A Roman Indulgence
We are comfortably seated on a sparkling train to Rome Termini. The lilt of Italian surrounds us like melodic background music. If not for the espresso we savored at a stand up café, I’d be lulled to sleep by the cadence of conversation. A crisp conductor marks our tickets with an efficient click of his stamper, we leave exactly on time and we’re speeding past a surprisingly urban countryside, all glass and concrete and asphalt. I expect to be greeted with boisterous chaos, to shouting and jostling, to a pageant of aromas and throngs of people. I expected ancient architecture, cobblestones and fresh food markets, but all we see between the modern structures is arid earth and struggling umbrella pines.
It turns out we are staying in the Soho of Rome. It’s all sharp angles and expensive fabric. The deep scent of leather permeates the air. Stylishly dressed Italians linger over coffee in the afternoon sun, dressed in kitten heels and high collared dresses, statement jewelry and cat eye sunglasses. Midriffs are on display. Gentlemen of advancing years with bulging bellies sport fuchsia scarves and canvas fedoras. Cigarettes dangle elegantly from forefingers. I feel acutely uncool, surrounded by this eternal hipness.
Still surrounded by the gloss and glamour of Piazza Spagna we seat ourselves in a chic café boasting locally sourced vegetarian fare. It’s not a traditional choice for our first meal but we’re too delirious to look elsewhere. We discover that service in Rome is lackadaisical, almost accidental. You seat yourself, and when eye contact and waving don’t work, you shout for your waiter. The check arrives an hour after you’ve finished eating, following some unspoken European etiquette.
When we aren’t extricating ourselves from restaurants, we devour tourist attractions: Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, walking along cobblestone streets (they do exist!) until our feet are aching with weariness. The Vatican, the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, Trastevere. We drink pitchers of Nastro Azzuro, feast on pizza and pasta and gelato. We consume Rome on a super charged glycemic high.
We discover that Rome is vast and expansive, modern and crumbling, histrionic and complex. The men have weary put upon expressions like they are enduring their circumstances until their next bicciere de vino. The women by contrast are dramatic and high strung. We see gypsies clutching at strangers, imploring “ayudatame!”, well manicured women offended by approaching hawkers, outraged matrons shrieking at their taxi driver.
In between our frantic sight seeing, we hunt down a lunch recommendation. We arrive at D’Augusto, not realizing we have stumbled onto a local’s best-kept secret. The one place Roman’s indulge on Sunday afternoon. We politely enquire if we can sit next to an older couple and they are almost forceful in their welcome. Sit. Eat. Enjoy. The gentleman to my left is bald and dressed in a blue velvet vest, a red silk tie and matching leather shoes. He rolls and smokes cigarette after cigarette, barely pausing between the brimming plates deposited on the table. When I ask him what’s good, he orders our entire meal – spicy chicken, potatoes, veal, rigatoni and lasagna. When he isn’t rattling off a rapid stream of Italian, he turns to us and grins. “The only good thing in Italy is la cucina. The rest is gone to shit. But the food.” He kisses his fingers and looks skyward. “Delicioso.”
Just like Rome, he's full with passion and vigor. I’ve found the chaos I was looking for.