You’d be forgiven for assuming – given the dark complexion, gold-chain necklace and well-cut clothes of this good-looking gentleman – that he’s an Italian. And you’d be correct. But, as the characteristic reserved smile, or classic Cardo ‘demi-freddo’ might give away, the mysterious Mr Alonzi, who prefers not to be fully-named (due to the extensive fan-mail which will inevitably result from this interview), cannot be quite so easily defined.
“It’s weird. He looks really Italian. But as soon as he opens his mouth he is so Scottish”, described Sophia, in anticipation of our first encounter.
We’d been vaguely pondering over the concept of this contemporary ‘study-abroad’ for some time – not quite clear if he was an Italian returned from an exchange year in Edinburgh, or a Scotsman of Italian origins on Erasmus at present. Moreover, the nationality-combo was a difficult one to envisage; the stereotype of the quiet (‘till drunk), reserved, opinionated Scotsman versus that of the loud, charismatic, extroverted Italian.
Indeed, how could one be defined as both Scottish and Italian? As it turned out, Mr Alonzi proved to be a fascinating mélange of the two diverse nationalities. Of course, the Italians and Scots have a long history of cultural exchange; and the Alonzi family continue that tradition, dividing their time between the Lazio mountain-top town of Picinisco and their family-run Italian restaurant in Edinburgh, where you might find our study serving up plates of tagliatelle al ragu or treating guests to a tune on his mandolin accompanied by his younger brother on the accordian.
When I first met Alonzi in the Piazza Santa Maria della Trastevere, he was indistinguishable from the sea of Romans initiating their pleasure-seeking evenings. Sophia spotted him. And I was introduced, as Sophia had accurately described, to a sort of young Massimo Troisi with the soft Edinburgher intonations of Gordon Brown.
We all envy him his ability to dissolve into the Italian crowd. Does he feel like a foreigner in Rome though?
“I feel…yeah, like a foreigner. ‘Cause a lot of people think I’m Spanish. And when I’m on the phone they think I’m Indian. I suppose, when I’m here I feel more Scottish and when I’m in Scotland I feel more Italian.”
He reluctantly agreed to this interview (I thought it might be nice to document another’s experience of living in Rome), and then reminded me of our appointment repeatedly for the two weeks following. Though, reclining in the threadbare armchair on the fifth floor of a charming eighteenth-century apartment block in Vittorio, he’s not as comfortable with talking about himself as the average Italian male.
Hoping to graduate in Italian and French Literature at the University of Edinburgh, he has followed classes in Roman History and Italian literature at the Universita degli Studi Roma Tre. He decided to take Roman History so that he could get a historical perspective on the city. Although not particuarly impressed with the standard of lecturing at Roma Tre, he has enjoyed the material.
With arm-reels of extended family and a house in Picinisco, he often visits at weekends to take a break from the city and look in on his elderly relatives. Where does he prefer?
“Before I came to Rome, I thought it would be Picinisco. But since arriving, I would probably say Rome, as a place to live. Picinisco is lovely as a place to go to at weekends, but perhaps a bit small as somewhere to settle permanently. Yeah, I can see myself living somewhere like Rome in the future.”
Despite coming round to Roman life, the one thing the city cannot emulate, is the comfort of the main bar in Picinisco. One of Alonzi’s favourite pastimes is to rate bars on the quality of their coffee, service and atmosphere. Chairs and tables are a must. Preferably with women serving at the bar and elderly men occupied over a game of cards. The search goes on in Rome. For now, he usually settles for a cafe and cornetto at the bar down the road. Although he tries to occasionally have cereal at home, so as to avoid a heart attack in the future. “It’s not a very nice bar and the barista is often rude. But it’s the closest one, so I still go.”
He has a regular coffee-consumption routine: a cappuccino if it’s before 11; a macchiato if it’s after, “to preserve my dignity”; then an espresso after lunch.
And he’s staunchly loyal to his Italian heritage when it comes to cooking: butter is a no-no; always olive oil. And he has a weekly rota of balanced dishes: risotto, soup, frittatas, sugo al carne (which he will mix in with the soup), all feature on the menu. “I shop at the local supermarket and sometimes at the alimentari across the road.” Oh, and he makes sure that there are always four zucchini in the fridge.
Alonzi chose to live in the lively residential area of Garbatella, a short bike-ride from his lecture-halls, and found his comfortable four-room apartment through a friend of his aunt’s. “If you know someone, you’ll get a better deal on rent.” He’s content to live alone, but continues his attempts to entice the fourteen-year-old boy across the corridor to a game of cards.
When not studying, Alonzi might be sighted reading in the corner of a bar, playing his guitar, ballroom dancing on his terrazza, or cycling leisurely around the city when it’s warm. “I bought a bike out here. I wanted to join a cycling club, but they don’t have societies at Roma Tre like they do in Edinburgh.”
The streets of Rome will be reduced with the loss of this dual-nationality gem when he sets off for Paris in April to do a two-month placement in a law firm. Can he see himself returning in the future?
Gazing up at the dusty crystals of the chandelier he carefully ponders the question, left ankle resting habitually on right leg. Finally, he shrugs, not quite achieving the exaggerated full shoulder-roll of the Romans:
“Yeah, I dunno…before I came I couldn’t see myself living in Rome. I thought I would prefer Piciniso. But it’s a bit small. And everyone knows each other.”
Picinisco will always be a home, and the site of his favourite bar with its plentiful supply of tables and old men. But, on the supposition that Rome’s cafe-culture will catch up with that of the rest of Europe, this personaggio looks set to once again enliven the lesser-known corners of this mythical city .