Saturday, May 23, 2009

from Rome: commerce and conversation

It is a Friday, so it’s not as if I am thinking market thoughts (those are, for me, a Saturday deal). But we decide that this day should have elements of commerce: that we should walk the narrow streets in the footsteps of the locals – to the market, to the store, to the lunch hangout – all that.

But the day begins and ends with people who are very much like us – outsiders.

We are late breakfast eaters. I’d say we bring in the rear here. Something to do with my blogging and our sleep patterns. On this day, there is only one other pair in the breakfast room by the time we amble toward the espresso machine (our hotel is very small – just 15 rooms, but it has the essentials: great espresso and WiFi). Two friends, slightly older than me, from Scotland.

Scotland! I say, as I show them to work the espresso machine (it’s their first morning here). I’ll be heading there soon!
Oh, very wet. All May, it’s been cold and wet.
Which part of Scotland are you from?
(They mention a small village at the foot of the highlands, north of Glasgow.)
I’m going that way!
Very wet, they repeat. And the midges, you know about midges (yes I do: they’re swarms of biting bugs that come out in late spring and drive you nuts)?
I should think they’re just starting… the other chimes in.
But it’s beautiful there! I remember it being quite beautiful!
Oh yes, quite. You know, some try to protect against the midges, but you really can’t.

And there you have it: a northern European’s take on life. The midges, the rain, the resignation that this is what spring offers.

We wave a cheery good bye and scoot out.

Now, for the Mediterranean side of things. First of all, the Campo dei Fiori, What’s fresh and regional here right now? The beans. The artichokes. The Roman cherries.




And who sells here? Take a look:





We purchase some cherries and watch people meet up by the fountain for a quick chat. Before it’s time to officially sit down and continue the conversation over lunch.

Lunch. Each day, this is an important decision for us. Where to eat the midday meal. On this day, I let my daughter lead me out of the maze of streets in the Centro Storico until we come to this block:


On the corner, there is a dazzling little place with tables spilling out over the cobbles, ivy on the walls, lively chatter of friends and a good deal of welcome shade (it’s been in the 80s consistently; and sunny; and for the first time this year, I feel blissfully warm).


We order prosciutto, melon, tomatoes, arugula, focaccio – all the proper ingredients of a perfect midday meal.



We listen to the conversation of the lunching handful (it’s a tiny place), understanding just enough to keep us entertained, but not enough to really follow the storyline. But the music of the dialogue is lovely. I always like to think that in college, I studied an instrument: I studied Italian.


We end with an espresso and head out.

So what’s an afternoon walk like here? Well, it's melon yellow, warm, very pretty.


We make a lot of quick darts into stores. I’m in search of sandals. My cheap old French pair finally fell apart last year and I have been deeply disappointed with Madison’s offerings. I want something feminine! – I tell the clerks there. We sell comfortable sandals that pay attention to the support.. bla bla blaYes, great, but why can’t it look pretty and delicate and colorful? Why is everything here brown or black?

Italy, like France and Spain, cares about how the shoe looks on a woman’s foot. How quaint is that!

Finally, I find something that is comfortable and colorful.


But wait, there is a gelato stop as well. With this very original, very delicious flavor: crema al Barolo chinato (translated: Barolo wine ice cream with cinchona). Oh, and strawberry sorbetto. And so long as we are expanding our diets to include ice cream and pasta daily (in addition to, you know, the main courses and desserts) why not add some delicious cream on top? We join others who stop their shopping long enough to take in a cup of the good stuff.


Was this day only about commerce and food? No. Rome doesn’t allow you to forget your surroundings.

We pause at the Piazza Navona (along with others who pause to take photos, or just to stretch the legs a bit)…



…and we walk down to the Pantheon to get that sense of humility that comes from being in this most daring structure in the country. Perhaps the world. Imagine: the dome was built in 125 A.D., without the tools and knowledge that we have today and yet it is said that had it been built now, it would surely have crumbled over time. The biggest brick dome, the most copied, the finest -- in the history of architecture, it really outshines them all.


There is an opening at the center of the dome. When it rains, the water pours down and empties out through the twenty two small holes in the ground.

We stand in awe of all this and I expect if we come here again (yes, we must!), we’ll stand in awe again. Rome is like that: awe repeats itself, even if you’ve been there, seen that, done that.

And now we take the familiar turn, up the Spanish Steps – a razzmatazz of people and voices and hot sun and cool waters for foot dipping (just a little yukky, if you think about it)..


It's time for us to rest for a minute at the hotel. Because it’s another long walk in the evening as we head out toward the island in the middle of the Tiber, for dinner at the Sora Lella.

Oh, but let me explain that an evening walk here isn’t just about the time it takes to get somewhere. And it’s not only about darting traffic at crosswalks (we are getting, unfortunately, braver with this: we are up for the challenge! We’ll make them stop!). It is about passing these, in the fading light of the disappearing sun.




The Sora Lella is the most traditional of our dinner choices. We order pasta and lamb stewed in rosemary and we drink the local wine and it is all extremely good.




Next to us, there is a couple – two guys from the Netherlands, each pink as anything from too much Roman sun on the first day here. One is gregarious and outgoing and it’s not long before he strikes up a conversation with us. The other smiles patiently in the way that you do when you think your partner is really a tiny bit embarrassing, but you love him (or her) anyway.

We talk about wine and I mention how much I love the whites of the region. The dessert comes, the espressos follow and the tiny room settles into a comfortable rhythm of an ending day. The two waiters are almost done with the work of making us happy. The proprietor looks in, satisfied with the sound of the friendly mixture of Italian and (in our case) English.

It’s late and we have a long walk back. Across the bridge, up one hill and then another and another, all the way back to our room with the crisp white sheets. Shoes kicked off, tumble in, sleep.