Picture this: an ancient city on a major river with centuries of history stacked upon it. There are museums all around you, apartment buildings rising up from the ground with large windows looking down on small alleyways. Because it’s autumn, there is a faint smell of wood smoke in the air—it’s almost as if you’re breathing in the history of the city’s inhabitants, current and former. And there you are, strolling down a cobblestone street en route to a café to have a pastry and a foamy cappuccino. Where are you? Paris? Maybe. But you could also be in the historical city of Rome, the capital of Italy.
Last week, I traveled to Italy for my Toussaint holidays. While I have been lucky enough to travel to Italy before, it was my first time in Rome. Despite having fallen head-over-heels in love with Paris and its deep history, spending a week in Rome shed some perspective on the history and culture cities share with their residents and visitors—that is, the cities of Rome and Paris. Both metropolises are similar in terms of their rich histories and profound cultures—they are both homes to fantastical innovation in the arts and the sciences (Bernini and Galileo from Italy, Matisse and Descartes from France), phenomenal foods (creamy pastas and salty focaccia from Italy, scrumptious pastries and rich boeuf bourguignons from France), as well as romantic, beautiful languages. Additionally, despite the French filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s infamous observation that apparently “French people are Italian people in a bad mood”, I could not help but notice the same sense of cultural pride and genuine warmth emanate from Romans that I notice almost every day here in Paris. (For what it’s worth, I believe that both nationalities seem to be in pleasant moods most of the time).
While participating in the Roman breakfast tradition of eating a cornetto (the Italian answer to a croissant) and sipping a cappuccino from Roscioli in central Rome, walking miles through ancient Roman ruins to get to the Emperor Augustus’ ancient home on the Palatine Hill, and twirling cacio e pepe onto my fork (are you sensing that I ate very well while in Rome? Because you would be correct!), I fell in love with not just the ancient city, but also I somehow fell even more in love with Paris. Both cities radiate history, culture, and peerless beauty and I am lucky to be able to draw from them similarities and a renewed appreciation for European cities and all that they have to offer.
Texte et photo Antonia Bentel - Barnard College