Tales of a wandering lesbian


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