It was a very different time and a very different place. The Marshall Plan was still helping to rebuild the countries of Western Europe devastated by World War II. My first memories of Rome as a nine-year-old boy were of broad boulevards with almost no automobiles. Those who did not take public transit rode bicycles, and the well-off had mopeds, which were just bicycles with a friction motor on the front wheel.
There were large color posters on almost every block showing the different types of German and Allied ammunition that we might find in the empty lots where we played, with strict instructions not to touch and to call the Carabinieri.
In spite of the left-over grenades (I kept hoping to spot one, but never did), Rome was a very safe city. Almost without exception, Italians love children, and they make it their business to be sure that children are safe. Our mother may not have been aware of it, but there was probably no way that my brother and I could get in trouble or be seriously hurt when she was not around.
Being a single mother raising two boys had its advantages – for us boys. Mom raised us by the book: Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit by Adele Davis, and the famous child-rearing book by Dr. Spock (not the Vulcan). Beyond that, she was clueless. Not having grown up in a traditional nuclear family, she was not aware of the normal shenanigans and risks that children experience. For example, it never occurred to her that we got out of school about four hours before she came home from work. Mary, our governess-maid-cook-etc., was not paid to babysit us, although Mom may have taken that for granted. To Mary, I was almost grown up, because in her world, school only went to the fifth grade, and I was in the fourth. Her pre-teen and teenage siblings were all working just like she was.
Mom gave us an allowance those first two years. I think it was 100 lire/week. That was about 16 cents US. My brother David ate his in candy each week, but I used most of mine for tram tickets. The capolinea (end of the line) of the No. 8 tram was just outside our building on Via della Giuliana, and the four lines that looped all the way around the city without a capolinea, the ES/ED, CS/CD, stopped at the end of the block, at Piazzale Clodio.
After school, I would hop on one of the trollies, and see the big City. The circular routes were designed for tourists, so it was a great way to take in all the sights, then get off where you started, all for a one-way fare (25 lire, or 6¢). The No. 8 crossed the whole city, and was the tram of choice for going downtown.
I would go to the front of the tram, and stand near the conductor, watching him start and stop the big vehicle, nudge it through the traffic, and ring the bell to alert distracted pedestrians. I wanted nothing so much as to drive a tram someday.
One day, I took the No. 8 all the way to the capolinea at the other end of the city. When we arrived, everyone got off except me.
“Non scendi?” the conductor asked. Aren’t you getting off?
“No,” I said, “I’m staying, so I can go back home.”
“Don’t you know that you need another ticket for the return fare?”
I stared at him silently, shaking my head (and maybe looking sad). He ruffled my light blond hair and said, “Well, if you don’t get off, I guess I can’t sell you a ticket if you don’t get on.” He swung the rheostat control to the right and the tram rolled to the loop for the return trip.
The team on the No. 8 probably got used to me, because after that experience at the other end of the line, I made sure that I had two tickets, or enough money for a return ticket. I especially liked the run up the Viale del Muro Torto, which ran from Piazzale Flaminio to the Pincian Gate, on a separated railway. The conductor could relax, because he did not have to compete with other traffic. He would let the tram run as fast as it could, and he enjoyed explaining how the rheostat worked, where the controls and bells were, and how the electric motor worked. I usually got off at the top of the hill and walked to the stop to catch the No. 8 going home. Sometimes, though, I could walk through the Villa Borghese gardens and catch the CD or the ED back to Piazzale Clodio.
One day, the conductor let me drive up the Viale del Muro Torto. Few thrills in my life have matched the excitement of being ten years old and driving that tram.
Each day, Mom would come home shortly before supper. David and I would usually be in our room, doing homework, or maybe in the kitchen, chatting with Mary.
“Hi. Mom!” we would shout, and run to hug her. David got her hips, and I got her waist.
“So, how was school today?”
She never once asked us what we did after school. Neither of us ever volunteered.
After a year and a half of riding the rails, I turned 11, and we moved to the edge of the city to be near our new school. Mom got us bicycles for our birthdays (we were born two years and two weeks apart). And that was the end of my career in light rail transportation.
Trip update: Last Saturday, I decided to ride from the very tip of the promontory on which Gaeta sits all the way to the Garigliano River, hugging the coast road instead of the usual highways. It turned out that the distance was 34 km. I learned that Scauri and Minturno have lovely beaches, with a long, smooth boulevard from the Formia city line all the way to the river. Traffic was light, and the air was relatively cool. There were people walking, enjoying gelato and the sunshine. I imagine that in another two months, the place will be packed with bodies and cars.
The Garigliano River was a smooth, peaceful stream, the sort of place where fishermen in waders stand and cast, and where patient old men wait on the bank for the fish to bite. I rode up the Lazio side of the river, and then took the via Appia 17 km back to Formia.
Sunday and Monday, I went to Aversa to check into the US Naval Hospital for my first routine colonoscopy. It was very routine, and I found it very interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but the many horror stories about this procedure were much overstated in my humble opinion. Probably the biggest inconvenience was having to take a taxi from the train station instead of riding my bicycle. Next time I’ll bring my bike.
The rest of the week, I rode various distances on errands to renew my Sojourner’s Permit, do laundry, and prepare the flat for my departure.
Until next week,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,
Richard J Cash: I biked from the Agip pier to the Mausoleum then to the abbey, up the north shore a few miles then back to the ship via the Army barracks and naval station, thence back to the ship and a night watch. I nice get-away between watches
Joan Hawkins Carrara: Sounds like a wonderful childhood. What did your brother do while you were riding the tram?
Jonathan T. Hine: I don’t remember. But being 7-8, he probably played at home. He came with me when I played in the neighbourhood with my friends.