I started hinting that it might happen soon but soon kind of meant “in the next few years.” Soon meant eventually. Now that it’s happening in a few weeks I find myself not telling many people, only occasionally letting the news trickle out here and there probably because I don’t fully believe it myself. After nine years and ten different homes is as many neighborhoods, I’m leaving Rome. I never wanted to change apartments so many times but as my life in Italy evolved so did each space from the first few years when I had to leave every summer to go back to California and waitress to make ends meet to break ups that necessitated yet another apartment change as I tried year after year to make Rome my home.
My first home in Rome was the couch bed in someone’s living room with a terrace looking into the interior courtyard of the building. Every day I’d look up at the square of sky and down at the discarded garden hose and one pink flip flop that never moved. The American girl I lived with cultivated eccentricity, insisting on having only hand painted “art” on the walls including paintings she and her piano playing boyfriend had made while under the influence of unknown substances. She once told me she truly believed she was an alien from space and in a way I completely understood her. A month and a half.
The second home in Rome was in the skeletal shadow of the Gazometro near Via Ostiense and Testaccio, an area now known for its trendy food market and street art but at the time was a rundown post industrial part of the city with more graffiti than art on the walls. My Calabrian roommates ate dinner at 11:30pm and one slept almost constantly and was taking bee pollen to try to help her energy levels. My Roman roommates dog ate a pair of shoes that I’d loved in college, that reminded me somehow of my mom and the destruction of which made me cry with a devastation that I realized had nothing to do with the shoes. That first year was rough but still, Italy had me and I couldn’t bear to think about leaving. Eight months then back to California to waitress over the summer so I could afford to come back.
The third home in Rome was with my boyfriend and a British roommate working at FAO. It was the first time I’d lived with someone and the first time I felt what falling out of love was like. From the little square window I watched the silent snow fall over Via Cavour. We were right on the edge of one of the cutest neighborhoods in Rome but I don’t remember us going there much except to sometimes hang out in the Piazza around the main fountain. I stressed about money and how love wasn’t enough and we found a gecko once clinging to the wall and I didn’t know what to do with him, blinking there, miraculously suspended. Definitely wasn’t going to throw him out a fifth floor window, couldn’t take him down to the cement jungle below. Couldn’t domesticate him. Couldn’t … find him. Guess he found his own way. Eight months.
The fourth home in Rome was my escape from the last one, in the British roommate’s girlfriend’s flat on a side street near Piazza Fiume. I’d take anywhere but where I was. My roommates were a German study abroad student that was never home. The other was a gatherer for parties and was never home. The ex roommates soon to be ex girlfriend was a student and was never home. I spent my time here missing Dario’s companionship, moving one bag of things at time, leaving things behind I couldn’t transport like my desk, things that we’d shared, and putting on make up and heels to visit the Pilot and have adventures. It was surreal. I hung out with the two fat cats that were always home. Two months then back to California to waitress.
The fifth home was living with a friend and her fiance in the most adult apartment and neighborhood I’d yet experienced in Rome. My nickname was Pet Lauren. It was heaven. There was a TV. There was a plant. The couch was leather and they’d bought it themselves instead of making do with the weird half broken furniture the landlords of previous apartments wouldn’t allow us to get rid of. They had a bookshelf with their own books on it (as opposed to the landlords books and boxes cluttering every shelf). The fiance had a car, a job, a collection of guitars. My friend cooked and they gently laughed at me when I continuously made cotoletta every time I had to cook for myself (the Milanese breaded chicken you buy at the supermarket in the Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. Easy tastiness.). The neighborhood was Garbatella. It was quiet. There were gates around the apartments. A hospital down the road. Supermarkets within walking distance, the metro. It was here I felt for the first time: The Pilot won’t work. But I kept taking the bus to English lessons, taking notes on Journalism from the online course with the London School of Journalism, going on runs through the green of Garbatella, down roads lined with tall leafy trees. I wanted a place of my own but was nowhere near able to afford one yet as I kept trying to grow skill after skill and turn part time work into full time. Ten months before I thought, maybe if I moved in with the Pilot, it would solve our problems (oh, hindsight).
The sixth home was with the Pilot just off of Piazzale Flaminio with a terrace full of jasmine, a bed draped exotically with mosquito netting and a shy doorman who told me if I ever needed anything, any kind of help, I could ask him. The buildings here were taller, statelier. They were offices, banks, restaurants. I went on runs up and down the river. We got a dog. I ran with the dog up and down the river and when the Pilot came home at 1am from work we took the dog up the hill into Villa Borghese and tried to pretend that this was fun. Six months before realizing none of it was fun anymore.
