Tales of a wandering lesbian

Roman holiday

The best way to see Rome is from the back of a scooter.  I say the back, because you aren’t fully aware of the impending doom that is around every hairpin turn, swerve, screeching stop and turbo acceleration.  So long as you can get used to these and let go of the need to control anything, I think it’s the best way, for sure.

“Rome traffic is fluid, so don’t be afraid or anything.”  He’d picked me up at my hotel and buckled a helmet on my grinning head.  “You’re going to have the ride of your life.”  Now we were zipping down the street in front of the floodlit Colosseum.

“Oh, I’m not afraid,” I half-shouted, bumping helmets as I tried to get close enough for him to hear.  “I’m just holding on.”  It was true.  I was grinning ear-to-ear, but wasn’t about to let my grip slip off the little handles on either side of my thighs.

Fabio is another amazing Italy contact:  a friend of a friend, who after a couple of emails back and forth was taking me out to show me his city – from the back of his scooter.


“Tell me what you did today so I know what you’ve already seen.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  I looked at him, unable to begin a sentence.  I’d seen quite a lot.  It had been a couple of the longest days of sightseeing I’d ever had.  I started down the list, but we got sidetracked, or he stopped listening or something happened, because we had cruised past the forum, palatine hill, and nameless other piazzas, and were now passing the Coliseum.  Fabio was narrating from the front seat.  This was simultaneously entertaining and nerve-racking.

“Oh yes, I saw this today, it’s beautiful.”  “You went inside, too?”  He was surprised.   “Yup.  It was great.”

“I’m trying to figure out how you did everything today.”  So was I.  “Well, I did coliseum, forum, palatine hill and the pantheon this morning and then the Vatican this afternoon.”  “But you didn’t do the Vatican museum today.”  It was more of a statement than a question.  “Oh no, I did.”  I’m not sure he believed me.  I’d also done the Sistine chapel, St. Peter’s and Trevi again.

“Well, have you seen the pyramid crypt?”  I’d only seen it in guidebooks.  So we headed there.  It’s a pyramid shaped crypt that makes up part of the wall of the non-catholic cemetery.  “It’s really a pyramid” I was informed.  Well, it certainly looked like a pyramid.

We next drove past the Circuis  Maximus, an old chariot racing track.  Then we drove up a hill to “the keyhole.”  I’d never heard of it, but Fabio assured me that it was a very famous place.  We pulled into what appeared to be a military-guarded parking lot.  Fabio took me over to a building on the edge of the lot closest to the military guys, and pointed to a large, round keyhole.  “Have a look.”

Keyhole view

“This is the smallest sovereign nation on earth. You’ve heard of the order of Malta?  This is their place.”  I looked up and saw the Malta cross in concrete above the door.  Fabio told me this single building is the headquarters, and is its own sovereign entity.  That’s why it was guarded by guys in camo, who were watching us closely.  Fabio seemed terribly unconcerned.  This was his city.

“That’s the most famous view in Rome.”  I motioned for him to take a look.  He just smiled wryly.  “That’s alright.  I know it.”

He took me past several churches.  “That one is the oldest Christian church in Rome.”  “Those are all from 500.”  “That one is from 900.”  “Bellisima!” he declared as we rode past each.  The suffix ‘issima’ means ‘the most.’  Apparently every church in Rome is the most beautiful.  Or the most old.  Or something that the rest of the world has copied.  The Greek part of me wanted to say something about the fact that the Roman temples that many churches now inhabited were, in fact, modeled on the Greek temples of the ancient world.  I kept my mouth shut, though.  I was on the back of a scooter, getting a private tour of Rome, and I was happy to be there.

We’d decided to cross the river to a part of town I hadn’t seen yet.  Trastevere was a medieval part of town where people still live and work.   A bustling neighborhood that boasts its part of the medieval wall that used to be closed at night to keep out thieves.  We pulled up to a large, high building .  It had no paint and a very plain façade, except for the torches set in brackets, sending up large, flickering flames.

Fabio knew I was vegetarian and went out of his way to find a place that would accommodate me.  “I would have taken you to another place, but they would probably be unfriendly to a vegetarian.”  I pictured myself being slapped by a steak.  “Roman food is very…earthy,” he said, bringing his hand down through the air in front of him.  I reassured him that I can almost always find a pasta or pizza to make due with.  And this place we had come was a pizzeria.  More pizza!

We walked up a flight of steep, narrow stairs to a heavy door on the second floor, and pushed.  The inside of the restaurant was dark and had bare, rocky walls decorated with old, wooden farming equipment.

Tonight, Fabio ordered for us, explaining that I was vegetarian and that I didn’t drink.  It was nice not to have to struggle through the conversation with the waiter.

We started with bruschetta.  “You know what it is?”  Oh yes.  Terribly yummy toasted bread with stuff on it.  The only thing I had always wondered about was how to say the word.  Ours were lovely large, thick pieces of bread toasted perfectly so the inside was still chewy.  We had three.  One was a kind of garlic oil, one a chunky, marinated tomato, and one diced, seasoned mushrooms.


