Roman-ticizing Routine

Routine: the beast that has taken over my awake hours like an overnight beard, for warmth and predictability. I find myself recently wishing that I lived in Rome again. Italians have mastered the art of routine without losing the savory parts of the otherwise mundane. My favorite things while I lived in Rome were not the folded, gooey 2 euro rectangles of cheese pizza wrapped in greasy paper, or the rainbows of gelato smiling at me in swirls of straciatella and super-biscotti (yes, that's "super-cookie," translated), though these were nice, too. My favorite things in Rome were the simple things: the coffee and the walking.

There's a small place near the Pantheon called Caffe D'orzo, that is lit mostly by daylight reflecting off cobblestone, that has no chairs, but lots of men in suits standing at its long marble counter. The baristas are quick with words, rude even ("Basta? Prego." That's it? You're welcome. No rush to leave. I'm done with you for now.), but they make the best espresso in the city. I used to skip my morning Italian class to stand alone in this packed cafe, in the heat of foreign words, nestling a small porcelain cup and watching kids careen around the fountain in the piazza. This was called: Serenity? Happiness? Routine? A cliche scene out of an American movie about discovering oneself while abroad? It was good. I miss it. Rome is what made me a coffee addict. I still spend an hour every morning nuzzling my caffeine before being able to function or speak. What I miss is the communal aspect, the absence of politeness (resulting in sincerity), and the deliberate appreciative slowness with which Italians let the day begin, endure, and end.

I miss the walking (for the obvious reason that I can't walk right now), but also for the aesthetic that walking has in Italy. In the afternoons, Italians spend a couple of hours away from work between 1 and 5, indulging in the passegiatta, or their traditional time for strolling. Can you imagine leaving work for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to leisurely stroll? The passegiatta is to see and be seen, it's to leave business behind, and go arm in arm or alone for awhile, maybe stopping for a glass of wine, a conversation with the butcher on the corner, or a moment to admire the romantic beauty of Italian life that, on paper, waxes too poetic to seem true if you've never been there. When I walk here, it is to get fresh air, to get the dog out of the house, or to get where I'm going.

Aesthetic originally meant, in Greek, "relating to perception with the senses." To harken back to my criticized words on cavemen and children, I'm adding Italians to the list of humans who make more out of life than money and humdrum routine. Aesthetic has evolved to mean "designed to give pleasure through beauty." Of note, to me, is the "design" part of aesthetic's definition. Romans know that Rome was not built in a day because they know it was built. The fact is that they cherish what has meaning by building their day around things that have been designed for pleasure and beauty-- things as simple as coffee and walking. Consumption and movement, things Americans have taken unhealthily for granted, in Italy, are embraced and given priority over greed. You have to ask for a check at restaurants in Italy or you'll sit there all night.

What I find, to my dismay, is that it's almost uncool, or at least taboo, for many people to let such subjects as beauty or meaning or true pleasure eek into their daily conversations or awareness here. Coffee, if consumed slowly, is done so on a day off or on a long commute. Walks are either for the weekends, fitness, or something result-oriented. Also, I find that I'm letting routine take over my life the American way, like a sprawl, or a distraction. I crave the spectrum of values that arranges the way time passes in Rome, and guides businesses to open mid-morning even if it means a slower economy. I crave the Italian routines that are built on history, aesthetics, and beauty-- things that I no longer feel under my feet, things I am hard pressed to find, that I desire like any routine without repetition.