It’s different to be in a place not as a tourist but as a visitor. In my number of times to Italy, I have seen most of the things in Rome I want to see as a tourist: the Colosseum, the Forum, Trajan’s Forum & Markets, Trajan’s Column, the Vatican and its museums, Capitoline Hill and its museums, St. Peter’s, the Borghese Gallery, all the famous piazze with their famous centerpieces, the Pantheon. I’ve walked Via del Corso many times, taken photos at the Spanish Steps and admired the Etruscan collection in the Villa Giulia. I am very cognizant of my good fortune to say I have done these things; I thank my parents immensely for bringing us here in the first place, years ago, and for supporting our travels, near and far.
As such, the sights I have left to see, of course, are many, but they are the less “important,” in the sense of the Grant Tour of Rome: I still have to explore the Trastevere neighborhood, go to the Catacombs, see Ostia Antica, spend more time, perhaps, in the Borghese park. There are always more churches. I take fewer photos now of monuments, and more of people.
This being the case, my days here will be more filled with the quotidian practices one succumbs to when a place becomes more of a stopping point than a touring point. Today, for instance, I woke up around 8, got out of the house with Umberto around 9:30, got some things at the pharmacy that I needed, we went to his school (they post grades here), I went off on my own to have a little walk around the Spanish Steps. Their school is situated next to Piazza Spagna, so I made my way down to Via del Corso, walked to Piazza del Popolo, and turned around. I didn’t know what I was looking for, if anything. It’s getting hotter here, and in the morning the advantage of being out that early is simply that there are fewer crowds. I knew I wanted to sit for a little while and maybe have a cornetto and even—gasp–a cappuccino, which I never drink, but figured it would be poetic and appropriate, or somesuch. The problem was that the entire area seemed full of overpriced cafes for tourists. I knew the Italians had to go somewhere, and in all likelihood it was not down Via del Croce, where I ended up. But I was getting warm and wanted to sit down.
The cafe itself was very near the Spanish Steps. Across from it were two or three other cafes, all dueling for business among the tourists. I sat and ordered my snack, and listened as the waiters tried to lure in the others. Yelping at passers-by, the waiters’ continual shouts of “cafe, Italian beer, pizza, spaghetti, pasta, panini,” must get old for the residents above them. Sometimes they would say hello in the language they assumed the people spoke; I heard some unintelligible konichiwas and many holas. Sometimes they were right, but often they were wrong. Across the way, I overheard a conversation between one of the young waiters who seemed to like very much the guessing of provenance. “Mexican?” he asked his clients, who were clearly not (at least, to me). The woman looked at him over her bedazzled shades and said, “American.” Tourists, 1, Cameriere, 0.