I don’t care about New Year’s. I think it’s overrated, and am still traumatised by the memory of my one attempt to “go out” in London on New Year’s Eve (fireworks hidden behind buildings; cold; drizzle; horrible drunken crowds; a never-ending queue to get home). I’m quite happy not to do anything at all for New Year’s – to stay in, stay warm.
I told Valeriano that this year, we’d be together no matter what. If he had to work, I’d join him. He works as “welcome staff” for a holiday apartment rental company in Rome, doing check-ins and check-outs at various apartments across the city, and holidays are a busy time of the year. He was working all day yesterday – and all night – and I agreed to join him in the evening. Besides, it’s not like we were really missing out on anything special. The annual New Year’s concert at Circo Massimo had been cancelled (sponsors pulled out due to the usual political scandals) and our friends were scattered all over the place. We would celebrate together, somehow, in our own way.
8pm. Valeriano picks me up at home. I stick a bottle of Prosecco in my handbag, grab my helmet, and jump on the back of his borrowed motorino, ready for an evening of rushing around Rome. If we’re lucky, we’ll be finished by midnight. If we’re really lucky, we may even have time for dinner.
First, an apartment in Trastevere. While waiting for the guests to arrive, Valeriano debates whether to whizz over to another apartment near Ottaviano (the Vatican) – the location of the next check-in- just so he can turn on the heating before the guests there, so they won’t complain about the apartment being too cold to stay in and flounce off. Apparently that happens a lot. But going from Trastevere to Ottaviano just to turn on a radiator, and then returning to Trastevere, and then going back to Ottaviano to welcome the guests (Russians), seems like a cazzata, even though I can understand his reasoning, and his reluctance to upset the Russians. I convince him to wait for the Spanish arrivals in Trastevere.
The Spanish arrive, the check-in goes smoothly, and we speed towards Ottaviano to await the Russians. The booking has been made by a Russian woman, so Valeriano thinks she may be a prostitute – many of the Russian guests are. But when she arrives she turns out to be an economist, accompanied by her husband. The Russian Economist speaks charmingly stilted Italian and is delighted with the Christmas decorations in the courtyard, though disconcerted by the fact that two of the light bulbs in the living room are broken. She wants someone to fix it the next day, but there’s not much chance of someone rushing over to replace a couple of light bulbs on New Year’s Day.
As Valeriano and I are leaving the building the Russian Economist rushes after us. What about the wi-fi? Valeriano goes back to the apartment to track down the modem and wi-fi password, and discovers that there is no wi-fi in the apartment. The Russian Economist is distressed – she and her husband are there for a week and want to communicate with family. She starts to cry. It’s one of those awkward situations where there’s nothing Valeriano can do, except apologise for something that isn’t his fault. We leave.
It’s cold on the motorino. Really cold. The streets are strangely empty; everyone must be inside, drinking or dining. We speed along the deserted Lungotevere, watching the blue lights from the bridges criss-cross over the night sky, beaming from the angels of Ponte Sant’Angelo. These blue spotlights are the only sign we see of Rome’s public New Year’s celebrations, and they’re not particularly festive. They’re a little sinister, actually, as though they’re sweeping the sky in search of enemy planes.
Now we’re hunting for the apartment on Via dell’Orso (near Piazza Navona), the final check-in. Valeriano has been given conflicting information about the location of the apartment, and it takes 15 minutes of phone calls, dashing up and down stairs, and inspecting doors before we finally locate it. “We must look like thieves,” says Valeriano.
It turns out to be the apartment we’d dismissed before, because it didn’t look real. It’s hidden away on the ground floor of the palazzo, and looks more like a storage room or a place to leave the rubbish. It’s hardly inviting, and hard to believe that it’s the entrance to a holiday apartment.
Valeriano unlocks the door. Five seconds of an ominous beeping, and a glimpse of unmade beds. Then the burglar alarm goes off.
After the initial shock wears off, we stand outside the apartment, beside the bags of rubbish and the old bicycle, the alarm incessant and deafening, and wonder what to do.
By this point, Valeriano – who has been working 12 hour days for six days straight – is understandably fed up. As he phones various colleagues and bosses, all of whom are at New Years’ parties, I can see the repressed “vaffanculo” written across his face.
Over the next half hour we wander up and down Via dell’Orso, trying to get through to someone at his company to find out what to do. It’s 10pm. The Argentinian guests are arriving in half an hour and the apartment they’ve booked is unusable, because it’s essentially a dirty shed of an apartment with an alarm that can’t be switched off. What to do?
We make the most of the “break” to have dinner – a panino and some pizza from a forno that’s miraculously open. As we eat standing in the street, Valeriano is given his orders – “Go to the office, get the keys for an apartment in Trastevere, and take the guests there instead”.
So it’s back on the motorino, back across the river. Park the bike. Go to the office. Pick up the keys. Get back on the bike. Back to Via dell’Orso.
The Argentinians aren’t answering their phone. That means we have to wait for them on Via dell’Orso, outside the unusable apartment, just so we can tell them, “Sorry, you’re not staying here”. While waiting for the Argentinians I try to keep our spirits up by making Valeriano buy me a light-up pink tiara from an Indian street vendor (not exactly a bargain at €5). We dance in the street to keep warm.
The Argentinians arrive, suitcases in tow. They’re two young women, and they look tired. They got here using public transport, not a taxi. They’re understandably upset when Valeriano breaks the news.
“But we chose this apartment especially for the location! We wanted to celebrate New Year’s in the centre of Rome! Where’s Trastevere?”
I try to convince them of the advantages of Trastevere (“lovely neighbourhood, very lively, really not far out at all”) while Valeriano tries to hail a taxi. After wandering the streets in search of a taxi, we finally find one that’s free, and send the girls off to Trastevere. We walk back to the motorino, and then we’re on the road again.
The new apartment is in a quiet part of Trastevere, towards the Gianicolo. It’s not exactly party central. The girls arrive a few minutes after us. Valeriano says he’ll cover the taxi fare. “€14.50,” says the driver. One of the girls peers at the metre. “But it says €14.20!” The driver rolls his eyes and goes on a very Roman rant at Valeriano about the girls’ stinginess. “I could have charged them €1 for the suitcases and I didn’t, and now they complain about 30 cents…” He’s right to be indignant, given that it’s 11pm on New Year’s Eve. Valeriano gives him €20 and tells him to keep the change.
The apartment – thank god – is pleasant and clean. The girls seem happy, even though they have no idea where they are. After check-in the four of us leave together. I put on my tiara. I had taken it off when the girls arrived at Via dell’Orso, as it somehow seemed in bad taste to be wearing a tacky light-up tiara in the company of irate guests. But now it’s 11.30pm, work is over at last, everyone’s happy(ish) and it’s New Year’s Eve.
After dropping off the Argentinians at a restaurant, Valeriano and I find ourselves a table outside a bar, snuggled up by one of the heaters.
Suddenly, it’s midnight. Our drinks haven’t arrived yet, so I whip out the bottle of prosecco from my handbag, and we swig from the bottle, then kiss, then drink some more. Fireworks. Prosecco. Kisses. Contrary to all expectations, the night has turned into a conventionally enjoyable New Year’s Eve.
If living in Italy has taught me anything, it’s that often, the most beautiful moments are the ones you don’t plan…