Yesterday, when I needed to find my way to someplace, I clicked open the maps on my phone. Up popped the first auto-listing: “Home: via Capodistria, 9, Roma, Italy.” That was followed by a long list of places I had at one time or another sought directions to: restaurants in Trastevere and the ghetto; Ostia Antica; Villa Adriano in Tivoli; museums; shops. Home.
We left our apartment on via Capodistria in Rome, where we had lived since February 14th, at 6:30 AM on June 25th. We headed for Fiumicino, thence to Copenhagen for a day and a half, and, on June 27th, back to New York. We thought we were ready. (Or at least I thought I was ready–I’m not sure about John.) The weather had turned hot. The tall windows and balcony doors that had allowed cool cross-breezes to skim through our apartment until then were beginning to fail us; I could anticipate what mid-summer might feel like without air-conditioning. We had learned to keep the shutter flaps open through the night, but we had begun to sleep without covers.
We had eaten our last meal (risotto, salmon with honey and almonds) at Pepe Verde, down the street, the evening before and said goodbye to Stefano and Simone and Ina, who had welcomed us warmly throughout our stay.
We had said our farewells to our friend and neighbor, Giuliano, whose year had been absorbed primarily by sadness as his sister’s health declined. On that last day, John had actually received his permesso di soggiorno, the long-awaited “permission to sojourn” that said he was legally allowed to stay in Italy more than 90 days, and we had visited the last museum on our list, the Villa Farnesina just off the river in Trastevere, where, of course, Melville had visited, and where the paintings he saw and mentioned in his journal still hang in exactly the same spots. We had not made it out to Cinecitta, one of the places we had originally wanted to visit, but almost everything else had been checked off. I had few regrets.
I didn’t feel like a Roman. My Italian had never progressed beyond the most elementary stage, and at some point early on, after struggling to find even basic vocabulary at the macelleria, I had mentally given it up–said to myself, I’m 71, this just ain’t gonna happen, and I’m going to stop worrying about it. But of course I did worry. Every time I couldn’t make myself understood, or couldn’t understand what someone was saying to me. I didn’t feel like a Roman, but I felt like something more than a tourist. I knew where the pastry shop and the butcher and the market were in my neighborhood.
I knew where I could get copies made, buy stamps or bus tickets. I could recommend good restaurants in many different neighborhoods, and I knew what buses went where. We had made good friends, friends we felt sure we would keep.
Still, I thought I was ready to leave. Friends from Sweden, a family of five, had been living in our house, taking care of our dog, and enjoying New York in our absence. Many things had gone wrong with our house during their stay. One day, doing the laundry in the basement, they had discovered a leak, which turned out to be antifreeze from the furnace, which necessitated the purchase and installation of a new furnace. When the damage to the basement carpeting was assessed, it turned out that there were more leaks from both internal and external sources, and mold, which necessitated the removal of the carpeting and most of the drywall, the transport of everything in the basement into the garage, and the rebuilding, essentially, of the entire basement. The refrigerator stopped working and needed a new thermostat; the dishwasher stopped working and needed its hose cleaned out; the internet stopped working, which meant the phones needed to be repaired. All this was done in our absence; our gracious Swedish friends endured it all, called all the right people, scanned the bills, and sent them off to us for payment. Thankfully, our insurance covered much of the basement damage.
We had hoped that everything would be finished by the time we returned, but such was not to be. When it came time for the carpeting to be relaid, the workmen discovered water still on the floor, and no one was sure where it was coming from, so they all decided it would be best to wait for our return.
We arrived on June 27th, overlapping two days with our friends, so it was almost July before we were alone in our house. I gathered laundry–ours from our travel days, our daughter Liana’s, the sheets off the various beds that had been vacated by the Swedes–and went downstairs to the basement. I pushed the button for cold water and turned the washing machine on. Steaming hot water began pouring into it. I called the repairman, finished one load of whites and put them in the dryer. When the repairman came an hour or two later, he found a simple solution: Whoever had laid the new linoleum floor in the laundry room–part of the massive basement repairs–had reversed the hoses, so hot ran cold and cold ran hot. I was about to be annoyed at having to pay a $75 service charge for this when I realized that the dryer had been running non-stop for several hours. It turned out that it needed a new thermostat, so the service call wasn’t wasted after all.
And still, there was water on the basement floor. Our contractor strongly believed that the continuing leak was coming from outside. He recommended a drainage expert, who pointed out not only that most of the land around our house tilted down toward it, but also that several of our downspouts emptied into holes that essentially emptied in turn into the basement. In the course of two days, he brought in huge piles of dirt, regraded the land, and rebuilt and redirected the downspouts.
The men came again to lay the carpet and pointed out that there was still water on the floor.
No one knew what to do. No one knew where the water was coming from. John stood and studied the wet spot. Our daughter Liana was taking one of her lengthy showers. Water began running down the basement wall. Aha, John said. And we called a plumber. As it turned out, the leak was not from the shower but from our downstairs toilet. We had it fixed. Today the carpet was laid (although it turns out the stairs to our basement, as one of the carpet layers pointed out to me, were essentially being held together by the carpeting; they need to be rebuilt before the last bit of carpeting can be installed). We also find that we probably need a new roof.
Much of the time, now that I am home, it seems as though our five months in Rome just never happened. But sometimes I step out of bed and wonder why the wooden floor creaks so loudly; I miss my silent, cool stone terrazzo. I look out the window and wonder where my magnificent twisty eucalyptus tree is, why there is no orange tree below in the garden, where the parrots have gotten to. I miss my home.
It seems unlikely that we will ever return to via Capodistria to live. We will never have quite the same experience again. But I think I will keep that listing on my maps: “Home: via Capodistria, 9, Roma, Italy.”