In the Eternal City, parking, like everything else, is an art. It calls for creativity. Not that I’m doing it myself—God, no. I have been lucky enough to get chauffeured around a little. For a party in the historic center on Saturday night, a friend whom I’ve been staying with in Campagnano, which is about twenty miles north of Rome, drove in early and found a spot “a spina” on a little street just a few blocks from the Tevere. I kept picturing him having to leave the party to feed the meter, but he put six euros in one of those boxes on the street and got a little slip of paper to lay on the dashboard that made the car legal till the following morning. “A spina” means “like fish bones”: you park aslant of the curb, like fish bones sticking out of the spine. The alternative is to park “a fila,” in a straight line, or parallel to the curb.
A make of car that is very popular here is the Smart car. Smart cars are so short that they can be parked “a spina” in a spot designated for parallel parking. They are about the size of a Roman dumpster, and are often seen parked among dumpsters. They remind me of nothing so much as Bump’em cars, or Dodg’ems, as we used to call them. They’re just big enough for two (in fact, they say “fortwo” on the back, which must sound funny in Italian), and they look like normal small cars but are truncated: there is no back seat. They take up about the same amount of space as two motorcycles, side by side. And they look like fun to drive—maybe too much fun, like Bump’em cars.
Romans create parking spaces where there are none. On a street designated for parking a spina, if all the spots are taken, you add a space for yourself at the end of a row. If you have to block a pedestrian zone, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. If you have to park in a pedestrian zone on a street designated for parking a fila, it’s a good idea not to make too good a job of it—leave it looking studiedly haphazard, sticking out into the street a little, so it’s clear you were in a hurry and you will be in a hurry to get out, too. Where two roads merge and form a wedge, generally painted in white stripes, cars are parked there. Also the medians are just wide enough to park a small car. Double parking is also a possibility, as is double parking a fila along a line of cars parked a spina.
While commuting from Campagnano to Rome to sightsee, I spent quite a lot of time on public transportation. There were two routes: a shuttle bus to a commuter train at Cesano to the Metropolitana at Aurelia (or all the way to Ostiense, the end of the line); and a regular bus to a different commuter train (Roma Nord), at Saxa Rubra, to the Metropolitana at Flaminio. For a few days, I moved from Campagnano to the Via della Farnesina, in what turns out to be sort of the Roman equivalent of the Upper East Side (but not really). I took the shuttle bus to the train to the Metropolitana to a tram, and walked: two hours, door to door. Later, I met a friend in Trastevere: tram again, Metropolitana again, with a change at Termini (Grand Central Station) to the other line of the Metropolitana, and then the airport train for one stop. Fortunately, I had bought a ticket that was good all day (four euros). At the end of the day, I took the Metropolitana from a stop called Piramide, near where Shelley is buried, to the Colosseum, then walked up to the Piazza del Popolo (where there is a big exhibition glorifying the 155th anniversary of the state police), and then took the tram to Ponte Milvio. This bridge has been in the news because of a custom in which one writes one's beloved’s name on a padlock, locks it to a chain around one of the poles on the bridge, and throws the key in the river. Historically, this is the place where Constantine entered Rome. I have yet to find out why it’s called Milvio.
Today I will take the Roma Nord line back to Campagnano, switching to the bus at Saxa Rubra. We had passed Saxa Rubra on the ring road when we were coming to the party last Saturday. There is a big complex for RAI, the Italian TV and radio stations; the building is a recycled design for a penitentiary in South America. My friend pointed out to me the strange baffles above and alongside the roadway: they look like something erected to protect your car from falling rocks, but there are no mountains next to the road that rocks might fall off of. What is next to the road is a neighborhood of rich people who did not want the noise of the ring road. The baffles, and Plexiglas stenciled with seagull silhouettes, are to keep the noise down.
My friend also told me the significance of Saxa Rubra, or Red Rocks. Here in about 301 A.D. Constantine defeated Diocletian, having been converted to Christianity on the eve of battle: “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (“Under this sign [the cross] you win”). (The motto is on packs of Pall Mall cigarettes.) It was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire: the rocks were red with blood. Now, of course, Saxa Rubra is a commuter parking lot. I thought I saw shantytowns along the tracks, and in the parking lot at Saxa Rubra there was a whole trailer village. It’s the ultimate parking spot: you live there and commute to Rome.