Julia's Rome Blog: Street life in Rome

2010-09-14 00:00

Coming from a society where there is some life on the streets during the day but most cities shut down at night, I have been very struck by Rome’s street life.

With my American room mate, I have walked to the seminar in the mornings and all over the city sightseeing in the evenings. I revel in the freedom to move around without feeling fearful. We have seen many of the traditional tourist sights, staying out till late at night and not once have I felt unsafe.

As we walk to lectures in the early morning we watch the city slowly waking up and getting ready for the day. Shopkeepers open shuttered shops, restauranteurs sweep and wash down outdoor seating areas, garbage collectors in bright red and orange overalls do their rounds, parents walk children to school and workers hurry to their jobs. Specialized vehicles with circular brushes clean the piazzas ready for the coming influx of people. Rome is putting on her makeup.

Left: Early morning in the Piazza Navona when Rome is putting on her makeup.

The city has a vibrant street life on the piazzas, in sidewalk cafes and restaurants, in green spaces, on church steps and around fountains, monuments and buildings – anywhere that people can gather to talk, eat, drink, hawk goods and see and be seen, they do.

It is still the tourist season, so the city population is swollen by visitors from around the world, but street life seems to be very much part of the native Roman lifestyle too. There are always people out walking dogs, chatting, eating ice cream, pushing babies in prams, riding bikes, smoking, reading the paper, conducting lively cell phone conversations accompanied by expressively gesturing hands, or simply watching the world go by. Piazza Navona is close by the university and is a wonderful example of street life (see pictures). People stroll around; sit by the fountains and on the benches watching musical buskers, performance artists and puppet shows. There are street photographers, hawkers, artists selling their works and stalls selling souvenirs and all manner of tourist accoutrements like umbrellas, hats, bags, batteries, cell phones, air time and so on.

Right: The pigeon man feeding the pigeons in the piazza navona.

My favourite is the pigeon man, who is there every day around lunch time feeding the pigeons. They know him so well that many hop onto his hands to eat the bread he offers.

The evening light in Rome is liquid, almost sensuously tangible as it spills over the city turning all the pale marble pink and gold. The city slips into an evening dress and puts on her dancing shoes in preparation for an evening of partying. Again, there are crowds of people out strolling, eating, drinking, listening to music, crowding into wherever there is space to gather – and even where there isn’t, forcing the ubiquitous scooters to hoot and swerve to avoid the knots of people spilling onto the roadway. Markedly noticeable of an evening are the young people who seem only to emerge after dark, like nocturnal moths drawn to electric light. The crowds that pack the Trevi Fountain and throng to the Spanish Steps are so dense that it’s difficult to get even close to these famous sights.

The experience of night life in Rome has made me think that communities in South Africa need to take back the streets and claim back the night. We have the weather and the space to accommodate the kind of vibrant street life that Romans enjoy. Now we just have to do something about the crime.

Julia on Twitter.

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