Downie and photographer Alison Harris scoured the Eternal City for months to discover places far from the cacophony tourists encounter when they and their buses crowd into the places travel writers send them.
Downie began by demonstrating the sounds commonly heard in the city, playing the noises back on a tiny recorder, as you can see in the picture.
I remember our stay in a fleabag hotel near Stazione Termini many years ago with a particular lack of fondness. When we checked in on a hot day, we were glad to note that outside our flimsy window there appeared to be a large, empty parking lot. At least, we thought, there would be quiet, even with the window cranked open.
During the night, at irregular intervals, the lot filled with city buses. At 5:30 in the morning a driver went out and started a great majority of them. They rattled and belched in the (finally!) cool air of morning while I said to my sleepless self, “how long can it possibly take to warm up a Roman bus?”
Perhaps you know the answer. I don’t. The rattle-belching went on for hours, graying the air and leaving a stink in it that would eventually come to intertwine with the threads in our clothing. I left. At least there are cafes open in Rome at all hours.
In any case, we started the San Francisco evening, appropriately, listening to the noises that define Rome, and then, as Alison Harris’ photos faded in and out in a dreamy sequence on the screen in front of us, our eyes came to rest in a series of parks, wooded gardens, courtyards and ruins uncovered and disclosed by Downie and Harris, places that were accessible to all.
The little square book (“really a picture book,” Downie admitted) is a treasure trove of unexpected pleasures, less a guidebook than a coffee table book for folks like us who live small. Like the places it describes, the book is a miniature pleasure that invites you to get absorbed in it, like a tiny picture, extravagantly matted, that you have to lean forward to see.
I recommend you buy one. Especially if you can’t afford a hotel in Rome with triple-paned glass in the windows.
Buy the book: Quiet Corners of Rome
Martha’s review of Quiet Corners of Rome
And finally, want to stay in the neighborhood that is our pick for Rome’s Quiet Corner? It’s Aventine Hill