It has always puzzled me that many people know about Rome and its greatness but so little is known about Romans. Compared to the Londoner or the Parisian, the Roman remains a mystery, probably because like his food, he is hearty but not sophisticated, shrewd but not always insightful.
Romanity, however, captivates those who get to get to know it. If you want to get a glimpse of it without having to stay a couple of years in the Eternal City then you have to read the sonnets of Gioachino Belli, who is in my book the most Roman of Romans.
Belli was born to a weatlhy family and earned a place in the Italian literary cannon with 2200 sonnets through which the low Roman class of the time its shown as it is, “salacious, sometimes cunning and always self-centerd” as the ruthless Italian Wikipedia article about Belli puts it.
The most striking feature of the sonnets is also the reason why they are not as known as they should: they are written in the Romanesco dialect which gives them a poignantly accurate flavor when read in Italian but also eludes translation. An English version of the sonnets its available at the Anglo-American Bookstore, my bookstore of choice in Rome or online, from this website where you will find gems like this:
PIAZZA NAVONAPiazza Navona easily stands the comparison With both St.Peter’s and the Spanish Steps. This is not a square, it’s like the countryside, It’s a theatre, it’s a fair, it’s gaiety. .
It runs from Sant’Apollinare 2 to the central pathway, And from the central pathway to Cuccagna street 3: Everywhere you see things to eat, Everywhere you see people who buy them. .
Here three fountains stand in all their might, Here is a spire 4, as solemn as a judgement, Here the place is flooded when summertime comes . .
Here the whipping-trestle is raised, Where those who look for trouble get thirty lashes On their arse, and five more for charity .