I had heard of this neighborhood since the day I moved to Rome. Its occupants are referred to as i pariolini as if they were a species apart from the rest. When I moved out of my first apartment near the Vatican Museum, I had been delighted to find an apartment share just off the main piazza in Parioli. My first hint of an upward change in my social life came when I ran into a friend in the local supermarket. It turned out she hated to stay home as much as I did, so we went out every chance we got. We would go to events, private parties or just to get one of Rome’s best cocktails at Duke’s, a Californian restaurant that is always packed with beautiful people.
I already had several friends in the neighborhood, and that increased once I had moved in. It was easy to stroll into the centre, since Villa Borghese was a mere five minutes away. I enjoyed the neighborhood feel of Parioli. The shop owners would wave hello as I walked by and after going out to all of the events I would find my photo in the society pages of Parioli Pocket, its local monthly magazine.
Although the neighborhood boasts some of Rome’s richest ‘old money’ families and celebrities, there was also a discount supermarket. This was very convenient, especially since in my case ‘old money’ only meant the rusted coins that had stuck to the bottom of my purse. There were local gypsies who sat outside of it who would greet me with, “Ciao bella! I saw you in the magazine today!”, and yet not ask me for any money. I suppose they had learned their lesson. The first time any of them asked me for money, I had given them a banana instead. I believe no one should have to go hungry in the modern world where there is enough food and money to feed everyone. I never give money since I do not trust their intentions. However, the look of disappointment at receiving the piece of fruit was clear. She had had no use for a banana, so they never asked me again.
The new apartment was not all I imagined. After having lived with two girls and the owner – a man in his 50s who never mentioned he lived there until I had already moved in – I wanted to make sure I found a place with no landlords on board. I moved into a three-bedroom apartment where the third bedroom was still empty. My roommate’s parents owned the apartment, but I was assured that she would be the only one living there. Her parents worked for Bulgaria Airlines and were currently living in Germany so I felt assured that their visits would be limited or that is how it seemed.
My life with the Munsters…or was it the Adams?
One month had passed when Mother Lurch, a gigantic gruff woman with long graying bushy hair, appeared in order to help her pretty and sweet daughter, Morticia, find a third roommate. Morticia, had not been able to find one since she kept her phone off while she was at work. Therefore, Mother Lurch stayed nearly two months, until I finally complained, “Didn’t you assure me that you didn’t live here? You’ve been here for two months!” Suddenly, a roommate magically appeared.
Our new roommate would be staying only two months, so a month later Mother Lurch returned to search again as they were getting desperate for a subsequent roommate. She stayed for two weeks and when she left, she took the television set with her. I then began to read all the books I could get my hands on, which amounted to nearly fifteen per month. During that time a girl came to see the room three times. She wanted a place for September, when she would start her second year of university. Therefore, I was quite surprised when, a week later, they introduced me to my new roommate and it was an Egyptian guy instead.
It was August, so both Mother Lurch and Morticia had left the city to visit their family in Bulgaria. I disliked not being consulted on the new roommate especially since I would be left to live with him alone. I hoped that this complete stranger would turn out to be a good roommate. Within his first five minutes, however, I knew he was an excellent choice. He was about to install his TV in his room, when he saw that I did not have one, he decided to keep it in the common area and shared it with me instead. From that moment on, I knew we would be friends.
“How long is your contract?”, he asked.
“A year, why?”
“I wanted a longer contract, but they only gave me a month trial.”
“Really? Those bitches!”, I said, beginning to understand their plan.
“They said that they had never had a male here and they wanted to see how it went.”
“I think they might be scamming you. Before you came, a girl had been here three times with her parents. She wanted the room for September. I can’t be certain that she signed anything, but I was surprised to see you, I had expected to see her. I think they just wanted to cover August, then they’ll tell you it didn’t work out.”
“Oh man, I don’t want to move again.”
“Look, I don’t trust them. I think they’re scamming me with the plumbing bills. Every two months, they have the plumber in here for something. Then they presented the condo bill with the amount altered by pen and told me if I didn’t pay it they’d take it out of my security deposit. I just think you should cover yourself. They just want money, they would never give anyone a month contract unless they had a new tenant coming in.”
Due to this conversation, he went on an apartment search. He found a great room in Campo dei Fiori, smack in the middle of town, for the same amount and with a decent landlord. That, along with his diplomatic status, made for a sweet living arrangement, as he could literally park his car anywhere he wished and never get a fine due to his immunity.
When he left, Mother Lurch and Morticia returned only this time their little sister, Wednesday, moved in. On September 16th, the girl who had seen the apartment three times, arrived and confirmed that she had paid upfront in July. On the 17th, we were both surprised by a strange noise coming from the bathroom. We watched in horror from the kitchen as old Uncle Fester ran from the bathroom to the bedroom wrapped in a towel.
“Excuse me!”, the new girl said, authoritatively while using the formal pronoun, Lei, “Who are you?”.
“I’m the husband. Didn’t she tell you?”, Fester replied holding his towel tighter around his ballooning waist.
Later that day I spoke with Mother Lurch, who even while seated towered over me.
“You know I have no interest in living with a family.”, I began to explain. “I understand that situations change, so tell me, are you all merely visiting or has something changed?”
“My husband lost his contract in Germany, so we will now be living here.”
“OK, then you understand that this breaches our agreement and I will be moving out as soon as possible. Most likely in one or two months.”
The new girl was beside herself for she was just starting school and it had taken her all summer to find that apartment. She did not want this hassle in addition to it all. On the other hand, living with a family of four – who all slept in the same bed – in an apartment with no living room and only one bathroom, was also unacceptable, thus began our search.
The first apartment we saw was magnificent and although we saw several others, our hearts kept wanting that first one with the beautiful bi-level garden overlooking the park; the two bedrooms, each with its own private bathroom; the bright orange kitchen and the large living room, whose orange sofa became our constant companion. We were even lucky to prefer a different bedroom. I wanted the smaller double bedroom with the large bathroom featuring a tub. She wanted the larger room which was divided by sliding doors into study and sleeping areas but had a tiny bathroom with the bidet inside the shower. It was settled and we moved in.
On November 4th we had a huge party and filled the house with over a hundred people. One of my pianists came with his equipment and we jammed all night. She became the best roommate I had ever had. We always had someone to go out with or stay in with. She would boil all her food and never buy any dairy products due to her lactose intolerance, but she could not resist my rice pudding, which always made me laugh when it disappeared. I did not mind. It was nice to have her around. Eventually I moved in with my boyfriend, whose old car was caught in the Google Maps screenshot above, but I still miss her and that glorious apartment. In the end, we went through hell with the Bulgarians and lost hundreds to their plumbing scams and doctored up bills, which she deducted from the security deposit, but what came out of it, I would never exchange for anything in the world.
My old roommate now lives in London and that boyfriend, who my old Egyptian roommate introduced me to, became my husband. Everything happens for a reason.