Impressions of Rome: Falling In Rome

What do I mean by “Falling in Rome”? Did I leave out the words “love with,” meaning to say, “Falling in Love with Rome”? No, I mean falling in Rome, as in falling down. What do I mean by that? And are you tired of four sentences all ending with a question mark in this opening paragraph? If so, I understand and English teachers (maybe you are one?) might also question my format, so I’ll stop that now. OK?

What I want to say is that I now realize, at 64 years of age, with less acute peripheral vision than when I was living here in my early 30’s, that one has to be careful not to trip, fall down, and go boom in the Eternal City. Many side-streets in the “Centro Storico” (historic center) where I live have no sidewalks. Quite a few of the streets are made of good-sized closely placed carved stones. Stones are regularly missing here and there and so one has to watch (at least I do), so as not to trip while walking.

Busier streets that do have sidewalks often have potholes that also need to be watched, so as not to fall. Steps abound in this city too, and even the majestic sweeping staircase going up to the church of Trinita al Monte in the Piazza di Spagna, one of Rome’s most beautiful spots, is riddled with potholes. One has to be careful. At least I do.

Steps going into churches, often just two or three, sometimes more, can be of different heights and depths and this can lead to problems also. On January 29th I literally fell into church going to Sunday Mass. I have heard of being dragged into church, but never falling into church.

Let me explain. Once inside the church I was going to for January 29th Mass, I tripped on the last smaller step that leads into the body of the church and fell straight forward to the floor, though thankfully not falling flat on my face as my right hand took the brunt of my fall. I presumed it was not sprained, but my wrist hurt for a couple of days after. The woman handing out hymnals near where I fell, quickly and kindly asked as I got up, “Are you OK?” I replied, “Yes, I’m fine.” But really I wasn’t.

Is Rome a dangerous city for walkers? Not really; but you have to watch your step so as not to fall down and hurt yourself. I told myself that a week or more before my fall into church, but failed to heed my own advice. I will be more careful now. Or will I? Probably not, but that is how things go, isn’t it?.

For whatever reason, Rome is also a city of demonstrations. I recall this from years past and it seems to be going on still. These demonstrations, usually against the government or some part of it, seem fairly well organized, attended by many and not lasting very long. I haven’t been here long enough to know if it is the case, but I presume that the public is notified of the gatherings, in order to increase numbers, indicate where the demonstration will be, etc. That way too, one can either choose to join in or avoid it all together. I also gather that the demonstrations are not violent and that arrests are not normally made, but they can block traffic and bring to a halt public transportation, that is, buses and trolleys. I don’t have more to say about demonstrations at this point, being too new to the city and too long since I have lived here.

Though Italian is “coming back” to me, I continue to struggle to understand all conversations, especially when the speech is rapid fire, as is usually done in all languages by native speakers. But it is good practice to try to understand and even to ask questions in the midst of conversation that I may not fully grasp. And just as “at home,” some speak more slowly and clearly than others.

With all of this in mind, I try to spend time each day going over language books I have used in the past, especially “La Lingua Italiana Per Stranieri,” by Katerin Katerinov and Maria Clotilde Boriosi. I find it an excellent tool still, as it was for me in the mid-1980’s. I worked for many months with the book at Christ in the Desert before actually enrolling in a language school in the city of Florence (Firenze), Italy, summer of 1985.

I am now regularly celebrating Mass and preaching in Italian, which is also good practice for me. In the Subiaco Cassinese curia where I live and work there is always a group of resident monks and laity, for whom daily morning Mass is an important part of the day. I am happy to help in this or to concelebrate if one of the other priests here is celebrant that day.

Daily Mass at Sant’Ambrogio is for the most part recited, but we sing the Kyrie eleison (it’s Greek!), Gospel Acclamation (Alleluia—it’s Hebrew!) as well as the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (in Latin!) and the Great Amen (also Hebrew) before the Our Father (Padre nostro, in Italian). Fortunately the group here is comfortable singing, so the sound is not bad, and presumably pleasing to God no matter how it sounds.

The small “house chapel” at Sant’Ambrogio is about 20 feet long and some 15 feet wide. It is a quiet, heated space, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and with wooden choir benches for about twelve people. We are rarely more than five or six present at Divine Office and Mass. One monk priest is always absent for the morning Mass here, serving as chaplain to the nearby monastery of Benedictine nuns of Tor de’Specchi, a five minute walk away.

One can visit the attractive website of “Monastero Tor de’Specchi,” and while the text is all in Italian, the beautiful photos of the historic building and some of its art work are well worth seeing. It’s hard to believe the hustle and bustle of busy Rome is just outside the doors of the quiet cloister of Tor de’Specchi. That monastery is not normally open to the public for visits, but on the feast day (March 9th) of Saint Frances of Rome (who lived from 1384-1440), who founded the Benedictine Oblate Congregation to which the Tor de’Spechhi nuns belong, there is a possibility of seeing inside. At least I believe that is still the custom, though will have to ask. Time your next visit to Rome to coincide with Tor de’Specchi being open.

In my slow but sure adapting to a new country (though not completely so for me), language, diet and climate, I am staying well, trying to “get out and walk” every day. It has been cold in the mornings, though certainly above freezing, but the best time for me to walk seems to be in the afternoons. There are many quiet side streets that make such exercise easier than trying to “fight the crowds” in Piazza Venezia, Largo Argentina and Corso Vittorio Emanuele nearby. Sometimes I am still in wonder that I am (and why I am) here, but with a definite purpose and “call” to be here by our Abbot President, it makes the reality more acceptable to my sometimes interior protestations.