Tripping through Rome by Norah Collard
Walking in heels through the loosely fitting cobblestone streets of Rome...
Walking in heels is an art form. Walking in heels through the loosely fitting cobblestone streets of Rome can be an act of faith or stupidity. The skinny heels of my stilettos frequently became wedged between the cobblestones. I would catch myself just before falling, pause to free my entire foot, or sometimes step completely out of my shoe, bend down and wrench it free. I learned quite quickly that the best way to stomp the midnight pavement in stilettos was a) not to or b) if I must, walk on the balls of my feet. Though Vogue didn’t dictate that I wear heels during all of my adventures in Italy, whether in flip-flops, Air Rifts, or stilettos, I did stumble upon more memorable parts of the trip.
Orvieto is a medieval city built on the top of an incline. I imagine an aerial view of Orvieto conjures images of Daedalus’s labyrinth, its twists and turns, its depth, more gray than Crete’s green. A cable car carries you to the base of the mountain and then a bus snakes along its edges, passing little side streets and homes. The bus drops you at the top of the mountain into a quintessential Italian square which opens onto the steps of a Cathedral, its frescoed front supported by charcoal and ash striped buttresses and swarms of pilgrims that have come here to study them. At the far end of the square are a row of stone buildings, some with blue shutters, all have squat wood doors. A compact patio offers wine tasting. Two narrow corridors on opposing sides of the square lead you down winding cobblestone paths, by the artisans’ naves and quaint shops that pump life into the heart of this city. Though consciously I would not trade a rare shopping opportunity for exploration, my feet press on, pulling me past the boutique windows.
Beyond the center of the city the streets narrow and curl, past stone homes with elaborate heart-shaped trellises. Wrinkled laundry hangs along their artifice; the clang of dishes announces the noonday meal through open windows. At the end of this street, a thousand year old church crumbles at my feet. The poetic chatter of wide-skirted women, gathered in a nearby alley, tumbles along the stones of the coiling city wall. I stumble through the displaced stones to the far wall of the labyrinth and lean over, looking beyond the eagle crowned arches of the ancient city’s entrance. Fog rises from the land below and ferries my breath away with it. The green and brown patchwork land rises and falls with the undercurrents of mountains. Dirt tributaries spill off from the twisting main road leading up to skinny houses. Regiments of pointed trees stand firmly at attention. Motionless, at the edge of a forgotten quarter of the city, I bathe in calmness. Seconds, moments, and hours bleed, one into another, until a noiseless tug at my elbow calls me for lunch.
After days of breaded veal, pasta, and greens, I finally learn that the only way to stop the endlessly rotating dishes is to politely walk away. I slide my chair along slick marble and excuse myself with mention of a walk. Though I step through the accordion doors of the restaurant, its aromas linger behind me. The sun is high overhead warming my bare shoulders. I stroll along the streets which skirt the Vatican walls and cloak myself in the dizzying hustle. A couple in khaki shorts, polo shirts, fanny packs, and gleaming sneakers scurry by like fugitive pieces of an American flag. As I scan the crowds of people brushing past me, my eyes pause on a dark haired professionally dressed man, mounting a motorcycle at the base of the street; his eyes inspecting the back wheel of his bike. After catching my heel in a cobblestone rut, I straighten my skirt and silently scold myself for the attention grabbing mishap. Looking up, I lock eyes with this man; definitely a native. He holds my gaze even as he leisurely rolls his bike up the street towards me. Eventually, with his head still turned over his shoulder, he sputters away, intuitively avoiding calamity in a swarming intersection.
Back in the States, we rush from responsibility to responsibility, from work obligations to home obligations to social obligations. Over the years, I’ve gotten good at running to my car or down paved streets in heels, even in the snow. In fact, I’ve become so deft at running in heels that I rarely stumble anymore. I can’t help but wish that I still did.
Rome photos by Dave Cosentino