At six p.m., the same roll call of bells often caught me hurrying through the square with bags of groceries or chatting with my neighbor Linda across our terrace wall. One day my cat jumped over that 18th-century brick wall carrying a 50,000-lira bill he had picked up off Linda's bed; after that we extended the wall up and chatted through a 6-inch chink in the bricks. Another cat, a long-haired gray beauty I called the King of Rome, lived across the way atop the circular ancient ruins that gave their name to our street, Via Arco della Ciambella (the street of the doughnut arch). The King's abode, like most ancient Roman ruins, was overgrown with magnificent caper plants, long trailing vines that produce lavender colored flowers almost all year long.
Every Thursday Amedeo, the knife-sharpener, would set up his rickety old bicycle in the street below. On it he would sit all day long, pedaling away, powering the round pumice wheel atop the handlebars, honing batteries of kitchen knives carefully lowered to him in wicker baskets from the upper stories. He also fixed umbrellas, pots and pans and, most importantly, provided a weekly update on gossip from the nearby streets.
For years, decades, my friend Michael and I went on sightseeing expeditions almost every Sunday, and yet there are several churches I have yet to see. In Rome, renovations can last longer than a human lifetime. I will continue to return, always hoping to find those ancient church doors open, perhaps thanks to a careless plasterer. But the images of Rome that will remain with me longest are the King of Rome sunbathing on the doughnut arch, the sparks flying off Amedeo's rusty wheel, the French monks meditating on their cloistered balcony across the street, the ricotta cakes I received in homage once a month from our baker Sor Lillo, and the feisty little clang with which the convent bell ended the municipal concert every evening. I hope you will experience them too, in between St. Peter's and the Forum.