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Report 881: A Slow Trip to Italy for a Mother and Daughter

By stella from Brooklyn, New York, Fall 2005

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Page 11 of 16: Everybody Knows Each Other Here

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The Dome of St. Peter's peeks out on Corso Vittorio Emmanuel II

Our first dinner in Rome the previous night was perfect for two weary souls. Ristorante Arnaldo’s was recommended by Massimo, and we were happy to only walk about four steps out the front door to get there. The lighting was low, the music was jazz, and the wood beam ceiling dated back centuries; there were lovely stained glass windows too. Massimo advised us to tell them that he sent us, which we did, and we were greeted warmly, like old friends.

I had Rigatoni All’Arabiata, which was spicy, spicy and made my eyes water in the best of ways. The tomato sauce was brilliant red and tasted so bright and delicious. Mom had grilled eggplant again, spicy also, but tolerable for her delicate palate. The best thing about our meal, however, was the house white wine. Absolutely delicious!! Light but still flavorful, like a good, crisp, yet sweet apple. It was served from a white, porcelain teapot, inexplicable and charming. For main courses, Mom had a sautéed turkey cutlet, with mushrooms and a bit of cheese; it was odd, but really tender and good. I had a veal cutlet in a rosemary and wine sauce, very light and delicious. They sent us out some sautéed vegetables, which included cabbage and sweet onions that tasted ever so slightly agrodolce.

Our waiter’s name was Gianni, and he and mom got on famously, chatting away in Italian. Mom learned all about his 24-year old son who is studying to become a aeronautical engineer and wants to work for NASA. Gianni learned that I am a chef and I don’t speak Italian and I am still single. Gianni looked at me very sadly, as if I were a victim of terrible misfortune. He was even sadder when he realized that I understood every word he was saying but couldn’t really answer him back. He asked Mom why I don’t speak Italian, and Mom took the hit, saying it was all her fault. To make them both feel better, and to avoid the conversation from turning toward the direction of why I am still single, I did manage to say in Italian that the meal was delicious and the restaurant was beautiful, thanking him profusely. That brought a wide smile to Gianni’s face. He was pleased to hear that we were staying in Massimo’s apartment and promised that we would see him around the neighborhood. “Everyone knows each other around here,” he said.

The Campo de’Fiori area was hopping, but Via dei Chiavari is tucked away from all of that, and thanks to double glazed windows, our apartment was silent all night. We slept like two rocks.

Is there anything more glorious than waking up in Rome on a sunny day with brilliantly blue skies? I doubt it. We started the day with toasted bread from Antico Forno Marco Roscioli, half a block away from the apartment, and fresh orange juice. Next, we decided to check out the Campo and shop for that evening's dinner. Outside the apartment, we dodged Vespas with every step; there seemed to be more of them in Rome, but I thought they were slower than in Florence. Mom still jumped whenever she heard one, even if it was a block away, clinging to me, the side of a parked car, or a building.

I was in heaven at the Campo dei’Fiori. The greens were vivid and crisp, the grapes were huge. The puntarelle made me want to cry, it was everywhere, lacy, curled and rather delicate looking, obviously much younger than what I can find in New York. The porcini were also incredible, and I immediately selected two huge specimens for a salad. Mom decided she wanted me to make soup for her dinner that night, so we went to the nearby butcher shop for a fresh chicken to make the broth; I would also make some tiny chicken meatballs, just as my mother had made for me when I was a little girl. Carrots, onions, celery, herbs – everything we needed was right there in the market. On the way back, I grabbed a cappuccino at Bar Farnese – it was very, very good coffee, and the barista, also the owner, was absolutely sweet and kind. There would be no Tazza D’Oro that day. I decided to become a regular at Bar Farnese while in Rome.

The Campo was great fun; I could get used to shopping there every day. We went back to the apartment with our food, but headed out again pretty quickly. The first day in a new city is always chore day for me, and I needed to get a new Italian cell phone; my secondhand purchase from eBay had mysteriously died enroute to Rome. I thought it would be an easy walk for Mom to the Pantheon, so off we went, still dodging those Vespas.

