Niobe wants to know, "what city would you most like to spend a reasonably extended amount of time in?"
Roma, hands down. No question. Undoubtedly. There is not a close second.
In fact, I have tried my best to spend as much time there as possible, and I keep trying to find ways to spend even more.
And no, Tony, this is not all about Francesco Totti!
Have you ever walked around the Gianicolo park in the evening in the summer time? At the end of a hot day, when there are people milling around, puppet shows going on, ice cream for sale, and some of the most amazing views in the world? There is something about that evening light from that spot that makes that haze of the city go away, and even if you are exhausted from sightseeing or reading or writing or drinking wine, you just want to stand and stare.
How can you resist a city where almost every church you pass has something amazing in it--a pantokrater mosaic or a Caravaggio or a Bernini or spooky relics or a Michelangelo statue or frescoes by Filippino Lippi Raphael or just the overpowering Baroque architecture of the counter-reformation. Everywhere there are little bees or Monte di Paschi or keys or any number of other carved symbols associated with significant families that birthed numerous popes. There are little details like a trompe-l'oeil dome, or a dome made entirely of white carving or tiny swirled columns in cloisters, or Cosmati flooring. Fountains are filled with river gods or smiling suns or turtles or saints or mermen. In almost every piazza is an Egyptian obelisk stolen by the Caesars and then commandeered by some pope or another. Everything gets made, used, used again for something else.
I love riding the Roman busses, too, where you have to get your bus legs under you, in order not to be dumped into someone's lap, or crash into a signora and risk being chastised by all the other people on the bus. Attenzione alla signora! I am hungry to hear permesso spoken on a crowded bus in that wonderful romano accent.
I remember one time during a bus strike on a hot day in Rome. The strike ended at 6 p.m. sharp, so the busses running at that time were packed with people. I was sitting with a friend on a wall near the Fori Imperiali and one of those hilarious little mini-busses pulled up to a stop in front of us--packed, needless to say, which was even more hilarious because the bus was so tiny. "Permesso, permesso, permesso," my friend started saying, and we could not stop from laughing even though I expect if the people on the bus could have heard us, they would have pointed out how unfunny that was.
I love quirky Italianness, and the further south you get, the quirkier and stranger Italy gets, I think. Things in Torino or Milano or Verona or even Venezia just seem so much more logical than in Rome, where the price of stamps depends on which tabacchi you go to, traffic flows and halts according to invisible rhythms, frequently churches are closed for no reason, elevators are always guasto, bus routes frequently change, and no one blinks an eye. My favorite is an excellent restaurant near the Campo dei Fiori where (and I expect this only happens when you ask for the specials in Italian) the owner explained that there were gnocchi on the menu, "because today is Thursday." I suppose there are actual explanations for these things, but when you are there, and just trying to figure things out, it is mysterious.
(Mystery has lessened somewhat with the arrival of the Euro, if only because prices have so many fewer zeroes.)
The summer is insanely hot, and there are so few places that are air conditioned, that sweating, and being hot, and just moving a little slower become an inevitable part of life. Oh, and frequent showers. The library where I spent a lot of time had enormous windows that opened out on a garden. They were angled such that strong breezes would blow through, and they were scented of rosemary and lavendar.
When I worked in my own little studio room, I would almost always spend the morning writing in the dark, with my metal window shade pulled down against the sun, trying to move as little as possible, and wondering whether the industrial-strength hurricane-force ceiling fan was well installed.
And then, after a morning's work, when it is getting too hot to think clearly, I could wander around that city forever, finding remarkable ancient things, strange modern things, surprising advertisements, startling catcalls, not to mention millions of actual cats. Or sit for a while in a cafe and sweat while drinking a dense espresso, or go try another couple of flavors of gelato--or why not all of these, over time?