When you are looking for inspiration there is nothing better than tickling your senses.
The Gardens of the Oranges was not easy to find. As it’s not a tourist spot, it’s not very well highlighted in maps and guidebooks, so once I made my way to the district where I had roughly located it, the only way to find it was to entirely rely on locals’ knowledge of their own hometown, which is also one of my favorite travel activities. Luckily, Romans are very talkative and never have enough of people admiring their city. I asked a bar tender, but she pointed another customer to me who proved to be an expert in the field and very willing to gave me the best tips on the quicker way to get to the place. The man described the route very well, but used as I am to a pretty straightforward grid-like layout, typical of Roman settlements, it hasn’t been easy to follow his instructions anyway.
From Via Marmorata I was to walk back along Lungotevere Aventino, dominated, in fact, by the Mount Aventino, where the Garden I was aiming at is perched. He did warn me it was going to be uphill, and he didn’t just mean difficult. At 3pm, my wintery clothes proved more a burden rather than a protection against the last burst of cold blowing winds. As I wandered aimlessly, I was about to give out when I spotted a small alley seemingly leading nowhere, Clivio di Rocca Savella. Only the sign indicating the presence of Santa Sabina basilica in the neighborhood put me on the right path towards the Garden.
In fact, after walking through the winding Clivio, almost like a passageway leading to a secret garden, I ended up in a different quarter. Life was going on normally, I was still in Rome, but definitely nowhere I had ever been in the seven years I had spent in the city. And yet so close to the very familiar historic center.
Past the alley, I turned right to keep going uphill, and finally I ended up in a small square, Piazza Pietro d’Illiria, impossible to find on my map, where the whole area looks like a chaotic cluster of intersecting lines. Here was the entrance to the Garden, the gate I longed for so much. In fact, I was so proud of myself that I decided I could even wait a little longer before establishing whether the spot was worth the hassle or not. Pride apart, what actually diverted my attention from the garden’s entrance was the basilica of Santa Sabina, early Christian worship place dating back to the fifth century. Inside, it looked like all churches should be: simple, unadorned and inspiring poverty rather than glittering luxury. The gloomy hues were interrupted only by a small shiny side chapel.
After the short, impromptu visit to the old church, I stepped over the threshold of the Garden and found myself surrounded by orange trees and their sweet cargo of heady scent. My original plan to do a quick photo-tour of the garden got somehow extended along the way, and the effect the intoxicating smell was having on me reminded me of a book by D.H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy, where the author likes to define Italians as “naïve” and “almost fragile children”, but certainly “sensually accomplished”. Admittedly, although I think it would be terribly unfair if being inspired by one’s senses was only Italians’ prerogative, this kind of authorized me to linger and postpone the work I had planned for the day without feeling guilty.
So, since I had now decided to surrender to pleasure, I was bent on enjoying every single minute of my sinful afternoon. I couldn’t resist the sight of the white marbled benches that made the place so Roman, I had to sit and read for at least an hour, pure bliss that reminded me why I chose to be a freelancer.
The Garden of the Oranges rarely sees tourists, mostly it’s a little known corner where locals hang out, just beside and a little hidden from the tourist-packed city center. The several nearby churches makes it a popular places also among priests and nuns, in addition to children and respective nannies, and picnicking groups of friends and couples. The breathtaking view on the Lungotevere Aventino with Saint Peter Basilica peeping out of the skyline is mainly what attracts a constant stream of photographers.
After taking my pictures, I was getting ready to get on with my book, but the impulse of indulging in people watching in this forgotten corner of Italy got me distracted again. Then I noticed something else. A magpie, clearly feeling at home, was picking her meal from the bin, choosing what she liked and throwing out unwanted pieces of paper. This is when I switched from people watching to birds watching, much more entertaining.
I loved to feel immersed in nature in the heart of one of Italy’s biggest cities, in an unusual spot that was far from Rome’s famous green parks and where time seemed frozen. I was so empathizing with the surrounding environment that I didn’t even mind a not better identified tiny green insect landing on my leg, event that in a normal situation would have had me rubbing it off me and running away.
When I started feeling cold, I realized time was up and entered in the mindset of going back home. I was sorry to be leaving that little oasis of peace, but it didn’t really matter either, that little hour was regenerating nevertheless, and even going back to work looked less hard. I had the occasion to escape reality for while and I didn’t waste it, for now it’s enough.