By Anna Idler
“It should be right around this corner.”
I don’t question Rachel’s otherworldly sense of direction anymore. It’s pitch black outside, we haven’t been to Rome in six years, and despite all of these tiny winding streets, she still knows the exact spot where we lived when we studied abroad. And where we were heading to now.
The taxi turned. I looked up at the plaque on the side of the wall that would confirm the street name: Via Clementina. She was right.
We found Paola’s name on the apartment buzzer and pressed. A voice we knew so well rose through the intercom’s static: “Ciao, ragazzi!!!”
The door clicked, unlocking. We climbed the stairs, looked up and saw our host mom from years before at the top. She brought each of us in for the best hug, somehow managing to wrap her arms around us and our massive backpacks.
Paola hosted us when we were juniors at Loyola Maryland studying abroad in Rome for our fall semester. Our program had host parents instead of dorms; students lived with Italian families for the four months we were in Italy, selected by our program director. Rachel and I had applied to room together and received Paola as our “mom” for the semester.
The first few weeks were filled with frantic hand gestures as communication. Paola speaks almost no English, and Rachel and I knew zero Italian. We’d frantically flip through our English to Italian dictionaries (no iPhones for Google Translator back in the day) and all three of us would laugh at our confusion. Rachel and I along with the other students in our program thankfully were required to take two Italian courses while in Rome, so gradually we were able to speak with Paola.
Rachel and I had an amazing experience abroad and became very close with Paola. When we reached out to her recently telling her about this trip, she generously insisted we stay with her.
We knew being back in Rome after six years would be unbelievable, but we had no idea how much this city would feel like home. We walked around to all of our old spots yesterday: the Colosseum (just blocks away from Paola’s apartment), the Vittorio Emanuele (Rachel’s and my favorite building in Rome), the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese Gardens. We even found our old Italian school, Italiaidea!
Last night, Paola made us dinner just like she used to when we were here at 20 years old. We sat eating tomatoes and mozzarella and drinking wine, catching up with Paola on her life and family as best we could with our limited Italian. Paola used to teach Italian to foreigners, so as we chatted she taught us words and phrases. Relearning certain terms – il mare (sea), la citta (city), la cena (dinner), va bene (all good), buena sera (good evening) – brought back so many memories of studying abroad. Studying Italian vocabulary in Italiaidea’s common area prepping for a quiz. Ordering a coffee and a pastry before class, making conversation with the cashier. Sitting on the Spanish Steps with our friends, venting about that day’s test.
As we walk through Rome’s streets that we know so well Rach and I can’t stop reminiscing. We feel so lucky to be here again experiencing Rome. Even at 26 we’re still yelling like little kids after we turn every corner, grabbing each other’s arm and excitedly pointing out that monument, that restaurant, that park. I hope this sense of wonder never leaves.
26 year-old Anna Idler lives in Montgomery County, PA and is a freelance writer for Montco Happening. To learn more about her travels, check out her website Outlaw Summer.