I spent five days over the new year in Rome. Rome: that foundation of civilisation with its wondrous churches, beautiful squares, ornate fountains, spectacular architecture, jaw-dropping ruins and enough white carbs to make Mr. Atkins, of the diet phenomenon, turn in his grave.
Rome has that special something; this is undeniable. The neighbourhood of Trastervere with its quiet flapping of washing between colourful window shutters; the Palentino museum with its vast design of luxurious houses, baths and gardens; the mighty Roman forum which reeks of power and history; the spine-tingling Colosseum with its stories still visualised from centuries ago; the impressive pantheon, the Vatican and the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel... I could go on. All these sites serve the visitor visually, culturally, historically, socially and religiously. Rome opens your eyes to the past. Just mind the modern buses and trams as they zoom by while you stop and stare, imaging what it must have been like.
Then, to rest, you enter trattorias and old cafes: jugs of Chianti, chilled Peroni beer, greying waiters with an impressive array of moustaches and Einstein hair styles shouting at who-knows-who. You feel you've stepped into an old family get-together/riot, which hasn't changed course for centuries. It's not any old city: it's Rome.
But Rome isn't the perfect city. It isn't the most beautiful. If it was, no one would go to Venice (so I've heard). Let me tell you why I think why. It's missing its greens. The boulevards of Paris are lined with trees; the avenidas of Buenos Aires are lined with trees. London is full of green parks, made even brighter for all the rain it gets. Rome is bricks; old, beautiful bricks perhaps, but bricks nonetheless.
And back in the eateries, there is a serious lack of greenery as well. Pasta, pizza, gelato: after five days you are screaming for something vegetable which is not related to the tomato. The first night back after our trip, I cooked a stir fry of chard, green beans, green peppers, broccoli - I needed to see green on my plate, taste it in my mouth. My body loved it.
I am not saying there are no trees whatsoever in Rome, or you can't find a salad on the menu. On the last day, we did visit a park, which had trees of course, but lacked grass. Those Romans found any open space as an excuse for a fight/gathering/market and didn't need grass under their well-made shoes. And if I am sitting in 'the best pizza place in the neighbourhood' should I order a Cesar salad just because he died just down the road? After all, when in Rome...
So, if Rome had more trees and more chard on the menu, would it then be the perfect city?
I'll tell you after my trip to Venice.