Rome has a problem with garbage. I used to live there quite a long time ago and recall that the garbage problem existed back then too-from time to time. It’s nothing like this though. Garbage piles up even in the more famous locales like Piazza del Popolo where the tourists collect every day, sit on the lions surrounding the obelisk fountain, and leave behind plastic water bottles and candy wrappers…
The Romans are mortified. Worse, they can’t seem to strike a deal with the sanitation people, who show up in snazzy jump suits in the civil colors of Rome: orange and dark crimson, driving the smallest and most stylish garbage trucks ever seen, but they never seem to pick up more than a sack or two of garbage (well OK that’s about what they can fit in those adorable trucks) but this leaves behind la maggioranza of the problema on the sidewalks.
Now you would think wouldn’t you that this would make the Eternal City smell to high heaven. Curiously it does not. I think this is due to a triumph of industrial perfumery, namely scented garbage bags. The more I walked past these the more I picked up a kind of incense scent rather than good old garbage. (No matter what you leave in there garbage always smells the same right? How does that work?)
So the result was that Rome smelled of muted garbage, incense, and Confederate Jasmine. The jasmine is in major bloom at this time of year although as I remember that variety can go on flowering for months and never seem to tire.
Confederate Jasmine just loves Rome. The vine grows from tiny little clefts in the cobblestones into great bushes ramping up the shutters of buildings and across trellises, and weeping down the sides of terraces, far down the stuccoed orange walls of Roman buildings, and the scent, jasmine but slightly sublimated, just a bit dusty and impregnated with musk, is the dominant floral one in downtown Rome. (Visit the ruins and you smell something else but more about that next week)
So meanwhile you have this curious mixture on the air and I wonder if anyone would bottle it? Maybe Comme des Garcons because this fragrance is just the tiniest bit offbeat. That garbage note would be the base note, if anyone could be persuaded to create such a perfume, and there would have to be a green top, possibly acanthus leaves which are all over the Roman Forum, together with sweating tourists wondering why it matters that
there actually were Vestals in the House of the Vestals, and what in the world a Vestal Virgin was anyway… but I’m getting off point here.
Inevitably someone will pick up the garbage. That always happens in Rome, but will the city smell just the same? Right now Rome does have the virtue of smelling very distinctive. The new mayor who was just elected and who will have her hands full, is now in charge and that may change everything, all over again in Rome, where even more than the rest of world, everything changes in order to remain exactly the same..
I just hope she keeps all the jasmine.