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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 10 of 16: A Final Stroll in Florence, and a Rocky Ride in Rome!

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Via dei Chiavari, Rome

The last morning in Firenze dawned with fog covering surrounding hillsides. I sadly packed in the wee hours; we were to wait for the rental manager to come that morning to read the utility meters and refund whatever was left of my deposit before we boarded our 1:53 PM train to Rome. I popped downstairs to Café Mario, where they make excellent cappuccino and serve warm cornetti, perfect to take away that bit of morning chill. Mom was still puttering and packing, and I decided I need a final walk in Florence.

I trekked up to Santa Maria Novella, perhaps the most beautiful of all the grand churches of Florence, with its magnificent Green Cloister. The church was filled with tour groups and there was a terrible din; all those hushed voices bouncing of the stone interior added up to a roar. The noise did not diminish the impact of the frescoes in Santa Maria Novella; having just been restored, they looked as though they were painted yesterday. In the main portion of the church is Massacio’s magnificent Trinity along the south wall; the Crucifix hanging nearby is by Giotto, ca. 1288. There are six individual chapels in Santa Maria Novella; all of them are beautiful, and feature breathtaking frescoes by Lippi, Maiano, and Domenico Ghirlandaio; Michelangelo was once a young student of Ghirlandaio, and small portions of the frescoes are attributed to him. Nearly every corner is occupied by another treasure of stained glass, painting, or sculpture.

After my leisurely visit, it was time to get back to the apartment. The walk seemed long on a map, but having spent a week here and truly getting to know my way around the city made it much smaller. I wound my way towards the Piazza della Repubblica, a portion of the city that was constructed after Italy was unified in 1861, when Florence served briefly as the capital of the new country. Continuing on towards Santa Croce, I passed through the Piazza della Signora; the Palazzo Vecchio never fails to give me a chill. I hoped to myself that poor Neptune’s broken hand is mended soon. In the Piazza della Firenze, there was some sort of a demonstration going on in front of the Commune’s municipal building. There was a big red banner being draped and a man was shouting into a bullhorn; many carabinieri were close by, watching over the small assembly. It looked like it may turn into a showdown, but I needed to move on. The winding, narrow side streets finally opened into the vast Piazza di Santa Croce; home, but not for much longer. I was preparing myself mentally for the monumental task of getting my elderly mother and FIVE rather heavy pieces of luggage onto a Eurostar train without incident.

Not long after my return, Vicky arrived and we settled the final bill. Heat and electricity for the week came to nearly €150; utilities are very, very expensive in Italy, and I don’t know how businesses are able to keep up. We said our final goodbyes to the wonderful apartment named Mimi, and headed for a taxi to the train station. Getting onto the train was a bit stressful. After printing out my tickets, we waited and waited in anticipation for the track to be announced, and when it finally was, about five minutes before its scheduled departure, there was the inevitable mad dash. When I got to our carriage, it turned out that we were traveling to Rome with a large, large group of Japanese tourists. They had about 50 pieces of luggage, and the storage areas were all completely full. I had no choice but to leave ours just rolling about in the corridor; this troubled Mom to no end, and it was all I could do to convince her to just let it be.

The train ride to Rome was peaceful and fast, only about an hour and a half, through some quite pretty countryside. But upon our arrival, the Rome Termini station was pure chaos; people were waiting to get onto our train and they crowded our exit. I had to get Mom down those steps and then make four more trips up and down with the very heavy luggage; and there are all those Japanese! They were absolutely frenzied, darting about and shouting at each other. Then there were the “fake porters” trying to grab our luggage and put it on a cart (and then demand money to get it back), it was utter madness. One of them approached me, and I literally screamed, "No, Basta!" at him; he jumped back and said, "Okaaaay!!" I think I thoroughly freaked him out.

