The old man sat under the umbrella of the cafe, shaded from the strong Roman sun. Sipping from the cool ice drink he watched the people go by.

Every day he sat at the same table, in the same chair, facing the same direction. Around him Piazza Navona bustled as it always did. Excited, loud groups of school children ran across the ancient cobbles mixing with bus tours of the ponderous elderly. Teenagers by the fountains took selfies with their phones. Couples sat in each other’s arms, heads resting on shoulders, stealing the occasional kiss.

Piazza Navona looked glorious as it had done for decades. In the centre Bernini’s magnificent Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, topped with the Obelisk of Domitian, stood proudly, the flowing water glistening in the sun, flanked to the north by La Fontana di Nettuno and to the south by La Fontana del Moro. On the opposite side to the café was the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, in all its Baroque splendour.

For all its beauty, the locals tended to steer clear of the public square, especially in the summer months when the tourist season was at its peak. Throughout its history, it had never been a calm or peaceful part of the city. Nowadays it was constantly filled from dawn until dusk with busloads of Americans, Japanese, French, British and more. Yet every day the old man came and drank his cappuccino under the shade of the same umbrella.

Behind the dark sunglasses and underneath the panama hat it looked like the old man had fallen asleep. But, when the bell in the tower rang at midday he sat up straight, straightened his jacket and shirt and looked to the door on the far side of the square. It opened on cue, as it did every day at the same time.

She strode out across the square. The crowds of people seemed to part in front of her. He marvelled at how effortlessly she glided on the uneven cobbles in her heels. The eyes were hidden behind chic sunglasses, her auburn hair fell from beneath the stylish wide-brimmed hat. Her hips swayed in the tight pencil dress that stopped just below the knee exposing the tanned and toned calves. She was Sophia Loren and Anita Eckberg and Daniella Bianchi all rolled into one. She looked neither left nor right, dining not to cast a glance on the mortals who shared the same space as she.

The old man watched her walk from one end of the piazza to the other until she disappeared from view. The sights and sound of the world resumed. He stood, left his money for the coffee and ambled away.

Tomorrow he would return and take his seat at the same table as he did every day.

Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.

Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today its Rome in Italy – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.

Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.

For a full list of stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.

This story was previously posted in a different guise under the title LADY MADONNA.

89 responses to “R IS FOR ROME, ITALY”

  1. Maybe she was more than just a woman he admired. She could have been his daughter but she didn’t know. He couldn’t tell her because the truth would be too painful. You have left this open to the imagination.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I wonder how she would react to the old man’s admiration, if she comes to know about it . Interesting story with so much potential.
    Beautifully written, as always

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh boy, Roma! I once had a consultancy job which meant that for just over a year I had to travel to Rome for a week every month. I got to love the city and found a couple of favourite cafes. Two anecdotes (out of many!) One September I was flying back into Stansted when I realized that I, an Englishman, had ventured abroad without either an umbrella or raincoat! On another occasion I was standing waiting for a bus to the office looking, as I thought, toally English in blazer, slacks, regimental tie, polished shoes, when I was accosted by an elderly Italian couple who spoke no English asking which bus they needed to get to their destination.

    Piazza Navona was a regular landmark on my walk and your story takes me straight back: thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Alan. Tough job flying to Rome every month! I have only visited once for a few days but enough to fall in love with the city, such an interesting place, so much to see. Piazza Navona was a highlight. I do remember once arriving in Paris, having been practising my greetings, I got to the hotel reception and confidently greeted the receptionist in French he asked ‘Ah, parlez vous Francais?’, to which I shame faced had to reply ‘no’, the greeting was all I knew!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ah yes, you are on the right lines there. Strangely a few people seem to want to read more into this story, when it is a perfectly innocent older gent admiring a view. I will leave it to others if they want to make more of it than that!


  4. I had to go back to the original story and look at the comments (including my own) for context. My wife and I visited Rome and probably Piazza Navona back in 1985. We decided to take a two-week tour of Europe (Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland) before we started having children.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A secret admirer may be? Some dreams remain distant.
    Ah, you left us wanting to know more Ian.
    Between, I wish to visit the city of Rome some day-one day in future. I had this wish since childhood. Your description of the place transformed my wish to desire!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely – almost felt I was there. And as I’ve yet to visit, that’ll have to do for now. I love Italy, although my favourite square for watching the world go by is the Piazza del Campo in Siena. But I love the idea of that old man and his watching 😉 Maybe I’ll get to do the same when I get to his age.

    A-Zing this year at:
    Normally found at:

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Suddenly I am reminded of Death in Venice.
    I can actually see this scene playing out on my mind’s screen like a movie.
    So glad that I have the time today to catch up with your posts Iain – I’ve been on the double go-go the last few days.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely story about a lovely city. I like that even though it is possible to sit this old gentleman down at many city squares around Europe he seems quite at home at Piazza Navonna and I’m not sure if he would be quite satisfied anywhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I work, and I sometimes like to people watch in a courtyard near my office.. Just think if I had Rome to look at! Does that woman know she has an admirer? And does she care? I enjoyed seeing the photo prompt that lead to the two versions of this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reading ur posts, makes me feel like I m right there. Enjoyed ur detailed description. Probably, one day I will sit in that cafe and sipping a cup of coffee, would remember this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Very vivid description. And I like the mention of Sophia Loren. She is one of the most beautiful actresses I have set eyes on. No wonder the old man never misses his visit and his cappuccino.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I loved this one. You made the ever-buzzing Piazza Navona come alive. It’s one of my favorite piazzas in Rome. There’s a cute bookshop there that I had loved ducking into once when it had started to drizzle 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great feel to this and I definitely feel there is some connection between the man and the woman.
    I am amazed by people of routine like this. My Dad’s life runs like clockwork and is probably of a similar age. It seems every day of my life is a clean slate and anything can happen. In some ways I like it, but it’s very hard to make plans. Tomorrow, was disrupted by another dance audition for my daughter. She recently did well in an impro thing at the Eisteddfod and I think our daily impro routine probably prepared her well.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

      • I wasn’t so happy to improv today. I’d planning to go sailing and kayaking with my husband and son and my daughter found out about an audition today only a few days ago. I managed to get a 15 minute paddle in and probably couldn’t have paddled much longer, but I could’ve floated or had my son paddling in the front. Yet, I did manage to find a cafe and a Monet like pond to photograph. So, I guess I’m also quite good at finding the positive.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Sometimes we develop a strange bond with people we see everyday as part of our daily routine. The woman at the bus stop, the teenager in his school uniform on the bus , the peddler who sells ice cream outside the office building and so on . One day we miss to see them a thought and prayer of ” hope all is fine ” creeps in in a subtle manner before we move on with what’s our own chaotic life.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I can’t decide if I’d rather be the woman.. who effortlessly glides in heels (across any kind of street) with her auburn hair under wide brim hat or the man who gets to sit a café everyday. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ah, a mystery! Who is she to the old man? An estranged daughter? A former lover? An object of desire? Does she know he watches? Does he merely watch to see her grace and beauty the way one watches a sunset? So many possibilities!

    Well done! I want to know more. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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