In Rome, people just enjoy life.
But first, let's talk about the economics of happiness.
While traveling in Rome we got the overwhelming impression that nobody there has any idea why the EU might be upset with them. Up in Northern Europe where it’s rainy and miserable, everyone’s responsibly pinching pennies and counting the bills and raving about Italy’s profligacy and debts. The Italians however are on a joyride with their own economy, just really loving life, and spinning the tires bald. Everyone and their mother has opened a Gelato shop, its apparently the foundation to their economy, and there's two on every corner. They’re uncorking wine bottles at noon, splattering champagne, and laughing madly in the streets. Why, they giggle, would anyone take life so seriously? It’s a hoot.
As a global economist you might be sweating bullets fearing for their future but if you adopted a new metric, smiles-per-capita, you'd see what we mean. Balloons, jokes, and mass contentment. And if you spend some time here, you might realize that they might not be wrong ...
Nothing in Rome, people or otherwise, has any business making itself into 'a big deal.' The pervading ethos is that whatever was meant to happen happens and if it doesn't, well. It's okay. Life goes on.
Eve and I visited one wonderful restaurant with delicious food that epitomized this.
This one came highly recommended and without thinking to make reservations, we simply dropped by. It was pleasant and bustling and felt very homely, the interior was drenched in a soft yellow light. Everyone seemed happy. Small tables stood tightly packed together with white tablecloths and a single flower on each. It took us a moment to catch the server's attention and we asked her if they had any seating, and this is an exact transcript of the dialog that followed:
Woman: “No, nothing for tonight.”
Eve: (indicating to two open bar seats) "Oh, well, we'd be willing to sit at the bar."
Woman: (with a cheerful smile) "Nothing for tonight. You make a reservation.”
Eve: "Are you sure? We're willing to wait."
Woman: (pausing, genuinely confused) "Until tomorrow?"
Eve: "No, I mean, well, couldn't we just make a reservation for tomorrow right now?
Woman: "No, it’s okay. Tomorrow you call,” she pleasantly insisted.
So it began.
The next day we made online reservations first thing, stepped out for the afternoon, and then returned to a second email saying that our reservation had been canceled. Eve called them right up and went on explaining for a minute before the guy replied, “I don’t speak English so good.” She tried to explain our dilemma, and asked if we could reinstate our reservation, to which he thought a moment, laughed, and replied, “Its okay.” We paused. What was okay? Could we come or not? “It’s okay” he repeated. Eve then said, "So, what time should we come?" to which he replied, "You come at 8" and then we all laughed.
When we arrived, we warmly met the man and woman we had already dealt with and felt like we had come to know and to our abject horror, both of them did not remember us or have any idea why we were there.
Confused, we insisted, and they shrugged and said, “It’s okay!” and sat us nevertheless.
In the end, everything was all okay, wasn't it? And the food was excellent.
How would I describe our Roman tour guide? She was a rotund little woman wrapped in a shawl with powerful forearms and an even more powerful personality. She had spent some time living in the US and boy could she talk.
Our tour began twenty minutes late. It's not that she wasn't there on time, because she was, but it was apparently custom that she have an espresso with the people behind the counter. They chatted nonchalantly as time ticked by. As we were in a bit of a rush, I let her know that we might have to dip out if it took too long. For some reason I think I thought she might apologize and speed things up but instead she flatly replied, "Heh, good thing we’re not married. You can leave when you like, eh?” From there it was pretty clear how it was going to be.
Her stories were better than I could have hoped, her humor was keen, and we had a brilliant time. The Roman coliseum is under a fair amount of security, but after the lines and metal detectors, the inside was glorious.
Do you know why it was created in the first place? In 64 AD Emperor Nero burned down a section of Rome to erect a massive pool where he could stage aquatic ship-to-ship battles for his personal enjoyment, as emperors do. And as peasants do, the Roman citizens rioted for six full days and burned a bunch more stuff. His successor, in apology for a long list of transgressions, constructed the Colosseum and made it a free public good. Any animals killed in the arena were butchered out back and given to the poor. Quite an apology, right?
The real genius of the act however goes another layer deep. With too much free time on their hands, the Roman peasants caused problems, drank, fought, and generally tore up the place. The Colosseum was part of a series of efforts to occupy their time and keep them off the streets and not causing trouble.
These violent sports thus distracted plebeians from larger problems and allowed the upper class to operate with more impunity.
Thankfully, this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the 21st century ...
What else did we get into?
So much more than will fit into this post! We went for runs through the streets and down the canals which are lined with the most fantastic graffiti and murals. In doing so, we were shocked at how uncomfortable the people of Rome were with me not wearing a shirt, and I was actually stopped by a police officer and told to go home. We got mobbed at Trevi fountain which was the sarlac pit of tourist traps, pulsing with hundreds of rabid selfie-stick wielding barbarians ravenous for the perfect shot. And we visited the Vatican, ate amazing food, and just all around enjoyed life.
We absolutely loved it. Rome is one that we'll be back to see more of!
Chris & Eve