La dolce vita. This wasn’t just the name of a Fellini film when we were young, it is the definition of the idyllic life one can live in Italy: the sweet life. Australian baby boomer Kathy Gates discovered it years ago, and her love hasn’t waned.
Almost six years ago, retirement gave me something precious: time to travel. I sold my apartment in Australia and hit the road. Since then, I’ve visited far-flung places from Mongolia to Tanzania to Taiwan. I love the frisson that each new destination brings, yet there is one place above all others that draws me back time and again: Rome.
That’s why, for the title of my first novel, I chose Keira in Rome, and that’s why I’ve been thinking about my relationship to the Eternal City.
Rome and I first met in 1989. As with my titular heroine, it wasn’t love at first sight. Keira’s initial impression is coloured, and scented, by a garbage strike. In my case, the issue was something simpler: the fog of jet lag after a 22-hour flight from Sydney. Despite a valiant attempt to see the sights, my most enduring memory is stumbling back to my hotel and watching Vertigo on TV. The actor who dubbed Jimmy Stewart had a bewilderingly high-pitched voice.
Fast forward to 2001. Another long-haul flight from Sydney to Rome, while my luggage landed in Vienna. The accommodation I’d booked online said they were full and sent me to a hotel across from Rome’s biggest railroad station, Termini. I could feel the trains arriving and departing. A less than auspicious start to my month-long Roman sojourn.
Two days after getting there, and finally reunited with my luggage, I moved to a shared apartment and began a language course at a middling school. Didn’t learn much Italian but made friends with whom to explore the city. This was the moment I began to feel its pull. Born Down Under, where the built heritage is barely two hundred years old, I wondered what it must be like to grow up cheek by jowl with layers of history.
In 2004, a brief return. I had a few days at the end of a month-long holiday in Europe and felt it would have been rude to be on the Continent and not visit Rome. Sort of like snubbing a friend.
Finally I acted on my love affair and in 2007 I took a year-long “career break.” First stop, you guessed it: Rome. Another language course, this time at one of the best schools— Dilit International House. My increased ability to communicate enhanced every new activity and deepened my understanding of modern Roman life.
Since that wonderful year, I’ve returned many times to Rome, most recently to photograph locations for a series of blog posts called Walk in Keira’s Footsteps. Now, as a resident of nearby Malta where I’m currently teaching English, I can visit the Eternal City more often and avoid the jet lag!
I’ll never tire of Rome. As the Italian film director Federico Fellini said, “Rome is the most wonderful movie set in the world.” And for this late-blooming boomer novelist, a source of fascination and inspiration.
You can buy Kathy’s book, Keira in Rome, here.