Our kickoff in Rome became even rockier. After the platform mess, I marched Mom towards the taxi stand and landed us a cab. Massimo, the owner of our wonderful Rome apartment, told me to call him when I got in the taxi, so he could give the driver directions to Via di Chiavari. It is a very narrow street and can only be approached and entered from one direction. I got Massimo on the phone, handed it over to the taxi driver and they proceeded to hash it out. The driver handed me back the phone and seemed very confident that he knew exactly what he was doing. He drove towards the Campo dei’Fiori, and all appeared well until he slowed to a crawl and rolled down the window. He began asking shopkeepers and pedestrians where Via di Chiavari was. Not a good sign. An even worse sign was when he turned down a narrow alley and pulled into a dead-end. When he attempted to turn around, a blue car that said “Polizia” pulled up behind us. A really bad sign. The driver got out of the taxi and met face to face with the Italian police officer; there was some discussion, and the driver pulled out his paperwork; Mom and I were both completely silent. Throughout the entire ordeal, an old gentleman orbited the taxi, blatantly bending over and staring in at us. I wanted to scream.

Luckily, the cab driver appeared to have talked his way out of the ticket, but he then immediately told us that our ride was over. Via di Chiavari was “that way and then that way,” he told me, pointing. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought outloud; he was kicking us out.

Trying not to curse, because now everyone is staring at us, (the old man from before apparently gathered a crowd) I collected our luggage from the trunk and we limped our way towards the ambiguous “that way and then that way.” It was very difficult to be dignified while trying to roll five suitcases and a granny across really, really bumpy cobblestones. Mom was a trooper, but I could tell that her faith in me had been shattered. She softly whined, “Where are we going??” Finally she could not go any further; she was heartbroken and convinced that there was no real destination. I left her against a building with some of the luggage and trudged forward to find our apartment. I was looking for the right number, but the numbers across the street were going up while on the other side, they were going down!! At that point, I was heartbroken as well, and just about to toss it in when I spotted Massimo.

I just knew who he was when I saw him. He looked just like the jazz musician I have been corresponding with for six months now: graying, longish hair, round spectacles, a fuzzy beard. He spotted me too and was visibly confused, “Oh, no, what happened? Where is your cab?” Massimo to the rescue. We were gathered, bundled, hugged and swept into the correct apartment building, admiring the lobby with its original, ancient wood beam ceilings in the midst of our relief. The tiny elevator carried us, in several trips, to the flat.

The apartment was adorable. Quite large, but not as large as the Florence apartment, there was one generous bedroom. The best feature was the huge windows, which extened up to the ceiling. The entire place was flooded with light. The view was over the tiled rooftops of the neighborhood. The bedroom had a gorgeouos wood-beamed ceiling, with two huge closets, and the bathroom and kitchen were both very, very cute. The kitchen had a big, retro, yellow refrigerator that I instantly fell in love with, and there was also a dishwasher and washing machine. The large wall clock in the living room that was also a dry-erase surface; Massimo had scrawled across it, “Welcome Home!”

Suddenly it was as if my mother hadn’t spoken in months (and I can assure you, that was not the case); Massimo asked her where she was from and they proceeded to sit and chat about her childhood in Calabria in great detail. Mom told him some things I had never ever heard before; I sat there with my mouth open. She enchanted Massimo, and me! He turned to me and said, “I just love her. She is fantastic! It is settled, I must come visit!” What a sweet, sweet man.

By then it was past five o’clock, and Massimo had to leave; he had a long drive back to his temporary home on the other side of Rome, where he lives with his wife, Biancamaria, and their little daughter, Delfina. Massimo and Biancamaria are in the middle of restoring a home in Sutri, in northern Lazio; anyone who knows anything about restoring an old, old home in the Italian countryside can imagine the headaches that accompany such an endeavor. Before leaving, he gave me a quick tour of the apartment, which used to be the family home until Delfina was a toddler, and then he was off. Massimo is the type of person that leaves behind a large void. I missed him immediately; it had been nice for us both to have someone to chat with. I quickly unpacked and left Mom to her exploration of the flat while I ran out to get some provisions for the morning.

Rome is confusing in this part of the city; I had been lost in that neighborhood once before in the dark. I went in circles searching for an alimentari, or general store; one had been around every corner I turned in Florence. The nearby Campo was filled with bars and restaurants and the streets surrounding it are lined with clothing stores and trendy shops. Finally, a store appeared and I bought what we would need for our first morning. I was beginning to feel ok again. I told myself that I love Rome, over and over again. We would eat that night at Arnaldo’s, a sweet neighborhood trattoria about two steps from our front door, and the next morning, I would get a cappuccino near the Campo. I had one more week, just one more week, of my beautiful vacation.

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