The Seasons of Rome

One might expect that any journal written by Paul Hofmann, former chief of the NEW YORK TIMES Rome bureau and longtime resident of Rome, would emphasize history and important world events. Even so, this is not the case in his THE SEASONS OF ROME: A JOURNAL. By design, this journal is essentially a commonplace book which establishes, quite effectively, the distinctive rhythm of daily life in the Eternal City. Particularly pleasing is the author’s ability to describe this daily life in terms familiar to virtually anyone who has lived, even for a brief time, in twentieth century Rome.

If Hofmann proves anything in this entertaining book, it is that Rome has a continuity of life that exists in few other cities. Autumn brings the inevitable increases in municipal fees, the latest starting date for primary and secondary schooling in all of Europe, unpredictable mail deliveries, and predictable cold rain.

Readers whose conception of Christmas is northern rather than southern European will likely be surprised at the controversy the Vatican Christmas tree provokes. This connects, rather jarringly, with a report on a cat disease spreading among Rome’s thousands of strays, but such surprises are part of the charm, that of the city and of Hofmann’s book.

Despite the diversity of subjects, certain motifs appear. Occasionally, Hofmann recalls episodes from his early career and ties these to recent rambles in the city. Such early recollections include reflections on the Campagna and the urban sprawl of the last half of the twentieth century, fascism and the new right-wing, the declining availability of music performances, and the anomalous position of the Vatican. In all, Hofmann has provided a pleasant, entertaining excursion for his readers and has turned some of the frustrations of Rome life into painless amusements.