I have now lived in Rome for three months and a question I am frequently asked is how it feels. Well, it is difficult to put it in words.
I was born here, near the historic centre. My home was one-stone throw from St. Peter square; my high school two blocks from the Spanish Steps and one block from the Trevi Fountain. For twenty-six years I lived Rome, in its true sense, and, walking every corner, I discovered all its secrets. I loved it, as I loved its people. But I also hated it. The chaotic life style (as it seemed to me at the time) and a stifling bureaucracy and system felt like a straight jacket, limiting my personal development. I did not feel I had many opportunities to expand my horizons, chase my dreams. So while many friends and colleagues decide to struggle on, or moved to other cities in Europe (remember at the time there was no European Union), I simply and voluntarily left everything, a job and possible research career, to come to Canada and start anew.
Rome, thirty eight years later…… well, many things have changed, many are the same. When I left, the resident population was about 1,600,000, now it has almost doubled (without counting illegal residents). So, there are way more people. Thirty eight years ago there were indeed tourists, but not as many as visit Rome today. In the 70s, helped by various movies (e.g. Roman Holidays) and easy travel, NA tourists were just beginning to "discover" Italy. There were not many tourists from the rest of Europe (remember there was not such a thing as the European Union) or from other parts of the world. Italian was the only language one could hear on the street, with a few sprinkles of English during the months of July and August. In fact, English was spoken by very few Italians.
Now Rome is a large multilingual metropolis, a blend of various cultures brought in by new immigrants from all over Europe and North Africa. By and large they are integrated (if not illegal resident-refugees) and, I noticed, just as respected as are people from visible minorities in Canada. Beside the resident population, it is estimated that about 40-45,000 people land daily at the Fiumicino International Airport, the vast majority being tourists. The European Union with its free movement of people across borders, inexpensive air-travel between European capitals, and the demise of the USSR and Eastern Block, have made travel very easy. Not just NA citizens, but hundreds of thousands of Western and Eastern Europeans as well as visitors from Asia, Japan or Australia come to Italy. Walking through the historic centre of Rome one can hear all languages, sometimes very little Italian. Historic Rome is now a year around major tourist centre, where to capture glimpses of Italian life, one has to walk away from where all the tourists go.
So, in the above context, Rome has indeed changed, and it has expanded to accommodate the increased population. In addition to that, there are changes related to progress (digital information, miniaturization, electronics, etc. etc.).
And yet, not much has changed. Despite the multitudes of tourists, and the city's more multicultural nature, Rome "felt" just as I left it. As I interacted with people in my everyday life (of course in Italian), it felt as I had never left, the response, whether friendly or less so, was absolutely identical to what I was familiar with (38 years earlier). And I knew, with no hesitation, what to say or do in any one situation.
It was a bit disconcerting. Home for me is Canada, and my habits and behaviour have evolved over the years as a Canadian. And yet, I felt as I were at home. A feeling that could be compared to finding an old set of leather gloves … they fit very comfortably ……. However, consistently with the previous analogy, it does not mean you want to wear them all the time again …….