Thud. That’s me crashing down to earth. I’ve just waved a teary goodbye to my friend Renate with whom I’ve spent a lovely five days discovering a beautiful Rome that up until now I didn’t know existed. I should be happy that I’ve had such wonderful company, but as I look around at the hustle of Termini station today all I feel is sadness. I am alone again.
For the past three weeks I’ve been transiting from carefree holiday mode to one of responsibility and have spent most of my time on my own looking for somewhere to live. Not one for being content with just anything, I add extra pressure by wanting a room in a safe area with public transport options, one that was spacious and light, and above all else I wanted a good flatmate who was around my age. Oh, and they had to be Italian. In my head it sounded simple enough. Not so.
In the short time I’ve been here I’ve traversed this city for what seems like a million times. I’ve gotten to know Rome’s extensive and highly inefficient transport system quite well… and have come to loath it. Several times now, the already overcrowded bus I’ve been on has broken down and left me stranded, and the other day we were all kicked off a tram for a reason I didn’t quite understand, especially when it continued on its merry way empty. People don’t wait for you to get off, they push you out of the way to get on and would never consider giving a seat to the needy. Not that I’m needy of course.
I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that everyone lives in apartments, and that they are so close together. Often the view from your window is one hundred other apartment windows. Buildings are generally nondescript and bordering ugly, walls are paper thin, and the heating is regulated by the complex and only comes on for a few hours twice a day. The streets in some of the areas are terribly dirty, dog shit litters the pavement at almost every turn and EVERYONE smokes! I’m developing a smoker’s cough just by being outside. Who’s decision was it that I to come to a big city? Oh yeah, that would be mine.
I have seen lots of rooms in many diverse neighbourhoods, some of them quite dodgy. My favourite flat hunting story is when the door to one apartment – which was very much on the wrong side of the tracks – was opened by a cute, skinny twenty-year-old Emo called Damiano. As I entered the apartment I saw that some walls were painted black, it was incredibly messy and it stank of cigarettes. In the lounge room (a rarity in Rome it seems) there were decks set up in one corner and as Damiano lit up a cigarette he told me that he was a DJ and practiced at home quite a bit. Already desperate to leave and knowing quite well I would NEVER live there I had to endure twenty minutes of the most rapid incomprehensible Italian I have ever heard. I smiled and nodded and pretended to understand. When he eventually showed me the room he began by telling me about the past tenant who was ‘just a baby’ and didn’t really know how to live with other people. She’d had a little dog. Then he reassured me that he wanted to change the mattress and was sure there was one somewhere in the apartment. I didn’t even want to think about what had happened on that bed! When I eventually got back out onto the street I couldn’t help but smile. Next.
I’ve had three temporary homes since I arrived, however tomorrow I am moving into a beautiful old apartment that is tastefully decorated and inhabited by a 40-something Italian photographer. The bus stops right out the front and the metro is about a ten minute walk away. I don’t have a lounge room, and there isn’t a TV, but I do have the Tevere River a stone’s throw from my front door and the walk along it’s banks to The Vatican takes about half an hour. All the trees are currently in various shades of autumn so the view is stunning. I can walk to the Colosseum and to several cool quartiers full of local markets and good restaurants. This is going to be my base for at least the next two months so am looking forward to doing a lot of exploring.
I’ve also started job hunting. Yes, in Italy. Every person I speak to looks at me like I am crazy. Today the cab driver laughed. ‘You want a job here?’ they ask. Umm, yeah. I’ve mostly been applying for English-speaking jobs that I’ve seen on the internet but think I will have to start cold calling soon. The prospect of doing this absolutely terrifies me as I’m very comfortable behind the safety of my laptop. I guess if I wanted to be comfortable I would have stayed in Australia. I know it’s only been a few weeks but I’m impatient. I want a job now, or at least want to know I will be starting one soon. Today I asked for a job in a coffee shop I’ve been frequenting. As I was leaving the aging barman discretely placed a folded napkin in the palm of my hand. On it was his name and phone number. Somehow I don’t think that talking about a job was on his mind.
Finding a job here is going to take patience, determination and above all else inner strength. I know I need to focus, formulate a plan and stick to it. Balance is the key. Exercise. Work. And some fun. I might have to stop drinking red wine on a daily basis. And maybe stop buying new clothes. Jeez… but I’ve only just discovered where all the good shops are!