Tales of a wandering lesbian

Rome is rough

After our trip to the south, the Ant and I headed to Barga, via Venice, via Rome.  We just spent one night in Rome.  A stop-over to save us from 9 hours on the train.

We stayed at the Hotel Aberdeen, a hotel I’d stayed in 6 months earlier.  I remembered it being a decent hike from the train station, so I prepared the Ant for the long walk in the sun.  Unfortunately, when I consulted the map I’d used on the earlier trip, I mistook the “X” I’d penciled in for the hotel, and not the Japanese retail store my friends had asked me to visit.  I figured this out about 25 minutes into the walk.

Fortunately, however, I remembered enough of the city to be able to navigate us back on track.  After climbing one of Rome’s hills.  Rome has hills?  Have you heard?  Seven, evidently.  I felt really lucky that the Ant was too consumed with trying to breathe to notice the enormous circle we’d taken.  I knew she’d figure out just how far we’d gone the next day when we took the 10 minute walk to the train station.  Hopefully, by then, she’d have forgotten the hour we spent in the heat.

It took us a little bit to recover.  But we were in Rome, and we didn’t want to waste that.  So we threw our stuff down and headed back out to eat.  I’m only going to say that we experienced bad pizza in Italy.  We promised each other never to speak of it again, so that’s all you get.  It was bad.

And then, mostly because I felt bad about the wild goose chase I’d just led us on, we spent the rest of the day touring the phallic symbols and rough men of Rome.  Yes, that’s what I said.  So here’s a little montage for my straight women, gay men, and other friends.  Enjoy.

The Ant kept sneaking up to the policemen and whispering, “Rome is rough.”

We did visit the Pantheon for me, which was nice.

And I took a ride a lion – one of my favorite pastimes.

And then we had some of the best gelato ever.

This is where Rick Steves excels, in my opinion.  Gelato and pizza.  I wish we’d listened to his advice earlier in the day…(shiver).

I asked the guy behind the counter what his favorites were, and he turned to the guy sitting on a stool behind the register.  “Ask him.”

The older, bearded gentleman smiled and waved his hands as he started listing all of his favorite flavors.  When he said “chocolate,” he closed his eyes and made the face of a lover remembering his partner.  “Mista,” he finally said to the boy with the scoop.

I walked away with a beautiful assortment of flavors including fig and the beloved chocolate.

And to finish the night, we headed to our trusty pizza standby, Pizza Zaza.  For a collection of the most excellent pizza we’ve had.  Potato and squash blossom, margherita and plum tomatoes.

I truly wish I could share with you the delight of squash blossom pizza at Zaza.  But I can’t, so here’s my best attempt.  Imagine a thin, crispy wafer of the most delicately salted, earthy, yellow cheese.  It’s better than that.

If you are going to Rome, please, please, please go there.  If you’re going to Rome and you think you might not be able to find it, please, please, please take me with you.  I’m serious, people.

We scarfed the ridiculous amount of pizza as we watched the staff set up an outdoor tv for the World Cup match.

The little outdoor seating area filled with locals watching the match before the Italians played, warming up their engagement, becoming louder and more animated.

If we hadn’t traveled from the south that day, I would have stayed here and watched with them.  Taken in the passion for food and sport and life.  Listened as the church bells rang from the spiral tower of San Eustacchio.  As it was, we were tired, so I took a little video.

And watched the delivery boy tape the pizza to his scooter.

And we headed back for the night.  And maybe we swung through some vendor tents.

And then back by Trevi.

Because it love it.  And the chestnut vendors there.

My nights in Rome have been magically hazy.  I think because of how completely exhausted I have been at the end of the days there.  My memories are less pictures of cops in riot gear and more feelings, full of the cool, creamy sweetness of exceptional gelato, and the glow of magazine carts.

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July 3, 2010   4 Comments

Army of two

We woke early in Rome.  We’d slept with the shutters open, for air in the hot roman night, and for light.  The window was the only real source of either.  The hotel was on a busy street, Via Nazionale, and located near the Victor Emanuel monument and the Coliseum.  Good for sightseeing.  Not so good for sleeping.   It was also on some kind of route for emergency vehicles.  We went to sleep to the sound of sirens, and both woke about 5:30 to the sound of air brakes.  I rolled out of the canopy bed and walked to the window, the wood floors creaking under me.

No fewer than 6 fire engines were parked across the street.  I watched for a bit, giving the play-by-play to my aunt.  “Now they’re milling about.  Now I think they’re going to get cappuccino.  Now they’re walking back to the trucks.”

“Should we be worried?”

“No, let’s go back to sleep.  It’s a couple of hours until breakfast.”

Of course.  Food is the number one concern with my family.  So we put our heads back on the pillow, to dream of cappu and cornetta.  A couple of hours later, we’d packed up and were ready for breakfast.  “Colazione,” we practiced together.  Every meal is a vocab lesson for me, and so it is becoming for the Ant.  (An aside:  My aunt’s name is Leslie.  But we call her “the Ant.”  It’s kind of like her superhero name.)

