Sunday, May 2, 2010

Perfezione e Vergogna

After a glorious May Day--a national holiday here--in which my passion and love for this country were at an all time high, Italy has once again caused my naive admiration to come crashing down to a new low. This morning I was enchanted. At five minutes to midnight, I am disillusioned.

My day started with a sunrise walk to San Pietro in Montorio. Gazing at my favorite view of Rome from Gianicolo Hill always makes my heart beat a little faster. Even the hundreth time.But seeing it at six am for the first time nearly took my breath away. Misty, with a soft purple glow, indistinct shapes and unexpected shadows. I kicked myself for not bringing a camera, but my simple one could never have captured it.

A few hours later, a bike ride in Villa Pamphilj with Theresa was enough to send me into raptures. The clean morning air, the umbrella pines, the apricot-colored garden roses which weren't there three days ago, the undeniable feeling of spring in the air. I'm sure I'm often taken for a tourist as I gape around me in delight, at things I see everyday. I just can't help it; I never seem to get enough. As we sped down the hill back to Trastevere and my favorite view came into sight, I breathed, "I love this city!" like the silly, enthusiastic girl that I unashamedly am.

If possible, the day got even better from there: a massive, exquisite lunch in the country with a bunch of friends. The kind of lunch that lasts for hours, with plate after plate of hearty, delicious food, bottle after bottle of wine that was made on the other side of the hill. The kind of lunch that cannot exist where I come from, because there, tables must be turned, and quickly--lazy Saturday or no. Here instead, the happy, sated diners relax in their chairs long after they have finished dessert and coffee and grappa, not just because they can't manage to stand, but because no one will be taking the table after them.

This was all followed, naturally, by a long walk in the countryside, with much feeding of donkeys, snapping of photos and general praising of this grand country we are all lucky enough to call home. This is how people are meant to live, we agreed. It was the quintessential, perfect Italian day.

About an hour ago, however, my delight with this perfect place was more than a little tarnished.

I live on a lovely, tree-lined street in the heart of Trastevere, that happens to be a rather busy thoroughfare, despite being relatively narrow. The street is also home to one of Rome's most important and prestigious restaurants. I used to love that I lived two doors down from such a famous institution, knowing that Jennifer Lopez, Robert Deniro or Leonardo di Caprio might be walking past my door. Now I am ashamed of it.

There is almost never anywhere to park in this neighborhood, so the patrons of this eatery are instructed to double park up and down the street. These cars are never ticketed or towed of course, who knows why? This often causes much frustration and parolacce to be uttered by the residents, but tonight it could have cost someone their life.

Around eleven pm, an ambulance became completely blocked as it tried to pass, sirens blaring. It seemed that the entire neighborhood, not just the big, bad, rich restaurant, was conspiring to make sure whoever was inside didn't make it to the hospital alive. Thanks to the line of double parked cars, there was only one usable lane, which was of course backed up with cars going the other direction. But no one wanted to pull over. In this country, only suckers pull over for ambulances. Clever drivers wait for others to pull over and then race ahead of the emergency vehicle.

Some traffic cops who happened to be nearby stood around stupidly, not able to grasp that in order to make the line of cars back up, they had to ask the one in back to move first. Ten long minutes ticked by (very long for whoever was inside) while no one thought to look for the drivers of the double-parked cars, and no space for the modestly-sized ambulance could be made. Only the scooters had room to pass, and they did so dexterously, weaving around the ambulance as it futilely tried to extricate itself. In the end, the driver was forced to turn around (with the help of a civilian guiding him) and drive back up the hill from whence he came.
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