Italy Wine Country - Rome: Bringing It All Back Together Again

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courtney_015.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Having spent time in Rome, Puglia and Milan during my ten-day Italian sojourn, I still hadn't made up my mind as to which was my favorite destination by the next-to-last day of my trip.  Rome - the first spot I'd visited - had been fantastic, but also crowded, loud and at times more than a little overwhelming.  Puglia - in the sunny heel of the boot - was a wonderfully welcoming region boasting charming small towns, incredibly fresh seafood and the best olive oil I'd ever tasted.  And Milan had been glamorous, sophisticated, worldly and chic - qualities I'd been certain pushed it to the fore of my preferences among the places I'd visited.

But, as my boyfriend and I headed from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport back into the city for one final night before flying home, I felt an unexpected sense of familiarity come over me.  The undulating Roman countryside, with its hills topped with graceful pine trees and centuries-old mansions, at once struck me as soothing and like something I had seen countless times before.  And the brisk traffic whipping by on both sides of the taxi seemed more charming than frightening on the second visit, and before I knew it I caught myself musing fondly, "those crazy Roman drivers!"
And so it was that rather than heading back into a crowded, chaotic city, I had the distinct feeling that I was, well, heading home.

courtney_016.jpgWelcome Wagon, Roman Style
But nothing could top our cab driver's conviviality and obvious exuberance for life in driving home this strange new sense of familiarity.  Indeed, in our driver we seemed to have found ourselves the ultimate Roman welcome wagon, a fact borne out in the man's hyper-animated banter that persisted, almost without pause, for the entirety of the 20-minute drive from the airport back into the city.  Through a complicated mixture of hand gestures, facial contortions (he frequently turned towards the backseat to drive home particularly important points in the conversation) and the full complement of inflections the human voice could muster, he congenially conveyed to us his thoughts on everything from politics to union laborers to the weather.  

When he wasn't able to gesture with his hands for need of shifting gears, he bobbed animatedly in his seat to demonstrate his enthusiasm for a particular point, simultaneously pumping his head up and down and raising his voice.  It all struck me as a sort of orchestral performance, with our affable cab driver functioning as both conductor and performer in his very own spettacolo.  For my part, I didn't understand a word of what was said (fortunately, my boyfriend not only speaks Italian but also loves discussing politics and labor unions), but I smiled to myself as I realized that the content of the conversation was far less meaningful than the context.  And the context was undoubtedly a warm one.  

Serenity Near the Spanish Steps
That evening we went back to the Spanish Steps to snap photos and roam the cobblestone streets nearby, stopping periodically for food and wine and a bit of shopping.  Memorably, we sat bemused in a neighborhood trattoria as the restaurant's owner regaled five female patrons - obviously American - with tales of the city, his arms gesturing wildly in the air to emphasize his stories' highlights.  When he finally left the table, the women were aglow with excitement from the exchange, and fell quickly into animated chatter amongst themselves.  It reminded me of our own exchange with the taxi driver, during which a Roman we'd never met before and would probably never see again made us feel like the most welcome visitors the ancient city had ever embraced.  

It's a sentiment that surely is not only ours, and one that beckons to all would-be visitors with its promise of warmth, sincerity and unflappable enthusiasm for life.  It's also why Rome's got my heart, as well as my vote - hands down - for favorite stop on my trip.

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