When I visited Rome as a teenager, on a coast-to-coast bike tour way back in the 20th century, I was taken in by the magic. When I returned in 2015, I felt more subsumed than taken in; almost everywhere I went I was part of a tide of foreign tourists, flowing in and out of globally branded high-end stores, handing money to local purveyors of institutions that existed for no purpose other than to take money from tourists. The architecture and history and mythology faded to the background like a stage set.
The experience was often alienating. But when I could pull myself out of the crowd and notice smaller vignettes, or find traces of centuries-old dramas encompassing old and new, romantic and political, historical and mythical, sacred and commercial, the camera came out.
I didn’t have enough time to get a deep sense of the place. But I can say for sure that the surfaces are gorgeous and compelling, the commercial drags are ghastly, the gelato is almost all above-average, the wi-fi is exasperating, and almost everywhere you go they still know how to make a fine cup of coffee.