When in Rome

Today somebody mentioned Rome, and it brought back memories of my very first visit to that enchanted city. What struck me more than anything was the contrast between the bustle of the place – people darting around like crazy in their tiny little cars and vespas, and the timeless majesty of the architecture – all of those magnificent Roman palacios lining the Piazza Navona like a row of houses for the Gods.

As soon as you find yourself in the middle of such a scene, you realize exactly what Fran Lebowitz meant when she said that “Rome is a very loony city in every respect. One needs but spend an hour or two there to realize that Fellini makes documentaries.”

Case in point: The very first time I ever saw Rome, it was from the car of my friend Flavia’s boyfriend. Flavia lived in Perugia, about 83 miles away (or I should say, since we’re talking about Rome, about 134 kilometers away). Which means it took us a little less than an hour to get there, driving at a speed which is apparently considered normal in Italy. And we hardly seemed to slow down when we entered the city.

At one point, as we were racing down the strada, Flavia suddenly shouted to her boyfriend “stop, stop the car!” (they were all nice enough to speak in English when I was around, which was very sweet of them – in my experience, Italians are quite lovely and thoughtful people). He jammed on the brakes and the car screeched to a dead stop, right there on the street.

Flavia jumped out of the car, ran to a nearby parked automobile, and proceeded to pull the hubcap off one of its wheels. She tossed the hubcap into the back seat of our car, jumped back in, and we continued on our way.

I was speechless for a moment, trying to process what I had just apparently witnessed. Then, summoning up the courage to speak, and worried that in my cultural ignorance I was missing something essential, I asked her why she had just stolen the hubcap from that person’s car.

Flavia’s answer was, I guess for Rome, perfectly logical: “Because yesterday somebody stole the hubcap from my car.”

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