Yesterday I wrote about the struggle of finding the balance between “doing” and “being”. My thoughtful readers chimed in reminding me that some times life just asks us to “do” more at certain times; that busyness is not necessarily bad but we need reminders to slow down; and that for some of us “doing” is a way of “being”. As I reflected on this dichotomy, it occurred to me that I can just “be’, but in order to do this, I have to be somewhere else.
The places that came to mind where I have been the most calm, aware, and in tune with my environment are visiting my parents and lying on their couch, hanging out with my grandma in Michigan, morning walks in Palm Springs, walking on the beach with my friends in St. Augustine, or wandering through Central Park. It’s even better if I have a camera in my hand and my senses become attuned to sights of beauty. Being away means that there’s nothing really required of me. I just have to BE there.
But one memory stands out the most for constant, sustained BEING: Rome.
Rome is an attack on the senses; it is a perfect place to “be” because it is unapologetically itself. It calls on you to be aware as the past and the present are melded into one. Our modernized apartment in the ancient Monti neighborhood revealed its past as brickwork peeked through the paint and the stairs leading to our door followed antiquated building codes. At the piazza down our cobblestone street, barely wide enough for a Fiat, bright young things continued the tradition of congregating around the fountain at all hours of the night drinking wine and solving the world’s problems. Make a right at the piazza and you find yourself facing the Colosseum surrounded by vendors selling cold sodas and tourists toting selfie-sticks. Ruins, art, and churches are everywhere. Rome startles you as you daringly try crossing the street on faded crosswalks, praying that the drivers will either stop or drive around you; yet it lulls with its umbrella pines, sidewalk cafes, sunny warmth. It asks you to slow down and savor the moment.
Steve and I landed in Rome after having spent two weeks in London and Paris, respectively. Unlike the other two capitals where we had planned what sights we wanted to see and where we wanted to eat and had our time determined by reservations, we hadn’t done much prepping for Rome. After the orderliness of London and Paris’s refinement, we found ourselves in a city that followed completely different rules and no plans. The first day set the tone as we explored our large apartment that beckoned relaxation and wine drinking. We set out to find our wine, cheeses, artichokes, and olives. The afternoon was spent enjoying our bounty before heading off to explore the piazza for a late dinner.
We did what you expect travelers to Rome to do. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori, the Spanish Steps, the Keats-Shelley House. Since we had no set plans, we went back to the Forum again. However, we took our time. We lingered. We ate gelato. We drank wine. We had late dinners.
None of these quite compared with our experience at the Borghese Gardens. We planned on going to the Borghese Gallery, but tickets have to be purchased in advance and they did not have any extras. No Old Masters for us that day. Instead we eyed the pedal carts that people rode around the park. Soon we were off and away, Steve pedaling our cart (my feet didn’t reach), laughing as we coasted down a hill narrowly avoiding tourists. After almost three weeks of walking, it was freeing to explore on wheels. We rode around the park as I hopped off with my camera to snap whatever caught my fancy. Soon we passed a stand renting out golf carts. You can imagine what we did next.
“I’m driving in Rome!” Steve called out as we zipped away to explore another part of the park. The next we knew we were racing against a group of teenage boys.
After we returned the cart, Steve found a place to sit down and have a beer, and I found a quiet garden with a boat pond. I made my way through this sanctuary and enjoyed the stillness of the afternoon and watched the ducks and turtles lounge in the sun.
This place, this city’s only request that we just “be” and be present.