When In Rome

When I think back to Rome I first recall the energy. There was mutual anxiety about the unknown. Neither one of us bothered to learn Italian. I relied on Google to teach me how to say "hello" and "excuse me". She thought her Spanish alone would suffice. For the first time we both had no phone service. The maps didn't work. We didn't have any guidance. There were no plans. We both had short, varied lists of must sees. We just hadn't talked about them since NYC. Surely those lists had changed. I tried to research things and talk about the Roma pass for us. I assumed that was enough. However, we never settled on the pass or anything Italy. Yet things were kosher. The frustrations had only subsided for the journey. Once we landed they returned ten fold. We now were on separate paths. The airport - insanity. The hotel - an hour away. We didn't even know who we were in Rome. Were we Americans? Were we EU travelers? Were we rebels that bypassed customs? 

Fiumicino is an old airport. It's old. It's ugly. It is busy. Did I say it was old? It seemed like we walked through a museum of various airline furnishings throughout the history of commercial aviation. It was a thousand miles to baggage claim so we shuffled past dilapidated wards of vintage seating and speckled floors. Most airports funnel and corral international travelers. This place just diverted us and spun us around. One sign said we should go this way if we came from the European Union. A bunch of signs said to go a specific way by the color of tags placed on our bags. I was trying to read these signs and do as told. She just wanted to leave. The rushing and berating had returned. There was no more beautiful ignorance that we could share in. There was no excitement. It was plainly stated "you want your passport stamped then you can go back there!?". By then we had already exited the so-called secure area and faced the great unknown.

A cab to the center of Rome would have cost us hundreds of Euros. We eventually found an attached train station which was a better option. The station also trapped in time with metal awnings and no flair was fairly quiet. Thankfully the attendant spoke English and was able to give us hand written step by step directions to our hotel. I believe we we're to count nine stops then exit with all the people to transfer to the metro. This was an elevated train, nothing fancy and in no way a straight shoot. It was a hot, crowded party train through the Rome you don't see on television. In the train there were several directions to go - upstairs to the observation deck, downstairs to the lower level of the double or up short stairs down the remainder of the normal cars. I clearly didn't want to climb the stairwell up with all that luggage. I also never understood the point of standing on a moving train. So I took the shorter stairs where there were available seats. She followed thereafter sitting father down the car. We we're both annoyed but I didn't get the point of her doing that. She just offered up seats to other fat and stinky commuters. This was a mid-afternoon ride so there was a mix of business types, mothers and teenagers. A young Indian girl sat next to me in a cheap pinstripe suit. She talked on her phone and smelled of jasmine and smoke. A wedding party took up the other side of the car. The assumed bride was the most gorgeous woman I'd ever seen. She appeared to be about 22 or 24, she had big curly red hair, blue eyes and Roman feet. Her man was a brute, her sister dowdy and what appeared to be her mom was like a ogre with a fresh mother of the bride pedicure. 

Everyone was hot. Rome was by far the hottest place we'd been. The air inside the train was stale and just like any other tourist I peered out the windows. There were more ghettos and slums than ruins and palaces. Most of what I saw were overgrown lots, graffiti and platforms of rainbow people. I found normal sites like these comforting in London and in Paris. But in Rome, to see normalcy was disappointing. I was worried that she had booked a hotel on the beaten path. At the transfer we followed all the people out and down to the street. There was an immediate wafting of the teenagers toking. We opted not to follow them and head for civilization which was shocking. I was smack dab in Brooklyn. There were newsstands, laundromats, pizzerias, fat ladies hanging out the windows and wise guys on the stoops. If I had snapped a picture you wouldn't be able to tell any difference. The only difference was audible because all you heard were different sounding sirens and people speaking Italian.

See I have a problem. I think every city is mimicking the greatest city of them all, New York City. She loved to call me out on it but more in a prideful way. She never repped her city but she took defense in people talking about it. In my eyes everyone was imitating - Savannah, Boston, Miami … I'm not trying to bash but that is what I typically feel when visiting other cities. In Rome, it was clear that we we're imitating them. This was where it all started. She never gathered that much and was quick to call me out on saying that it was something she thought it was not. In the end we would wind up going to the newsstand for redirection and found a rather familiar entrance to the Metropolitana. The trains were new and the cars had no separation. You could look all the way through all the connecting trains. If no one was standing it was like looking in facing mirrors in a dressing room. It was an endless image of people in motion. Train tickets were big business cards with images from the city. It was also the most efficient method of transportation of the trip. It seemed like Rome's metro always brought you direct to destination.

Once off the train and in the center we had a gigantic set of stairs to go up and exit. It was exhausting to get up those with our luggage. Of course she was up and out first and promised me it would be worth it. There was a papa making pizza dough in a window, a cathedral surrounded by fallen leaves and waiters pouring wine at nearby cafes. It was nearing dusk and the hotel was just up the hill and to the left. Once there we entered another era. Our hotel was finally the authentic place I'd been dreaming of. The lobby lined in Beidemeier chairs and Chinoise cabinets housed Murano glass collections. There were little candies in a compote dish at the front desk and a bellman who showed us how to operate the original wooden swing door lift. Our room was rather modern but intimate. The view was the backs of nearby apartments complete with hanging laundry and visiting pigeons. We didn't spend much time in our new room. We left as quickly as we got settled in. We almost raced to see what Rome was all about. Once out it was already dark, the streets were crowded and it was like going on a hunt. You could hear the fountains but it was like a maze to find them. There were little signs pointing one way, then someone would yell that it was another way, we'd go down a side street and then find a dead end. On this journey we discovered tiny restaurants, fruit stands, watering holes and Vespa parks. Then we stumbled upon it right there in all its glory … the Tivoli Fountains.

In that moment I felt I needed to be pinched. I'd seen this thing a thousand times but nothing could describe being there. The night air was thick and humid. The water was the coolest teal blue. The touch of the pools revealed warm, slippery mineral water. However, standing at a distance the sprinkles created a cool breeze. I didn't quite understand the coin thing but I told myself to go do it in the middle of the night. I thought that maybe around 3am it wouldn't be surrounded by people. In that moment it felt like I was alone but when I came to I realized the spectacle. There were people everywhere. There were people just posted in and around this thing, sitting on its edge, taking pictures, throwing the coins, eating pizza etc etc etc. It was loud. There was a combination of the falling water, the people, the flashes, the conversations all on top of clopping of horses, zooming scooters, honking cabs, tipping dogs and children playing. We both agreed that we should come back and settled on finding something to eat. I really wasn't hungry and I don't know if she was but we'd passed this one place and it stood out to the both of us. It was full of tables covered in gingham tablecloths and everyone was mashed up together laughing and drinking. We decided that it would be the first place we would eat … if we could find it. 

We made our way back to the alley and it was just as before. The place was bustling. A gentleman seated us, gave us breadsticks as novelties and encouraged us to order quickly because the kitchen would soon close. I settled on a cream sauced pasta with pancetta and peas. I don't remember what she ordered. Maybe it was penne a la vodka. All I know is within a few minutes we were both served the loveliest plates of house made pasta. You could actually see the butter, the peas snapped and there were glistening mushrooms in the sauce. The meal was incredible and we both ate to the bottom of our dishes. This was the first of many amazing meals in Rome. As we sat and discussed a chef emerged from the kitchen with a tiny pot of basil. He walked slowly with it and placed the pot inside a refrigerator in dining room view. On a nearby wall was a small case filled with panna cotta, Chianti and dusty plastic grapes. Outside the heat, fountains and tourists roared on. It was like "La Dolce Vita" but in color, in real time with overpriced Coke. 

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