Termini, the Rome train station, has always had the reputation of being a haunt for pickpockets. The rumors are true, and yet I’ve always felt exhilarated when arriving at the station from the airport, dragging my suitcase out onto the big square in front of the station, where all the buses stop. The Piazza dei Cinquecento, which literally means “the sixteenth-century plaza,” is bustling with people all day and a good part of the night. Taxis are lined up, buses are pulling out. All of Rome is before me.
For the past decade or so, whenever I’ve gone to Rome, I’ve stayed with my lawyer friend Ugo. I was arriving now to spend three or four months working in the libraries of Rome. As it happened, Ugo lived only a few blocks from the train station, in the Via Cavour.
Every Italian city has a Via Cavour, named for the nineteenth-century politician who was the Count of Cavour. In Rome the Via Cavour is a broad avenue that leads away from the train station and gradually descends to the Coliseum a couple of kilometers away. It is lined with shops and large hotels, and the traffic is intense. In Rome the Via Cavour is also known as the avenue down which all the political demonstrations pass. Every time there is a strike—and in Italy this is very often—the striking workers march down the Via Cavour carrying large banners and shouting slogans.
No matter the weight of my suitcase, I’ve always felt a kind of delight when coming out from the station onto the piazza, then turning down the Via Cavour, knowing that in a matter of minutes I would enter the majestic apartment building in which Ugo Vitagliano, avvocato, lived on one of the top floors. Ugo had been there for decades—his law offices on the fifth floor and his expansive apartment just above, on the sixth. When I met him, he had already been retired for a number of years, though he would occasionally take on some legal work for a friend or a friend of a friend. Though he had traveled a great deal—and in fact he spoke pretty good French—he was very much a Roman: born and bred in Rome, he had lived and worked there his whole life. He had handled real estate deals and divorces, had dealt with judges and criminals, had done pro bono work. He had been a young boy under Mussolini, a pre-adolescent during World War II, and had come of age during the hard years just after the War. He had seen enough bad people to be wary and enough good ones to still have some faith in humanity.
Laurence de Looze publishes fiction, essays, and books on a variety of topics. A US native, he has lived in Canada for two decades. His fiction has appeared in Antioch Review, Glimmer Train, Ontario Review, and other journals, and his travel essay, “The Piano Is Always There: A Story of Lisbon,” was published in NER 35.4.