Setting foot in your dream city for the first time is better than your first kiss, or your first lovemaking. Our first steps in love life can be clumsy, frightening or awkward. We need more experience to master the art of being with someone we are attracted to and make the most of it. Loving a city, instead, is a lot easier.
When you arrive at the train station, or when you step out of a cab straight from the airport, you immediately become part of its fabric, your foot prints melt in its history. You join the millions of other people who walked those streets and breathed that air, each print so unique it can never be replicated. With each step we become part of a city’s history and this single thought can give us a brivido, a chill. If this place is Rome, where history slaps you in the face, the first time is a moment of perfection, pure art. Even if the second, third, ninetieth time will be wonderful, nothing beats that first thrill, the lightness of spirit that it brings.
Last week, an acquaintance told me he was going to Rome for the first time soon. I was ecstatic. In five minutes I told him to have coffee at Saint’Eustacchio, to go up to the fountain in the Janiculum at sunset for the city view, and to avoid pickpockets on the bus to the Vatican. The grin on his face was contagious. I was jealous. I told him to start planning the second visit, exactly as I did when I was sitting on a cab, going back to Fiumicino airport, in the end of my first seven-day trip decades ago. As the cab flew by the traffic lights and the Roman streets with terracotta buildings stayed behind me, tears came to my eyes. Part of me was left there, sitting at a table in Campo dei Fiori, eating late lunch while pigeons feast on the daily street marked leftovers. In my mind I walked again by the Lungotevere, the river walk, my steps under all those millenary trees. That’s why I keep coming back, even if I didn’t come back to my first boyfriend. I don’t even miss him. But Rome is another story.