The seventh home was on Viale Regina Margherita right next to the best bar ever with waiters in white button down shirts and blue vest with hands that flew, cup saucer, spoon, tap the coffee grounds out, click the buttons, steam, whoosh, grrr foam, cappucchino, crunch cornetto, wipe up the crumbs. I worked from home here managing first one then two tour companies simultaneously as I tried to make enough to have any kind of financial stability so I spent long hours at my desk overlooking the tram line as I planned other people’s vacations. I lived with two American and we sat in the yellow kitchen for hours and hours and hours talking. Family, fathers, fears, sex, dreams, plans, clothes, keeping score of our best lines on the quote board hanging on the wall. We “therapied” each other for a year then one moved out and then the other and were replaced in various orders by an Italian, a German, an Ecuadorian, a Romanian. I needed fewer “-ans.” Almost two years. The longest (to this day) that I’ve lived anywhere since I left home for college.
The eighth apartment was the cutest and the quaintest and had been my dream since coming to Italy. On Via del Boschetto right in the heart of Monti. Wood beamed ceilings, only one roommate (almost like having my own place?), a wall of bookshelves for my book collection that was growing out of hand. But it turned out the wall separating our two bedrooms was the equivalent of a piece of fabric and we may as well have been roommates in the sense of sleeping in the same room. For a time this was fine. Then I fell in love again. And I needed a wall. A year and a half.
The ninth apartment was one I knew well. A friend’s was moving out and I jumped at the opportunity to have a real room with a door. It was a few blocks away Near Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and being near the train station was essential to take the train up to Livorno and for Luca to come down to Rome on a regular basis. It was a neighborhood of immigrants, Chinese, Bangladesh, Korean and it seemed like 75% of the shops were fronts for the Chinese mafia. When you pass the exact same jewelry shop one after the other, completely empty neon light boxes, you know something’s up. Finally ethnic food: Korean bbq, Chinese, Indian fast food, I tried Pho for the first time about a million years after it became all the rage in the US.
I moved into the small room, then into the big room as I began to create Unlock Italy and travel between Rome and Tuscany creating new homes, new lives, new loves. Every apartment has the mom, the one who calls the plumber when things are broken, the one the landlord communicates with. The one who pays the bills and collects the cash from everyone. To my surprise, that was suddenly me. I’d been the subletter, the angsty teen, Pet Lauren, friend Lauren and from one apartment to the next I suddenly became the responsible one. Every day, every week I felt I was building: my career as a guide, my own business, my relationship, in fact a new family that I hadn’t been prepared for but that was suddenly in front of me in Livorno where I lived with Luca and part time with his daughter. There were bed times and dinners with all the food groups and “nic nics” (picnics) on the living room rug. I swung between being a roommate in Rome and being a girlfriend/part time step-something in Livorno with Luca making the trip back and forth even more than me. Meeting new families and people every single day as a guide and taking trains between Rome, Florence and Livorno, dragging luggage around the literal piles of trash around Termini meant that the one thing I needed at home was silence. And for the first time, amazingly, miraculously, after eight years of living in Italy and a million jobs, I could finally afford to live on my own. One year and nine months.
The tenth apartment was my own. On a wide, tree lined boulevard in Prati, overlooking the Tiber where I could run like I had years earlier when I’d lived with the Pilot, when I felt less stable, less secure, less sure of who I was and what I was doing. I’d been dreaming of my own apartment since I was a child. Finally at 30 I had carved out enough of a space for myself in Rome to be able to afford one. A room of your own is a good place to start, Virginia but an apartment is bliss. Nine months.
But now, after less than a year, it seems it’s already time to go. And the next chapter won’t be in Rome. Instead, it’s on to Livorno, to the home we’ve been making here and to Florence and Tuscany for the business we’ve been building there.
So far I’ve taken 153 trains this year between Rome, Florence and Livorno as I tried to build both my business enough to make the move before I realized a few months ago the thing that I’ve been learning in Rome this whole time: the only way to grow there is to go there. I am tired but looking back over each move I see how every single step was toward making a more stable life in this incredible country. If I did it before I can do it again, and this time with the best partner I could ever wish for by my side.
With time, home becomes more than one place. It is more than one person. What is home for a long time can eventually transform and you are suddenly caught looking around you thinking, what is this place? Sometimes home is a loved one. At times it’s just where you sleep. Sometimes, the best times, you are at home in yourself.
To be continued next week.