We opted to walk down the flight of stairs to the lobby, rather than take the tiny elevator.  The hotel seemed pretty small the night before, but as we walked past the front desk, turning right, and then right again, it became clear that the three floors were jam packed with rooms.  Nearing the breakfast area, we passed a floor-to-ceiling window that looked out on a little courtyard.

One of the great things about a city like Rome, is that it’s been built up over the years.  Buildings are built around and on top of old buildings, with courtyards enclosed by bridges and all manner of maze-like scenes materializing.

Once in the breakfast area, we rushed the cereal table, making ourselves bowls of cornflakes and yogurt.  It seemed so very exotic in Rome.  The girl in charge of the room motioned to a little table, and we sat while she brought us plates of splendor.

Bread, and croissants, and pate, and cheese.  Along with the cereal and yogurt, and the cappuccini she was now making for us, this would be a great breakfast.  But, in addition, each table was equipped with what I consider the snack bin.  Most bed and breakfasts I’ve stayed in in Italy have something similar to this.  These are filled with nice, packaged items that can be tossed in a purse and pulled out later, like on a train, or in the Coliseum for a mid-day snack.

Ours had dry bread wafers, cookies, and nutella and jam packages.  We packed half of the bin into the Ant’s purse while we waited for our coffee.

Coffee.  We’d arrived late enough the day before that it was unseemly to have cappuccino.  So, this was our first.  It was lovely.  I could have had 3 more.  I didn’t.  But, in an indulgent act, I did spread the cheese and peach jam all over my bread.  Together.

Super yum.

When we were done, it was only 8:30.  We were packed up and ready to go with two hours on our hands.  We consulted the map and decided we could make a run to the Coliseum and still have time to catch the 10:40 train to Salerno.  We left our bags at the front desk and ventured out.

And we found a crowd.  I’d noticed signs the night before announcing that June 2 was Armed Forces Day (or something similar).  Evidently, this was a big deal.  The streets were closed off with barriers, and military personnel was everywhere.

We followed hordes of people down the streets toward the Coliseum, wondering what we would find.

Along with a stunning sky, we found the Coliseum closed off, and firemen standing on the outside of the structure.

Yeah, that was strange.  We looked over the ledge at the street below and saw what was clearly a parade route.  After standing for about 30 seconds, a cute-as-a-button motorcycle cop told us it wasn’t possible for us to stand where we were.  We refrained from pinching him and moved along, deciding that we’d better head back quickly if we wanted to get out of the city before the excitement began.

As much fun as it would have been to take in the parade with the locals, we really had no idea what we would be getting ourselves into, and we needed to be in Salerno.  So, we high-tailed it back up the street, around the barriers, and through the hordes of military, police, and spectators.

Once out of the area, we found the streets relatively calm, taking time to appreciate the beauty of Rome’s alleyways and grand piazzas.

We hiked back up to the lobby to retrieve our bags, and made one last trip in the little elevator.

Then we struck out on our own adventure, my giant drab backpack strapped to me, and the Ant’s purse stocked with rations for the day.

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June 7, 2010   Comments Off on Army of two


My first night back in Italy was spent in Rome.  Rome.  The eternal city.  I like to call it Romissimo, because it strikes me as the Texas of Italy:  everything is the biggest and best here.

Last time I was here, in December, it was my first time in the city.  I had spent 6 weeks hiking around the Tuscan country side, and a week in Venice, acclimating to the bustling and winding streets.  That is to say, I was a little prepared for Rome.  I only spent two nights that time, so I made sure to pack in as much as I could.  I spent 5 or 6 hours the first night walking through the city.  I was exhausted at the end, but I had been prepared.

But on this trip, my aunt and I decided to stop-over in Rome on our way south.  We had just one night.  So, starting at 6, we walked to our hotel, housed in an old pallazo.  We were greeted by an empty entry and a set of steep, marble stairs.

We looked around the tiny space and noticed an elevator.  At least, we noticed a tiny wood and glass door and a brass-plated call button.  We pushed the button, and the lights flickered on inside the little elevator car just behind the glass.  I froze.  I have recurring dreams.  This is one of them.  It’s not a nightmare, necessarily, but the riding up and down in little, teeny, wood and glass elevators that don’t completely work, is something that I do in my sleep.  It’s not something I really enjoy in my sleep.  I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it in my wake.

But this seemed to be working alright, so I looked at my aunt, took a deep breath and stepped inside.

It took some maneuvering to get us both in there with our luggage.  Like a sliding puzzle, there was one way for us to fit, and one way for us to get out.  I went in with my pack, and she followed, pushing her rolling suitcase in front of her so that she could reach out and pull the door shut.

Then we pushed the button and the little car lurched to life, coming to an abrupt stop at the second floor.  Given our large bags, we used the lift rather more than usual, and we became pretty good at the routine.  Though I never really got good at being completely comfortable in it.

Still, we were now at the hotel, and after check-in and a quick orientation, we headed to the room, a great, high-walled square with parquet floors and a painted, beamed ceiling , reminiscent of the palazzo it once was.

