“Mi dispiace” goes a long way

Rome and I got off to a bit of a rough start. Coming from the ordered main streets of Florence, its downtown area recalling in places a miniature Manhattan-like grid, Rome’s rough disorder overwhelmed. Streets twisted, bent, arced, met their ends in small squares, and I got turned around in the maze more than once. The city was hot too, much hotter than the cool morning I’d left behind and dressed for, so on top of being confused, I was perspiring. And running late. This was Sunday night, and I was in a hurry to meet a group of people at the obelisk at the top of the Spanish Steps for a guided evening walk of central Rome. There were people milling everywhere I turned, talking, taking their time, seemingly having no destination at all, unlike me. I felt my heart racing. Even after I found my way out of the tangle to the steps, the crowds of tourists there provided such a sharp contrast to the relaxed happiness I’d felt only days before while wandering the vineyards at Guardestelle that I wondered why I ever thought leaving Tuscany was a good idea. These crowds, these streets – these conditions – seemed hellbent on thwarting my enthusiasm for Rome. Not good, given that Rome is my heritage.

I wrapped the tour, found my way back to the hotel (with fewer missteps on the way back, a good sign), and coached myself  as I slipped into a very comfortable bed to get some rest and remember that the next morning would bring a fresh start (and also clean, dry, warm weather clothes).

Fresh starts must never be underestimated. Monday morning brought another blue sky, warm air with a breeze, more appropriate fabrics on my part, and the real Rome. The Rome that is not cheek-by-jowl throngs or elbow-jabbing fountain gazers. The Rome that is, instead, full of breathtaking contrasts: expansive vistas and narrow corridors, grey-white Travertine and vivid shades of yellow and orange and blue, gregarious people and conversation-stopping language barriers.

When it came to that language issue, I did my best with Italian and the Italians who helped me did their best with English; in this way we met somewhere in the middle. If my attempts at Italian were halting at best, more broken that their attempts at English, I tried anyway. And found that if I led with an apology  – “I’m sorry” or mi dispiace – for not knowing their language better, my travel hosts were just happy that I tried. Just trying opened my eyes to all this that follows.

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