When in Rome: Piano, Piano
I came to Rome for the first time in June 2001, as a quite naive 24-year old who had never traveled to Europe before. To say that I was a deer in the headlights would be an understatement. I didn’t even know on which side of the street I was supposed to wait for the bus. And nearly two full years of Italian lessons left me feeling totally unprepared when I was faced with my first rapid-fire exchange in an Italian bar, trying to order a simple sandwich. I ended up panicking and pointing. I think that could easily describe a lot of my first few days in Italy.
And then, suddenly, I started to open up to the “Roman way” of doing things. There were a couple of phrases I quickly learned from the always-helpful Romans, when I would nervously try out my Italian, hanging my head in embarrassment.
“Piano, piano…” they’d say to me, reassuringly. Literally it means ‘slowly, slowly,’ a sort of equivalent of our “little by little” … and yet I began to understand that ‘slowly, slowly’ reflects so much of life here in Rome, from public transport (no laughing matter) to taking life as it comes.
Work? “Piano, piano…” — there’s always time for another coffee break. Did you know that 80 million cups of espresso are consumed daily at coffee bars throughout Italy?
Learning Italian? “Piano, piano…” — start with the swear words, and work your way up from there.
Eating? “Piano, piano…” — there’s always room for a little more.
Coming from my hectic lifestyle in the United States, where the theory of “piano, piano” would have gotten me nowhere in my fast-paced work environment or my over-achieving brain, I found this advice highly irritating and uncomfortable at first, and then… “piano, piano...” — I started to appreciate its great wisdom.
What else would you expect from a people who have been raised among stunning monuments and archaeological testaments to a civilization that still speaks to us from over 2,000 years in the past?
I could regale you with tales of wonderful meals, colorful exchanges in Italian, harried experiences with transport strikes and elbowing people in crowded non-lines, but frankly, in retrospect, if I had to give one piece of advice to anyone coming to Rome for the first time, I don’t see why I should reinvent the wheel. I’ll take it from the Romans: “piano, piano…” Savor each moment, because each moment in this city is unique and has something different to offer to everyone.
~Shelley Ruelle, is AIRC Director of Programming. Though she still lives by “piano, piano,” she’s always in 5th gear. shelley.ruelle[at]romanculture.org