Rome. November 3, 2012.
Old Rome slips, at times, from my immediate memory. And then, on return, the memories of past times flood back, mixing with my footsteps as I wander, again, aimlessly across old stone, past ancient churches and older still Roman ruins. How many cities, exactly, of Rome have stood on this spot, claiming to be better than the previous one? How many times, exactly, has Rome been sacked, raped and ruined to rise again? But, on this day, Saturday, November 3rd, 2012, we have just eight hours. It’s our time to stroll, letting what seems interesting pull us in to polish old memories and give us new ones.
It begins, at 2:00 PM in Donati, a trattorria like the trattorria across the street, like thousands, really. Why not? The waiter on the sidewalk was funny and friendly. We’ve picked eating places on far less. A prosecco, a Campari, and the platti primi: true buffalo mozzarella with fresh tomato and basil, first quality olive oil and a balsamic vinegar I want to drink like wine. Tortellini stuffed with squash and (what else would I chose with a single chance to eat a single meal in Rome?) Trippa alla Romana. A jug of Umbrian vino rosso.
Walking past the Termini train and bus station with its swirl of traffic, tourists, taxis and Italians all going somewhere or lost in the currents, we strike out down Via Nazionale for no other reason that it stretches westerly across Rome, and west is the direction we started. Magnificent churches, beautiful sculptures, cheap shops, expensive shops. Modern goods along the ancient causeway.
The wine from lunch has slipped past the kidneys. Off the Via Nazionale, onto a side street, into that Italian saving grace–a tabac, the perfect port in a storm. A red wine, a café correcto, a toilet . . . grazie y arriverdici. To the streets. There’s walking to be done.
A little north, a little west, Victor Emmanuel’s massive monument looms over the lower buildings. We avoid traffic and the massive square with another zig zag. A giant plaza, one I’ve never seen. Military guards in military guard finery at attention, guarding what? Who knows? It’s part of the walk, not the destination. On further north and west.
A church. Not a surprise in Rome, city of thousands of churches. This one has a magnificent façade. We step in. We can’t wander Rome and not enter at least one church. The ceiling is stunning. The fluted stone columns hold another sky, another world, aloft. Is it too much? Aren’t they all? Is it wonderful to see? Of course.
The streets narrow from here, bending either to some ancient algorithm or cowpath. A swelling concentration of tourists, concentrating on their maps, their cell phones . . . or are we just seeing the effects of wider streets empting into narrower ones? It’s evening now with the last bit of luminous lighter blue sky giving way to the inky dark as if light can’t travel far from Roman streets.
We burst onto Piazza Navona, or it bursts upon us with its throngs of tourists, hawkers, pickpockets, lovers and memories. Bernini’s magnificent central statue is swarmed. It’s hard to hear the splashing of the fountain for the constant chatter in every language, yet one figure, a man, sits silently on the edge of the water focused, concentrating, enmeshed . . . with the email on his laptop.
Now it’s north and west again, more crowded streets, incredible antique stores and towards my grail, Gelateria del Teatro. We order two cups, two flavors each. Sage and raspberry. Fennel and almond. Basil and white chocolate. Rosemary and lemon. Intense, incredible, transporting gelato.
East and south now to the Pantheon dominating the Piazza della Rotunda. Here, years ago, my dear, late friend Ray and I sat down at night at this same sidewalk restaurant, ate pizza, drank jug wine, took in the beauty of Rome and talked for a long, long time. Chris and I do exactly the same.
Further east, stop for wine, across the major streets lined with expensive shops, further east to . . . whoa! right in front of us, from nowhere, the Trinanon Fountain, its white stone turned a rich, lustrous golden cream by the lights.
East again along long rows of stately buildings, south, pizza joints and cheaper hotels, south further, Termini Station to the right, our hotel to the left. Ten o’clock. Eight hours elapsed. Up at five and to the airport.
Grazie e arriverdercci Roma.