“As I am listening to the bells of the cathedral, I am thinking of your voice…”
– Suzanne Vega (Tom’s Diner)
Sounds of San Pietro’s ancient bells softly awoke my jetlagged body from a dreamless sleep. Smells of illy espresso began drifting into the room as I heard Vania preparing breakfast in her stunning Italian kitchen. Stepping into the kitchen with groggy eyes I saw she had our espresso ready on our placemats as she busily set the rest of our breakfast. Omelets and coffee normally start my American mornings whereas eggs in the morning are not a common Italian breakfast. Instead she offered small biscuits or yogurt with corn flake cereal and honey.
The heat wave I was warned about was no joke with temps reaching into the 40s, celsius that is, which makes that in the 100s. The humidity made D.C. summers seem near comfortable though being a fan of summer I still preferred this weather over a Polar Vortex any day. The common water fountains throughout Rome saved us all this summer. Some used them as showers sticking their heads underneath the water spout while others washed their feet or simply refilled their water bottles.
Our morning began wandering through the indoor market marveling over the array of fresh veggies, meats and cheeses. I saw veggies I never knew existed! Their shear size alone was mind blowing. The variety of veggies that colorfully dotted the slanted shelves were a foodies dream.
Vania and I were women on a mission with a long list that ranged from sight seeing to shopping. Moments we found ourselves lost in translation during a conversation we consulted the translator app on our phones while bursting into fits of laughter as we tried to find the correct word in our language.
A fellow makeup lover, she took me to Kiko. Fabulous sales lined the front part of the store. “Hair shadow?” I thought to myself as I saw this spherical applicator. A salesperson noticed my apparent interest in this new make up concept and offered to apply it to my hair. When in Rome, right? They streaked the green shadow like a highlight. Only a few Euros? I bought the hair shadow.
Walking down a side cobblestone road under the molto caldo sun we came up to a restaurant called Su& Giù Cucina Romana. The friendly waitress sat us in a window seat in the quaint restaurant. I was back in Italy. The surreal reality sunk in at that very moment. Italian wine bottles filled the narrow shelf behind me more for decoration than monetary value.
The first time it hit me that I was in Italy I standing in Piazza Navona in Rome at 19 years old on a pre-tour to Paris, London and Rome before studying abroad to Florence. These young boys grabbed our wrists when we were beside the fountain and began making a bracelet around our wrists before we had a chance to say no. My friends and I exchanged glances and figured it couldn’t cost too much lire! I remember watching him twist the different colored strings into a lovely bracelet and as he did I took a few moments to take in my surroundings of the long wide narrow square. Italy. I had finally arrived. We all wore the bracelet the entire three months we studied in Florence.
Back to 2015 and Su & Giù Cucina Romana. With a menu that made it impossible to choose only one dish. After a grueling time trying to decide what to order I settled on the seafood pasta. The plating alone was artwork.
With happy tummies we ventured to the first of the sites. As we rounded the corner to the Trevi Fountain, to our sad dismay, we discovered it was under construction. Crowds of people with squinted eyes and sorrowful tones gazed upon one of the world’s most celebrated fountains barricaded behind metal fences. “There goes finding love in Roma!” I thought with a laugh. Situated in front of the fencing was a small hole one could still throw coins into so I tossed two over my shoulder (took a quick selfie) and listened as they clanked down the metal pipe. Come on wishes!
Sixteen years had flown by since the last time I walked on Italy’s soil. I swore then I would return after college but life happened and prevented me from returning.
Vania was on a shoe mission and I was one happy shopper whether it was a boutique down a side street or flipping through the clothes racks at the outdoor markets. “When in Rome…” as they say, and Vania would comment throughout our time together that I was not a tourist with her making me feel like any other local. The saying took a whole other meaning for me during this trip.
Next on our plan was The Colosseum. My memory of seeing The Colosseum appear when I was 19 was slightly different from seeing it at age 35. I swore I remembered walking along soil at ruin level and our tour guide pointing out that we were walking on fragments of buildings from ancient Roman times. I recall at that moment looking down at the bit of broken marble wedged into the solid ground below. Imagining these structures whole and during their day when Rome was a thriving city. Our tour guide pointing out where the archeologists discovered that there was a Pagan burial ground pointing out the misshapen grass marks and how many people could be buried below its surface.
Roman roads toward The Colosseum were wide with both tourists and other Italians walking alongside one another without feeling like everyone is fighting for space. Couples. So many couples were holding hands all around me. Kisses shared on benches. Rome was filled with romance. As a shy 19 year old, this would not have been something I noticed as I had as an adult. I wondered if every city in Italy was like Rome? I did recall Venice being filled romance yet somehow it was different than the romantic energy I felt along Roman streets.
Suddenly The Colosseum began to come into view…chills. I was 19 again walking beside new friends with this new freedom and wandering the grounds of a once dreamed about land. The most magnificent funky trees known as Stone Pines or “umbrella pine” surrounded this historic gem.
Vania snapped some pictures of me in front letting me spend more time alongside the manmade wonder. It was just him and me. We had some reminiscing to do.
I enjoyed not having the day planned out or over-planning to know which sight we would see first. I let the day happen. This was also more about spending time with a dear friend I met four years ago.
I barely recognized Pizza Navona upon our arrival. Waves of people, strollers and stand after stand of posters and paintings of Italian landscapes covered the entire square. I swam through the crowds from one end to the other sneaking a selfie when possible. This was not the square I remembered yet looked forward to return again when tourist swimming was not part of the experience. How I did not remember snap a few pictures of the craziness I will never know…
Pizza was on tonight’s menu. Vania took me to Ristorante Terno Secco located along Via Andrea Doria where we had a sweet waiter from Egypt. I ordered the Capricciosa pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, mushrooms, artichokes and tomatoes—an absolute new favorite.
Drifting off to sleep I thought, “Please don’t let this trip go by too quickly…”