Rome Stories: Top trattorias and mementoes of Totti - at last we're citizens of the real Rome

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The Independent Online

After three years in Rome, we are finally living in the place. My son and I leave home together in the mornings and walk two minutes to the Stazione Metropolitana.

Twenty minutes and two trains later - each so graffiti-saturated one could almost believe the city's right-on mayor, Walter Veltroni, had handed out the spray cans and told them to get on with it - we are in the middle of town and at school and work respectively.

We have finally dug ourselves out of the suburbs and got ourselves a life. Well, a city life: a small flat in a large modern block. We've lost the wood pigeons, the umbrella pines towering over the ancient Via Cassia on which we lived, we've lost the garden and those somnolent, balmy afternoons when you could kid yourself you were in the country.

The area we've moved to is called Garbatella, close to Campus Maximus, the chariot race course a few minutes' walk to the city wall and the ruins of the Thermae of Caracalla. But for all the classicism on the doorstep, Garbatella is one of the most densely populated working-class districts in Rome.

When I tell friends, Italian and otherwise, where we have moved to, there is always a fractional pause before they say: how nice, how interesting, how unusual. Or, oh really, I lived there once when I was a student.

A colleague said, very kindly: "This is the clearest sign yet that Garbatella is coming up." An acquaintance on the Via Cassia paused for an eternity before saying: "Garbatella - lots of people!"

For us, lots of people means the flavour and the fragrance of the city expressed at full strength, like a Neapolitan espresso. It means passionate support for Roma football team: the liveliest bar in the area is festooned with Roma team shirts signed by Francesco Totti and the rest.

It also means that the winding, hilly lanes of the old part of the quarter, built as a sort of workers' paradise in the 1920s, are dotted with superb, and not at all expensive, trattorias.

So we put up with the roar of buses, the whine of the Vespas, the crazy congestion in the supermarket. And when we can endure it no more, we will bolt for the countryside - like every other Roman.

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Rome's archaeologists have gone as far down as they need to go. Andrea Carandini, director of the dig at the Palatine Hill in the city centre, has spent more than 20 years unwrapping the layers of ancient Rome.

He said last week: "Here the work of the archaeologist finishes and that of the geologist begins." Carandini was jubilant because he believes they have uncovered the huts in which the Vestal Virgins lived, the women who tended the Temple of Vesta, home of the city's first shaman-kings, dating back to the 8th century BC - the moment of the city's foundation. Archaeology meets geology, history embraces myth.

Yet the project is stony broke. A lottery grant of €5m (£3.4m) allowed the work to stagger on to this remarkable turning point. But €100m is required, they say, to bring the whole project to fruition.

* * *

The Pope is bringing in the decorators - and not before time. The last time the papal apartments had a going-over was in 1975, during the final years of Paul VI. The centrepiece of Benedict XVI's new look will be a grand piano, imported from Germany. Strains of Bach or Beethoven may yet drift out of that famous top-floor window to the ears of pilgrims in the piazza below.

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