On the way, we stopped off to find out when Mass would be at the closest church, which happened to be the magnificent Sant’Andrea della Valle, where Via dei Chiavari meets Corso Vittorio Emmanuel II. It was in between the daily morning Masses, so we were able to pop in to have a peek. The dome of this church is the second highest in Rome (only to St. Peter’s Basilica), and it is an ornate statement of the Baroque period. Everywhere you look is gilded, a stark contrast to the somber splendor of the Renaissance churches of Florence. There are too many treasures in this church to list; one that literally struck me was the glass-enclosed, preserved body of a dead Cardinal; I forget who it was exactly; it spooked the heck out of me, and even Mom jumped when she saw it, still clutching her rosary beads. The frescoes inside the main apse are huge, depicting scenes from the martyrdom of St. Andrew. Here is a bit of trivia: the opening act of Puccini’s Tosca takes place in Sant’Andrea Della Valle. We had to tear ourselves away from wandering about this huge treasure trove of painting and sculpture; the next Mass was starting and tourists are shooed away.

The next stop on Corso Vittorio Emmanuel II was the nearest TIM store. I still find it wonderous and amazing that you can simply walk in and purchase a cell phone without signing a contract for service. In Italy, as long as you have a TIM SIM card, with an assigned phone number (which I do), you are set; or you can get the SIM card there too. They even set the language and voicemail prompts to English for me. The entire transaction took about five minutes. And the phone was cute, tiny and pretty inexpensive. Another chore was crossed off my list.

Rome is great for window-shopping and we both indulged, slowly strolling along. The weather was perfect, blue skies, temperatures in the upper 60’s. I couldn't believe how lucky we were, weather-wise; November can be quite rainy in Italy. As we worked our way up Torre di Largo Argentina, my heart leapt at the sight of the rear of the Pantheon and the fringes of the square. I stayed in a lovely B&B last year, located on the top floor of a building along the Piazza della Rotonda. There was a tiny slice of view of the magnificent Pantheon, which was the start and finish to each of my days in Rome.

Mom was again speechless; she did not get a chance to see the Pantheon on her whirlwind, seniors-on-a-bus tour of Italy a few years ago. The big difference I noticed was that it was pretty crowded, both the Piazza and the Pantheon were thronged. I was also surprised by what was new inside the Pantheon; there are now audioguides, as well as new signage identifying the paintings and sculptures. The scaffolding that was present last year was taken down, so we could see the entire dome in full splendor. Mom enjoyed seeing the Pantheon very much, especially the tombs of Raphael and the Italian kings.

On Via del Seminario there is a great restaurant, La Sagrestia. They make really wonderful pizza there; one can fight the crowds at Da Baffetto, or sit in this beautiful, nearly empty restaurant with frescoed walls and ancient wood-beamed ceilings, and enjoy the same great pizza. We ordered a pizza margherita, a bottle of mineral water, and a salad of sliced artichokes with lemon and olive oil and shards of parmigiano-reggiano. The pizza was delicious, as thin as a cracker, soft near the center and crispy-charred at the edges, just a whisper of cheese, great tomato sauce and some basil. The bill was €10!

After lunch, we went to a terrific salumeria in the Piazza della Rotonda and picked up some proscuitto cotto and salumi and other goodies, then made quick stop at the supermercato for some household supplies.

Back at the apartment, Mom snoozed while I did my cooking, and when the soup was bubbling away, I struck out on my own to find the nearest internet spot. Massimo gave me directions; it was below the Campo, on the long, silent Via delle Grotte. This is an old, old part of Rome, and so incredibly quiet. Just a few shops here and there, empty streets, dotted with artisan’s workshops. The internet point is across the street from a popular local joint, Da Sergio’s. A few people were sitting at the outdoor tables, smoking and lingering over their long, long lunches, speaking incredibly fast Italian. The menu was scrawled on a piece of wood. It has an air of authenticity – one can tell when a place is trying to “create” authenticity, as opposed to simply being what it already is.

On the way back from the internet point, I bought a paper cone filled with hot, roasted chestnuts for an afternoon snack for Mom, perfect for the autumn chill that even I can feel. I am glad we are having soup for dinner. Massimo and Biancamaria would stop by later that night, I was looking forward to simply relaxing and enjoying their company...

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