When an old day ends and a new one hasn’t started yet, melancholy always takes you, harder then ever.
Especially if you live somewhere in the desolate South Roman hinterland.
I was driving back home in the late night, coming from a party that was held in the countryside, and I realized I was starting feeling afraid: that’s the usual sensation I have when I drive in the suburbs of Rome by night. It is a mixture of fear and excitement, due to the long drives among dark streets surrounded by wild bushes and trees. You’re always curious to see what is hiding behind the next curve and, at the same time, you feel lonely. I have the impression that if I shouted in the middle of such a complex urban jungle, even if I were in the most populated area between the Grande Raccordo Anulare and the Aurelian wall, nobody would hear that.
Coming from the highway, that is desolate and boring, you jump into this complicated labyrinth called periphery, and there, in some magic moments in the middle of the night, you find life hiding in the secret corners of this universe. People that you meet here are not the same you may find in the daylight: similar to vampires, you would find prostitutes looking at you with winky eyes, taxi drivers waiting for some late-party drunk man, Bengalese heroes presiding street lights and bravely trying to sell you a lighter or a pair of socks.
If you compare this with the centre, the real centre of Rome with all its monuments and its theatrical landscapes, you’ll first think there is no comparison. But, after looking carefully, you realize how infinitely rich these places are. The Roman periphery has had an uncontrolled growth during the 60s and the 70s, because of the increased number of people that was moving into town from the countryside. This huge urbanist development didn’t follow any structured plan, and new districts were built around the centre, usually with no permission or control by communal authorities: the result is now the largest city in Europe for square footage, with one of the smallest inhabitant density. This disconnected sub-urban labyrinth still hides some treasure: that is the case of the many street arts masterpieces on the walls of popular areas, such as San Basilio, Ostiense or Testaccio. Away from the eternal and immutable historical centre, the periphery has become a new hub and inspiration for creative artists and young visionaries.
Coming back to my story, I needed to pass through the natural park of Appia Antica, the fields in the area of Via Ardeatina and finally the desolate streets of Via Laurentina in order to come back home. All this to end up in EUR, an almost ghost-town neighborhood full of white marble architectures that, in summer nights, gives me the impression of a science-fiction post-apocalypse world, where humans have left the Earth and nature has came back to prevail in the city.
Passing among this gloomy ruins, fear came back and I started thinking about all the possible scenarios of death you might have to live before safely coming back home: heart attack while driving that provokes a car accident, boars crossing the street or tackling the car, drunk gangsters shooting at you and so on.
Finally I got home and looked into my pocket for the keys.
I tried to call my father, who anyway seemed to be happily sleeping. I only had one solution left and it was spending the night outside, facing the boars and trying to stay alive until the following morning. I went back to the car and started looking for a safe place to stop and sleep.
That morning, I was awakened by a seagull that was walking on the windscreen of the car. I shouted, it went away. Then I got out of the car and finally moved to the bar at the corner of the street. I was in Via Gallia, close to the Basilica of S.Giovanni, at the margins of the centre, in front of the Roman wall that once surrounded the ancient capital. On a bench just in front of the wall I saw an old lady, incredibly elegant, with a maritozzo in the hands and a bright toothless smile. That same silence of the night was still in the air. The maritozzo is a typical Roman pastry. The cream was all around the mouth of the lady who, with a fast lick, just like a child, cleaned it all up.
I stared at her for some moment and that reminded me of the crazy beauty of my city, of my suburbs: the beauty of a decadent world which is joyful for its pure and eternal decline, something like a long-lasting sunset.
Then I walked back to the car, with a maritozzo in my hands, thinking my father should have awaken.
After all, it was a new day.