Bicycling in Rome

The following article was sent to Wanted in Rome by one of its readers, before the current heat wave, John Manisco, who recounts his first attempt at cycling across Rome.

I irresponsibly decided to bicycle to my 87-year old aunt’s home this morning trying, but failing miserably to picture the possible trajectories that would take me from Piazza S. Pietro to Piazza Verbano.

Since it was the first attempt in my life at such a herculean feat I decided to leave home just before 08.00. I pedalled leisurely through the tunnel next to the Vatican and on to Corso Vittorio Emanuele caressed by a cool morning breeze. I then decided, on the spur of the moment, to turn left after Piazza della Chiesa Nuova and entered Via della Chiesa Nuova.

Observed shopkeepers sweeping the entrances to their shops, restaurant workers stowing away cases of victuals brought from out of town and admired pretty tourists in skimpy t-shirts, shorts and sandals.

Continued onto Piazza Navona (bicyclists can) and ended up traversing the cobble stones of Via dell’Orso to Via della Scrofa and turned right on Via Tomacelli. A few delicate strokes on my pedals and I reached Via del Corso and turned left. In the distance a crystalline sun drenched Porta Flaminia came closer and closer as I gently approached the triumphant Piazza del Popolo.

Drove straight across the square and stopped at the red traffic light for pedestrians on the other side of the Porta Flaminia.

Across the street I inadvertently made eye contact with an attractive civilised beauty on a bicycle who was waiting to cross in the opposite direction. Might I have experienced the first tremor of recognition regarding the, unknown to me, world brotherhood of underground bicyclist?

As we passed each other we experienced a series of electric yet comprehending stares and I proceeded to the right, past the bus stop and through the gates of Villa Borghese.

After a few determined metres uphill I delicately descended from my metal charger and walked through the park’s pathways surrounded by luxurious waking plants, grass and trees until I reached Porta Pinciana.

There I mounted my bike and turned left bicycling down the lovely Via Pinciana, continued onto Via Salaria, turned right on Via Chiana and then reached Piazza Verbano bathed in a warm Roman sun.

Outside my aunt’s building I was greeted by a surprised Enzo (the doorman). We both looked at the shuttered windows of Estella’s apartment and decided to wait before disturbing her at such an ungodly hour. What hour might you suppose embraced me at my arrival? Why, the exact time of arrival was, to my incredulous surprise, 08.40.

My purposefully slow and relaxed plan to bicycle across Rome took all of 40 minutes. Went with Enzo to the corner bar where he insisted on offering me a coffee and then returned to my aunt’s courtyard and read the paper.

When Estella signalled to the world her awakening by raising the bedroom window shutters I ascended to her apartment and found her lying in bed listening to the news emanating from the bedside radio. It turns out that every morning, the minute she wakes up she rushes to raise her window shutters in order to avoid the emergential entrance of Enzo into her apartment to see if she’s still with us on this terracqueous world.

We laughed, giggled, and to her worried and repeated queries, described the roads I had traversed to reach her home. We had a lovely breakfast, discussed the Pope’s latest efforts regarding the Roman Curia and her heartfelt hopes for his success. After a meditative pause observing the warm rays entering the kitchen window, she recounted with empathy how towards the end of world war two, returning and desperate Italian veterans had stolen three of her bicycles. I assured her I would take careful custody of my brand new aluminum companion.

Before leaving she read me Salvatore Quasimodo’s poem Alle Fronde dei Salici on the impossibility of writing poetry under fascist and Nazi occupation.

Returning home and riding downhill through the beautiful Villa Borghese, across the Tiber and passing by St Peter's Square I was overcome by the simple joy of rediscovering the Eternal City. Time of trip (down hill) from Piazza Verbano to St Peter’s: 25 minutes.

John Manisco