Roma, Napoli, Pompeii, Gelati

2 Apr

WASHINGTON – 2 April 2009.

I saw a yellow SMART this morning on my way to work… sigh. Hit by nostalgia. A week ago I was in beautiful Roma looking at dozens of SMART and other toy cars (sooo cute!) zigzagging in traffic, or double-parked or using half of the sidewalk or parked perpendicularly where others have to parallel-park. Italians are masters at parking: bumper to bumper, and so often I wished I were there to see them get out of those tiiiight corners. I did see drivers squeezing in not-so-tight spaces and touching a car on the side… I would get my driver’s license really easily in Rome!

What did surprise me is how respectful they are of pedestrians — no angry honking, no gas revving, no shouted words. I mean, they do all those things (we’re in Italy not Switzerland!) but not to pedestrians in the narrow streets of historic Rome. Or maybe I just didn’t notice because I was walking on clouds!

I miss Rome! I roamed Rome last Sunday (March 8). Getting off the tram, I walked along the river (moody Tevere or Tiber for the rest of us) and looked at the poor trees that were under water not so long ago because of massive downpours. There is still trash hanging on their branches — hope brand new leaves will come soon. Some bridges had to be closed because the water had reached the arch! Hard to believe since the weather was beautiful throughout my stay. Wandering with only a vague idea of where I was, I landed on the Bocca della Verita fountain… didn’t dare put my hand in the mouth in case it would catch me in a lie: I need both hands to eat gelato!

Next, I reached a pathetic stretch of grass that looked just like the National Mall in DC. Mmmmm can’t be. Got the guide out — and a few sips of water because it’s sunny out here! — yes, this is magnificus Circo Massimo! Where are the stands!? The athletes!? The horses!? All I see is people walking their dogs (many many dogs in Rome) and joggers and a yogi! Imagination helps when reality disappoints. Next!

Following the road around the Palatino – ruins beautiful ruins and then majestically standing in from of me, yes, the Coliseum! Round and around I went – better than in the movies (okay imagination again helps replacing missing bricks and adding Russel Crowe and his gladiator-esque mates). You can have your picture taken with a gladiator but the abs are fake! Trust me, I checked. Plenty of guides, too many tourists, and bricks too big for my suitcase. Pity.

Oh well, let’s go up the Via dei Fori Imperiali and on each side the remains of a city long gone but still preserved and mysterious. You cannot go through Piazza Venezia without going up the steps of Il Vittoriano — great view but even more impressive statues. Wonder what the tourists are looking at… a seagull resting on a balustrade and taking photos of it…

Wandering wandering — oh a cute fountain, let’s sit for a second. Mmm looks strangely familiar, any sign? ah Fontana di Trevi!! It was on my list!! Love wandering. It’s much smaller than I thought, hidden in a cozy corner between four buildings. Wish I were there alone (tourists!) to enjoy the sound of water and the intricate details of the statues… Neptune is mighty!

More wandering and more beautiful fountains, buildings, and steps… Oh Palazzo Spagna! Well, I cannot resist the steps’ invitation… uno duo tre quatro cinque — wonder where the elevators are. Huff puff – la vita e rough! All I needed was food, and after a detour through Piazza del Popolo, I found my way to a salivating lasagne… ohh just thinking about it sigh sigh sigh and of course after a (short) walk  through the neighborhood (hello again Pantheon — remember me from yesterday?) I ended up in a gelateria, pure accident, my feet took me there!

And that was only half a day in Rome! The day before, after dropping my suitcase at Natasha’s in Trastevere (great neighborhood across the river), I had worn my heels on the brick roads between Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Navona and everything in between — poor feet, they deserved the gelato! It followed amazing mozzarella, prosciutto and pasta alla carbonara. Aaaah this is torture! Food in DC is good, but boring!

Oh oh oh you should hear about my Thursday dinner! I forgot about the 30+ VIPs in our group — I was deputy shepherdess — as soon as I was inside Taverna Trilussa. All that counted was the plates of prosciutto, mozzarella, salami waiting for me (and the token 3 people arrived late so basically got my leftovers but shtt). More magical food appeared and those were just antipasti! Four ravioli came on my cute plate, then rigatoni alla pomodoro, then spaghetti with a pepper sauce — a good soul at our table shared an extra dish she had ordered: eggplant too good to be earthly. The whole group had the same food but she was shepherdess in chief and a local so we got the best stuff and even extra dessert! It came after the beef and arugula dish — keeping count? SEIS courses and a half because I shared the extra dessert that landed on our table — sit down and let your mouth water for… profiteroles covered in light chocolate mousse and dark chocolate syrup… Me piace molto and more!

I have had a long love relationship with Italy: when I was in Omega’s daycare I had TWO (due!!) Italian boyfriends, Guido and Giuseppe. I will not disclose more, but our games behind the bushes ended before I turned four because my family moved to the countryside. My vita could have been so different. Sigh.

Obviously between the gelati and prosciutto, I had plenty of pizzas as well, and even went to its birthplace… Napoli! Oooh the memories: two in two days and would have had more if Lufthansa wasn’t keeping a seat warm for me the following day! I also hung out in Pompeii just to see if I could see the graffiti my teacher was telling me about back in the days when I was studying how Latin became French (proved very useful in my life…).

Anyway, so of course all the documents we have left from Julius Cesar and his pals are pretty formal, and no one outside of the palazzo was talking like that. But people like you and me didn’t write books so we have to rely on graffiti to know how real people actually spoke. Bet you won’t look at graffiti the same way again! So Vesuvius’ eruption wasn’t the greatest gift to the locals, but there is a silver lining: the lava kept the walls up and protected from the sun!!

The funny thing is that in January I went to en exhibit at the National Gallery of Art about summer houses (aka mac mansions) of the rich Romans in… You guessed it: Pompei! The statues, mosaics, artwork, murals — the luxury and wealth! Decadent! Quite different from the little houses I saw in downtown Pompeii 🙂


Oh work! Yeah yeah, it did interfere with my tourism time: I had to spend 5 days stuck in the ministries of foreign affairs! We worked with amazing people though, even a high-level ragazzo who was carrying boxes from our office on the 6th floor to the meeting room on the first — with the slowest elevator on earth. He said it was good exercise…SO NICE! Forget it girls, he’s married.

I squeezed in a few delicious meals and gelatiii during that workweek to make it worth it 🙂 Thing is, it did spoil my chances to meet il principe charming because I didn’t get my beauty sleep for 10 nights! Yes, I counted! I’ll have to go back to Italy without working days so I can look ravishing — while eating :)) — and find a gelato maker.



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