears to have a policy banning anybody who isn’t a slam dunk credit to the species. The women only expose their skin if it looks good. The only ones wearing mini skirts are perfectly tanned and have never even heard of cellulite. And while skinny jeans are ubiquitous, Romans have not, like many in the U.S., abused the gift of spandex by decanting themselves into garments that would otherwise be out of their league.
One afternoon I whiled away a couple of hours in a fountain-centered square where even the neo Goth with the asymmetrical pink haircut, enthusiastic degree of facial piercing and three-quarter length bovver boots had pulled it all together with a vintage Louis Vuitton bag. And yes, in case you’re wondering, that leather handbag was oiled to within an inch of its life. That handbag had known love.
It’s not just the women. The men are equally committed to the concept of la bella figura. With their putty soft shoes, designer tee shirts and nifty ways knotting scarves, the men are so well turned out that a gay man could hide in plain sight with the greatest of ease.
Do not even get me started on the carabinieri. Or the priests. Especially not them.
Still despite the manifold distractions, even in Rome it was impossible to completely ignore the fact that 22 years ago I had been standing in front of a marriage registrar all dolled up and holding flowers, however much I told myself it was, in the light of recent events, just a day of no particular significance.
So I decided to attack head on. I decided to ace my first failed wedding anniversary.
An excellent day must start with shoe shopping. It must. There’s a law about it. And if there isn’t, then when I am Supreme Ruler, it’ll be the first thing I institute.
I bought two pairs–black riding boots, and flat chestnut brown brogues both in whisper soft leather. The guy who sold them to me said he was a retired shoe designer who goes to Milan for the weekends to freelance for Gucci and Armani. The shoes, which he designed, were hand made, leather lined. Perfect.
He gave me specific instructions on how to care for them—creme not polish he said–and he hugged me when I left the store.
I spent more than I should have and immediately began sketching out a list of justifications for such an extravagant purchase when the money could easily have been spent on perfectly good divorce lawyers. (I could rattle off several justifications right here. Right now. Just ask me.)
My other luxury was to get lost. I was well provisioned with informative guide books and maps and should really know more about the Baroque period of ecclesiastical architecture than I do, but I decided to meander and ignore the potential art history lessons. I turned down every street that looked good. I went this way and that. I window shopped. I went to markets. I sat in churches small and large. The images of Caravaggio and Bernini danced around me. I did not consult the guidebooks, so know nothing more of their historical or artistic significance than I did at the start of the day.
I ate panini for lunch in a coffee bar just meters from the Pantheon. The Pantheon is possibly the monument under heaviest tourist fire in the entire city, and yet the bar was patronized almost entirely with Roman office workers. A young waiter called me bella and walked me through the menu. I drank a glass of crisp white wine.
In the late afternoon, walking back to the apartment up the Esquiline Hill, I found a church that had congregants instead of camera spraying tourists. I don’t believe in a higher power, but if it exists, I doubt it would begrudge me a little quiet time on such a day. I sat in a pew and watched other women pray. I wondered what they were asking for. Were they giving thanks? Or seeking consolation for their despair?
Then I cried.
I didn’t cry for the man I’ve lost, because he seems farther away and more unknown than ever before. I didn’t cry because I miss him, because I don’t. I cried because sometimes you just have to. I cried for me.
Then I wiped my eyes and stood up. I had a date with the New Yorker, and two of his friends, an Aussie and a Brit. There was talk of drinks and then clubbing. I needed time to consider what to wear. In Rome few people take this question lightly.
I walked up the hill in the warm, soft Mediterranean sunshine.
I left my pain in the church. It seemed as good a place as any.