Tag Archives: Rome

Word on the Street

In the summer of 2016, through my Book Studies Concentration at Smith College, I had the amazing opportunity to intern in the rare book room of the American Academy in Rome. One weekend morning, on vague instructions from the gentleman that ran the guesthouse I lived in for the month, I walked over to the Porta Portese Flea Market. It was morning, but the light was already brilliant and hot. I had been told to find three staircases, which were shortcuts to get down to the port. The first was a slightly dilapidated wide case at the edge of Monteverde, while the second seemed to take me through a small jungle.  I began to seriously wonder if I would spend another day lost among the labyrinth of Roman streets. But when I got to the third set of stairs, I could see the main road beyond speckled with the tents of the market. The staircase was expansive and enormous in the typical Roman way where everything— from buildings to statues—seems bizarrely huge. As enormous as it was, there was no one else scaling the steps.

I had come to Rome worried that my shy and introverted ways would make me a lonely sight far away from my children and home. And in Rome I was truly alone for the first time in perhaps over twenty years. While I made many fine acquaintances at work, I spent my free time utterly alone. Before I arrived, I had worried that I would feel awkward and terrifically lonely. In some ways I did. After all, I am me. But something unexpected happened. Once there, perhaps as a result of my own maturity or coming into my own as it were, during my time at Smith, I allowed myself to enjoy, rather than lament, being by myself. I gained a perspective upon myself that allowed me to finally accept my reserved nature.

I made my way down the enormous staircase. Because I had no one to meet, no agenda, and no one else to please, I had the novel experience of following my own fancy: following my eye, simply stopping, looking, photographing, or being absorbed by whatever impulse led me. At the bottom of the staircase I turned around to take in my grand accomplishment—I had found my way down the hundreds of steps! That was when I saw the mural painted on the risers of the steps. It was marvelously unexpected, though art is everywhere in Rome. It is through art that the voices of the past and present communicate most profoundly with us. I knew that at any other time in my life I would have felt compelled to hurry forward. I would have felt obliged to get there. But in Rome, the streets were always talking to me. I was richly rewarded when, in my solitude, I finally learned to trust myself enough to stop and listen.


Jessica Ryan J17′ is an Ada Comstock Scholar. She will be graduating Smith College in January and going on to pursue her master’s in library sciences at Simmons College.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Via della Pace

Looking at this photograph, you might notice well dressed people hanging out at sidewalk cafés, old ochre-colored buildings covered in ivy, cars parked on the cobblestones, and the marble portico of a church at the end of the street. I look at this photograph and I remember making a decision that would change the course of my life.

I was in Rome for the first time, staying in a tiny rented apartment in a narrow street behind Piazza Navona. There was an Italian moka pot—the kind you put on the stove to make espresso—but I didn’t know how to use it, so I went down to the Caffè della Pace for a cappuccino in the morning.

I could tell the place was special, though I didn’t know its history at the time. I know now that the Caffè della Pace is where Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola take their coffee when they’re in Rome. Today it’s about the closest you can get to La Dolce Vita . The café has been around since the 1800s, and it looks the part—all mahogany and marble with sculpted nymphs and an antique cash register. In the summer, they keep the windows and doors open, and patrons sit under white umbrellas outside, drinking espresso in the morning, or Prosecco and Campari in the evening.

Rome in July is always hot, but the heat is not what I remember. Roman heat weighs you down, but I recall feeling light and unburdened that day. I visited the Caffè della Pace many times after I went for that first cappuccino, so I don’t remember what time of day it was when I took the photograph, but I remember how I felt. It was a strange and beautiful feeling, as if I were dreaming. Or maybe the passage of time makes it appear to me as a dream.

The way I remember it, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I breathed in the Mediterranean air, looking at the beautiful people dressed in white and listening to them speak. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but when they spoke Italian, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a series of little operas. I looked around at the marble tables on the terrace of the Caffè della Pace, the ivy-covered buildings on either side of the street, and at the end, the pristine white portico of the church of Santa Maria della Pace. I remember stopping to take this photograph and thinking, I just have to learn this language and come back here to live.

And that was that. My decision was made. I had to learn Italian and live in Rome, no matter what.

I was twenty years old, and had just completed a rather formative year of study in Paris, where I felt I was becoming the person I wanted to be: smart, confident, and poised. I was not intimidated by a little challenge like learning a new language and carving out a place for myself in a foreign country. I had done it once, I could do it again.

Yet, this line of thinking would have been unimaginable before that year in Paris. There, I was faced with the task of reconciling the world’s expectations of me with my own desires. I began to build my identity by noticing little things about myself. For the first time, I acted capriciously instead of planning things out. I learned that I am a person who likes the freedom to act on a whim; who enjoys nursing a café au lait while sitting at a café writing in a journal; who can’t stand feeling rushed; who chooses rather arbitrarily which placards to read in art museums; who sometimes daydreams elaborate scenarios and entire conversations; who decides to do something and stubbornly keeps at it. Eventually, the little things added up to a complete picture.

A year later, I was back in the Eternal City with the intention of staying as long as I possibly could. I stayed for two years, and though I never managed to find another apartment near Piazza Navona, I visited the Caffè della Pace often. Now, the street bears many memories, but none of them would have been possible without the first.


Photo © Laura Itzkowitz. All rights reserved.

Laura Itzkowitz headshot 2 by Melissa Itzkowitz

Laura Itzkowitz is a New York City-based writer and Research Assistant at Travel + Leisure. She spent her junior year on Smith’s Paris program and lived in Rome for two years after graduating. She holds  a BA in French from Smith and an MFA in creative writing & translation from Columbia. She is a contributing editor at Untapped Cities, and her writing has appeared on Fodor’s Travel, Mic, Architizer, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Words Without Borders, and others. She was named a New York expert blogger by Time Out New York and one of the Top 20 NYC bloggers by Hotel Club. She serves on the editorial board of Global Impressions as Alumna Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @lauraitzkowitz.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather