by Alexandra

rome - view from aventine


I’m Alexandra, a 22 year old from London. In a week’s time I’ll be moving to Rome, and hopefully finding work as an English teacher. Although I don’t know anyone in the city, I’ve been put in touch with some friends of friends, and hopefully it won’t be too difficult to meet people. I’ve already got a flat, which is a good start – a tiny room in Testaccio which I can call home.

As a teenager I went to Rome a couple of times – very briefly on a school trip, and for a few days on a family holiday – but it wasn’t until September 2011 that I fell in love with it. I went with a friend and stayed in a hostel for three weeks while doing some work experience at Keats-Shelley House. I ate a lot of pizza, saw so much art that I started to suffer from a slight culture overload, and was so reluctant to leave that I cried on the plane journey home. When I went back to Oxford to start the final year of my degree, the dome of the Radcliffe Camera seemed disappointingly small, and I immediately started plotting my return to Rome.

Two years later, it’s actually happening. This blog will be the story of my move to Rome, as I create a life for myself in the city, and try to earn enough money through teaching to pay my rent and maybe even travel occasionally. We’ll see.

The title of the blog, “Go thou to Rome”, is from Adonais by Shelley.

Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness

Shelley, my favourite poet, lived in Rome while writing Prometheus Unbound, and he’s now buried in the Protestant Cemetery. My feelings about Shelley are too weird and complicated to summarise here, but in a strange way he seems to influence lots of my major life decisions. “Go thou to Rome” – all right, Shelley. I will!

Here are the most commonly asked questions, whenever I tell anyone about my plans.

Can you speak Italian?

No. Well, I can order food in a restaurant, have a conversation of sorts with my landlord and make up excuses to escape from amorous old men in the Villa Borghese, but my spoken Italian is pretty bad. If all else fails, I can always communicate in the lyrics of Renato Zero, declining a threesome, calling someone a slut, or declaring “E un bordello l’esistenza mia“.

Have you got a job?

No. I’ve only just qualified as an English teacher, so there was no point in applying for jobs until now. I just had a Skype interview with a language school which I think went well, so fingers crossed, but there’s nothing definite.

How long are you going for?

I don’t know. My mother thinks (hopes) I’ll be back after a year, and one of my friends thinks I’m never coming back. In reality, it’ll probably be something in-between. I definitely want to stay longer than a year, but after that, it completely depends on jobs and how happy I am. I’m sure I’ll miss London lots, but at the moment I don’t know if I’ll miss it enough to come back for good.

Why Rome?

I never know to answer this. It’s like when someone asks you about your favourite bands and your mind goes blank. You know you could list a hundred things and give detailed reasons if you had the time, but when you’re put on the spot you forget everything. I usually go, “Er…” and then say something vague about food, art, and wanting to learn Italian. Which is true, but there’s so much more to it than that. The Appian Way, umbrella pines, Caravaggios in gloomy churches, the view from the Pincio, cobbled streets in Trastevere, the view of the Forum from the Capitoline Hill, the Giardini degli Aranci, the graves of Keats and Shelley, the Villa dei Quintili…

If I had to sum it up in one word, I suppose it would be “beauty”. When I was in Rome for a few days in May, giddy with excitement and so happy to be back, I discovered a path near the Giardini degli Aranci, leading down the hill to the Lungotevere. I’d already admired the view of St Peter’s that everyone tells you about, jostling for a place at the edge of the park so I could see it. But while I was wandering down this steep, deserted path the Vittoriano suddenly came into view, and all these layers of Roman trees and rooftops. It was so beautiful, and so unexpected – cities without hills don’t have the same drama, the power to stun you with a sudden glimpse of ruins or the river, the back of the Palatine or domes on the other side of the Tiber.

I know that once I’m actually living in Rome, I won’t be in a perpetual swoon. Crowded buses and the smell of Termini should prevent me from romanticising the city too much, but even so…I feel incredibly lucky to be living in place which is essentially a massive work of art.