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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Streets of Rome: Made for Walking and Mamie O'Rourke
Tripped the light fantastic
On the sidewalks of New York

Some 115 years after they were written, these lines from "Sidewalks of New York" are still with us, still capable, somehow, of representing the thrill of being part of America's largest city. 

On Via Cavalcanti
The song could never have been written about Rome, and not because the city doesn't have sidewalks.  There are sidewalks on Via Nazionale, sidewalks on Piazza Venezia, sidewalks on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, sidewalks on the Tiber. 

But Rome is not New York.  Via del Corso, the mile-long street connecting Piazza Venezia with Piazza del Popolo, has sidewalks, but they are perilously narrow, and pedestrians are inevitably tempted into the street.  Many streets laid out in the city's medieval period and into the Renaissance have no sidewalks, though here and there--meaning seldom--those on foot are shielded from traffic by a line of metal poles.  In the tourist mecca of Trastevere, sidewalks are hit and miss.  The near-in "suburbs," built with cars in mind, all have sidewalks, and many are welcome and well-used.  But--and that but brings me, finally, to the point of this piece: Romans like to walk in the street.  One cannot say the same of New Yorkers.

On the balcony at Via Cavalcanti
We came to this conclusion--hardly a man-bites-dog story, but interesting enough--during a recent stay in Monteverde Vecchio, an upscale neighborhood of villas and apartment buildings on the Trastevere side, where we sampled the local whites from a small 4th floor balcony.  The balcony was located above Via G. Cavalcanti, half a short block south of busy Via Lorenzo Valla. 

Late one afternoon, while enjoying a Sicilian Grillo and observing the regular flow of walkers below us, we couldn't help but notice how many preferred the street to the sidewalks on either side. 

Some were alone, some with children in tow or in strollers, some old, some young, men and women, couples, an occasional threesome.  For about 40 minutes we took the photos you see here--and many others. 

There is traffic on Via Cavalcanti
But why  are these folks walking in the street?  One reason, we thought, was peculiar to Via Cavalcanti, a one-way street (uphill, north, to the left in the photos), which carries high traffic volume only after it intersects with Via Lorenzo Valla, a half block north of our observation.  True enough, but Cavalcanti is hardly free of cars and scooters (photo at right), and pedestrians sometimes prefer the street even at its busier points. 

The street may also seem attractive in comparison with Cavalcanti's sidewalks (similar to those in many outlying areas), ugly strips of cheap poured asphalt, bulging here and there from exposure to the Roman sun and erupting tree roots, seldom swept or cleaned--just plain dirty one could say--not all that wide (though wide enough for two) and used by the neighborhood's dogs, escorted by owners who seldom clean up after them.  So there's that. 

Still there's something else at work here, something that has to do with Rome's history, with the narrow, tangled streets of Trastevere, the Jewish ghetto, and Parione (the area to the west of Piazza Navona).  Having walked these streets for hundreds of years, Romans have their own idea of what streets are and should be: though vehicles may use them, they are meant for walking. 

And so it is that Romans use their streets, and not just the medieval ones, for purposes that modern traffic engineers did not intend.  On the streets, they stride and stroll, walk and talk, move their groceries and their children (and their employer's children), walk their dogs, ride their bicycles.  What they do not do is "trip the light fantastic"--not in the street, and surely not on the sidewalks.  But then, it's not New York.  It's Rome. 

1 comment:

Marilyn Hochfield said...

A well-illustrated post, especially of Dianne's toes. Do they trip the light fantastic?