Today, just as I was finishing my lunch, I happened to look out my window as a group of six or seven nuns clad entirely in white made their way slowly, silently down the street, robes swishing over the cobblestones, until they stopped at the doorstep of a church and disappeared inside.
Several days ago, also around lunch time, I heard the unmistakable sound of a trumpet outside. Oven mitts still on my hands, I rushed into the living room and stuck my head out the window just in time to see some sort of religious procession making its way down the street. There was a marching band dressed entirely in purple, a cluster of old men in regal purple robes, some of them swinging balls of incense back and forth as they walked, and finally some younger men supporting a large figure on their shoulders – it was possibly Jesus, or potentially a saint of some type, although it was hard to be certain given that the figure looked like it may have taken a few face-smashing spills from the shoulders of its carriers.
They know me at the bar now. They know my name, they know where I live, and they know that in the morning, I am fuelled almost entirely by their drinks.
The bar, of course, actually refers to a coffee bar, and my drink of choice is a cappuccino, which they prepare perfectly. In one of my first few mornings in Rome, confused and hungry after wandering the tangle of streets around my apartment, I was lured into the bar by the smell of freshly ground coffee. The next morning I was back, pulled inside by the memory of the best cappuccino I had ever tasted. Two days later they had learned my name, and that’s when I knew that I had found my “usual” bar, that one spot that you work into your morning routine and keep coming back to time and time again. In Rome, loyalty to your bar appears to be a serious matter.
This is not a modern, swanky bar by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a small, narrow space; dark wood accents with a long marble counter, stone floors, and two tiny tables pushed up against the wall. It’s nearly always busy inside – in the morning, there’s a swarm of dark suits pressed up around the counter and the baristas are throwing saucers down in front of them with a series of loud clinks while pulling shot after shot of espresso, and by the time noon rolls around the crowds are demanding panini and tossing back yet another small, potent caffè. In Rome, coffee is serious business.
Piazza Farnese, which is a few blocks away from my apartment and conveniently situated close to both the bar and the bakery, is like an extension of peoples’ living rooms and a stage for all the little dramas of everyday life in Rome. Most mornings, I spend quite a while sitting on the stone bench that runs down the length of the piazza, slowly demolishing a cornetto or brioche from Forno Campo de’ Fiori while alternating between studying my Italian textbook and the scenes unfolding all around me.
Several days ago, I watched two men drag a pile of wood and some power tools towards the centre of the piazza. While cars and bikes dodged them, they began to build some sort of rudimentary structure – and I say rudimentary because within the space of an hour, I watched first one end of the structure collapse, and then, as soon as it had been repaired, the other end follow suit. This must have gone on for a while, because a day later they were still putting the finishing touches on what now resembled a cube with fabric draped over it; signs were hung outside and one lone table positioned inside. From what I could gather, they were using the cube as a temporary office for some sort of political movement – flyers were handed out, and two bored-looking girls slumped disinterestedly behind the table.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the entire structure sagged sharply to the side with a loud snapping noise while a few nails pinged onto the cobblestones. Commotion erupted – the bored-looking girls rushed outside, gesturing overhead, while a group of police officers in shiny black boots sauntered over to take in the situation. A passing truck, as it turned out, had driven underneath the cable that had been strung overhead from a nearby restaurant in order to provide the cube with power for a light; in the process, the truck had somehow snagged the cable and kept driving, nearly taking the entire structure down with it. Much shouting and more dramatic hand gestures followed – the police officers and the girls clustered around the truck while it slowly backed up, then drove forward, then (as the entire structure leaned precariously again and the sound of wood creaking filled the air) back again until the cable freed itself. Daily drama finished, the girls wandered back inside and resumed their previous slumps behind the table. Two days later, the entire structure had disappeared without a trace.