We were there just long enough to drop our stuff, lock our valuables in the makeshift safe/minibar, and head back out.  The breakfast from the plane was a distant memory, and my favorite pizza shop was waiting.

The night was hot and humid, so we didn’t even take jackets.  I only had 2 layers on, which is near crazy-talk for me.  Still, it felt like a night to live on the edge.  We walked briskly through the city, making a b-line for Piazza San Eustachio and it’s twirly spire overlooking Pizza Zaza and it’s little outdoor seating area.  Well, it was kind of a b-line.  We swung past the Trevi Fountain to toss our coins for a promised return, and the Pantheon to see its enormous columns at dusk.  And then we went around the corner to Zaza.

I could nearly hear a choir of angels singing when we walked into the piazza.  There it was.  Pizza.  We walked up to the little counter, and stood next to a police officer as he ordered.  The two of us sidled up and gawked at the great rectangles of cheese and bread.  I recognized the girl behind the counter, her sweet hardness comforting to me at the end of a long trip.  We ordered enough for three people and wondered aloud if it would be enough.  Then we filed past the state security agents that had arrived, their dark suits, sunglasses and earpieces standing out in the bright, little shop.

I’ve often thought back to the last time I was in Rome.  It feels like a dream, even now.  But one taste of the pizza told me it had been real.  I was back.  We were in Rome, eating pizza with church bells ringing in the background.

While we ate, I’m not sure how much we actually spoke.  We gestured and grunted, and the older Italian ladies with their perfect coifs and designer sunglasses chattered about us in low voices.  We didn’t stop until every morsel was consumed.

Zucchini, caprese, patata.  Each was as good as the last.  I licked the mozarella juice off of my fingers, not wanting to waste a drop.

Next, we decided to patronize Giolitti, the gelato shop I’d discovered last time around.  The huge shop wasn’t hard to find, just around the corner, with its enormous lighted sign, and groups of people milling about outside.

This time, there was no line.  There were no children to step in front of us.  Just an open case of beautiful gelato, and a bemused clerk.  The Ant picked out niocciolo (hazelnut) and marone glace.  I opted for the marone glace (something I’d had recommended to me in Venice, and has become one of my favorite gelato flavors), and then asked the gelato slinger what he thought would go well.  “You like cinnamon?”  Damn.  He was on to me.  I thought I had that phrase down pat.  I guess I’ll just have to eat more gelato to practice my phrase-work.  I told him that was good, and he went off to get my chocolate-dipped cone.  Mid-way to the cinnamon, he stopped, put his hand up and said, “No.  Fondante.  You like chocolate?”  He was sincere and absolute.  This was the better choice.  Well, of course I like chocolate.

I really enjoy asking for the food advice of people who work with the menu on a daily basis.  They have a much better sense of what will go well together.  This guy was no exception.

He handed over the beautiful cone and we walked out of the store, grinning at the clerk behind the register.  She returned a knowing smile, watching us licking at the supremely good gelato.  Taking a quick break, we stood outside the store in the growing dusk.  We decided we had enough energy to walk up the Corso to Piazza Del Popolo (perhaps you know this location from Angels and Demons) to see the twin churches.

They were as beautiful and haunting as I remembered.  We sat on the steps of the piazza’s central fountain and gazed up at the obelisk, one of 8 gazillion brought back from Egypt.

Choosing a side street, we made our way past the vendors selling lighted helicopter-like toys, spinning them high into the air and catching them again.  We found the crowds over to the Spanish Steps, named for the Spanish Embassy at the top.

The steps are beautiful, and the view from the top is pretty magnificent, but we had been traveling for about 30 hours and still had a lot to see.  So we skipped the climb and mad our way back across town to the carnival-like atmosphere of Piazza Navona and Campo di Fiori.

Piazza Navona is home to the Four Rivers Fountain (also of Angels and Demons fame), as well as two other, less famous fountains.  Tonight, it also played host to legions of artists showing their wares.  and a street performer who had gathered maybe 50 people to him as he rode a super-tall unicycle and juggled flaming swords.

Campo di Fiori houses a monument to Bruno, who was burned at the stake and canonized as a “saint” by the people for speaking his truth.  It also houses vendors of various types.  Tonight, it was inhabited by more vendors with the lighted toys. We sat for a moment and considered our escape route back to the hotel.  We weren’t far, but our feet were beginning to rebel.  After all, we’d been walking for about 5 hours in Rome alone, and hadn’t even had a cappuccino to keep us awake.

We followed a crowd of people out of the piazza and ended up walking past the Victor Emanuel monument – always impressive, and especially at night.

And then it was back up one of the hills and on to the hotel.  All in all, we only made one unintended circle, and had to ask for directions once.  Even then, we were on the right track.

As we climbed into the elevator one more time, we were relieved.  We had seen Rome.  A lot of it.  We’d tasted it, and heard it and touched it.  But we weren’t done with it.  We climbed into the big bed, under the high-painted ceiling, listening to the city continue on through the night, our window flung wide in the humid Roman night.  Romissimo indeed.

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June 3, 2010   4 Comments