Fabio kept telling me to eat.  We were two lawyers, and I had someone across from me who wanted to talk politics.  Global politics, American politics, Italian politics, everything.  And in English.  We were talking about the past three US presidential elections, the state of Italian politics, the political situation at the time of the first two World Wars, pending US judicial decisions, military theory, and more.  The conversation and the bruschetta was excellent.

And then my pizza came.

Roman pizza

As you can see the pizza in Rome is a little different than the pizza I’d been eating elsewhere.  It was thicker.  And the toppings were thicker.  Instead of the really thin slices of eggplant and peppers I’d had on almost all of my other pizzas, this one had thick, juicy slabs of eggplant, and mounds of peppers.

I don’t know if this was truly indicative of Roman pizza, but it was good.

The conversation continued on, winding through our careers.  We eventually found ourselves talking about happiness.  What was it?  Could you be happy bringing happiness to others?  Was happiness a collective or a personal experience?  Was it worthwhile pursuing.  Fabio is a smart guy.  We sparred regarding the functionality of lying, military force, and fear.  “I wish I was as sure as you are,” he said in response to some binary comment I’d made.  “Oh honey, I’m not sure about anything really.  I’m just trying to be happy.”  In the end we came to no conclusions and agreed that it was a good result.

We walked back out into the night, through a group of people smoking on the narrow stairs.  Italy passed laws banning smoking in places like restaurants, but they don’t seem to have mirrored the US laws that require smoking to take place away from the buildings.  “That’s horrible.  I would never do that,” said Fabio as we pushed our way through the crowd, and he took out a pack of cigarettes.

I asked him how he was a marathon runner who smoked and he assured me that it was just a myth that you coughed if you smoke.  I gave him a fair amount of crap, and he told me a story about hitting the wall at mile 20 in one of his races, and asking a guy on the side of the road for a cigarette.  The picture of him running with the cigarette made the local paper.

We headed to the river for a quick look at the view.  He seemed totally unconcerned as we wedged ourselves through tall young men drinking bottles of beer.  I paused to take a picture of the gorgeous river.

Tiber at night

It was nice to have a guide.  I would never have come across the river at night by myself.  Not because of Rome, but because of me.

Fabio wanted to show me more of the neighborhood, so we walked the streets of Trastevere.  He pointed out more old buildings and beautiful churches, and insisted on taking a picture of me with one.

Old church, young woman

While he took the picture, a wild-looking dude walked up and opened his mouth right in front of the camera that was balanced on a bush.  Fabio stood up, looked at the guy, and said something to the effect of “now that’s not even funny.”  He was still dressed in his suit from work and looked like he was going to slap the dude, who just shrugged, laughed and walked off.  Fabio’s expression was far from amused.  I was chuckling a little at the interaction.

We walked a bit more, Fabio pointing out his old haunts, especially noting the place where he used to get late night pastry – now closed up.  This was truly a man after my own heart.  Politics and pastry in the same night.

We found the scooter and crossed the river again in search of an excellent cappuccino.  After several u-turns and dead ends (evidently they change the streets around in Rome on a regular basis), we were in a familiar piazza.  I asked him if he’d had the pizza at the little shop.  “You’ve eaten there?”  He was starting to sound like he didn’t believe everything I had done.  I had coffee in the piazza already, but at the place across the street from where we were headed.  It seemed I was one shop away from the purported best coffee in Rome.

We ordered a couple of coffees, and waited at the bar while Fabio explained that many Italians order a glass of water with their coffee in order to cleanse their palate.  I’d noticed the water but didn’t realize its purpose.  The coffee arrived and Fabio insisted on another picture.

Roman coffee

“Well, at least you have proove that you were here.”

I can’t really say if the coffee was good.  Fabio seemed mildly pleased, but they had sugared the coffee for us, something I never do, so it was a very different experience.  It was like drinking a cup of flavored sugar, or something from Starbucks.  I finished it off, though, crunching the grains at the bottom of the cup.  I hadn’t had dessert, so the coffee would suffice.

We were in the neighborhood of the original location of Fabio’s university, as well as his high school.  His high school had been housed in the building where Galileo was held while he was on trial.  You could see the observatory where he was working at the time.  Pretty amazing.  Fabio took me around the corner from the coffee shop to show me a little fountain – one of many in Rome.  This one was frequented by students at the university before their exams.  Drinking from the fountain was supposed to bring good luck on the tests.

Book fountain

As I raised my camera to take a picture, Fabio reached out and pulled a bit of garbage from behind one of the concrete spheres, with a disgusted look on his face.  He took the garbage with us and found a garbage can.  This was his city, and he was clearly very proud of it.

It was now almost midnight and we both had early days in the morning.  So we climbed back on the scooter and headed back to my hotel.  I gave him a big American hug and offered to take him around Portland if we found ourselves there at the same time.  He agreed and hopped back on the scooter.  I’m not so sure we’ve got the oldest or most beautiful of anything in Portland, but maybe I could find a friend with a scooter.  Portland might look pretty cool from the back of a scooter.

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December 16, 2009   3 Comments