It’s 9 in the morning in Rome. It’s the spark before the fire. The searing sun that will reach 99 degrees this weekend has yet to pour over my rooftop. It has left my fourth-floor penthouse terrace in an embracingly cool shadow of 79 degrees. Seagulls floating in from the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea squawk over my head. If the Tiber River below me was the ocean, I’d feel as if I was on Capri instead of in Testaccio, my neighborhood I’ve grown to love like my hometown. My perfect cappuccino is next to this laptop as I peck away in complete solitude.
Yes, Rome in July is awful as I wrote last week https://johnhendersontravel.com/2015/07/09/july-is-worst-time-to-be-in-rome-or-anywhere-else/. However, in the mornings it is tolerable. On my terrace, it is spectacular. On my terrace is when Rome becomes the city of my dreams. It’s where I feel like this isn’t 2015. It’s 15 AD and I’m a member of the Roman Senate, sitting above the city in obscene luxury, lounging above the great unwashed. I keep looking around for curvy peasant women in togas to feed me grapes. Alas, I feed myself cereal and eggs.
My terrace has become my sanctuary, my home in my home. It’s where I write in the mornings and entertain in the evenings. It’s where the Tiber River transforms from one of the filthiest rivers in Europe to the Seine in spring. I never tire of climbing my 90 steps and cooling off at night, looking out over my balcony and watching the 19th century street lamps reflect off the gently flowing river. (It also helped that the gypsy camp on the river bank got mowed outta town.)
My terrace is 35 square meters or 377 square feet. That’s huge by Rome standards. It’s big enough to be lined with plants of all sizes and shapes. I’m surrounded by green. I remember reading a long story in The New York Times in 2008 about an expat couple. She spent four years looking for an apartment with a terrace big enough for a garden. At the end of the story she finally found one. In about the second to last paragraph, The Times added that the going rate for a 180-square-meter apartment with a balcony went for 5,000-5,600 euros ($5,555-$6,216). I took it as a sign that terraces are as rare in Rome as elevators. (This is nearly a 3,000-year-old city. And you wonder why Romans aren’t fat?) I pay 950 euros for my flat, the inside itself is 45 square meters or 484 square feet. My terrace is like another giant room.
My furniture is all 21st century IKEA, Sweden’s greatest gift to the world besides its women. It’s all waterproof and the cushions on the wooden chairs make you want to stay all day. I sometimes brave the afternoon elements and sun myself on my lanais chair, something I haven’t done at home since my days atop the Phi Psi roof at the University of Oregon. (By the way, ever see “National Lampoon’s Animal House”? That was filmed in my fraternity while I was living there fall term 1977. I had breakfast with John Belushi for six weeks. Feel free to bow.) And in Rome, I’m no longer worried about getting pelted by water balloons from the nearby Sigma Nu house. I put a big liter bottle of cold water next to me and read my Corriere dello Sport newspaper. No cafe in Rome or North American can beat this solitude.
The colors on Roman mornings are wonderful. Despite a reputation for dirty air, Rome’s sky from within Rome looks as clean as San Diego’s coast. The turquoise sky is void of clouds. It’s brutal in the afternoon when there is no escaping the sun but in the mornings it has the prettiest landscape for breakfast. Below is my lovely street, Lungotevere Testaccio, lined with huge, billowy Sycamore trees that cover the walkway in shade. You can walk from the southern tip of Rome to the northern with hardly ever setting foot in the sun.
Mostly, I love my terrace for entertaining at night. When the sun drops in Rome, so does the humidity. Unlike Texas or Florida, where you must take as many showers at night as in the day, Rome’s evenings in July are as comfortable as anywhere in the world. I invite friends over for a typical Roman aperitivo: big trays full or prosciutto, salami, cheeses and olives, bread and spreads of olive and pesto. Fresh fruit fill another tray next to big chilled bottles of white wine. Somehow a fresh Pinot Grigio from Veneto tastes better when looking down upon Rome. Conversations are livelier. Laughter is louder. Dreams are bigger.
So is life. I must go. The sun is starting to creep over my roof. In an hour, Rome is going to turn into a greenhouse. I think I’ll feed myself some grapes.