That horrific crunching noise you hear is the sound of me riding rough-shod over chronology. So I’m going to tell you all about Roma, which is where I am right now and which is where I am way way way too excited to wait until I’ve finished with Cambodia to tell you about… or even to observe the basic rules of grammar apparently.
Where to start!? How about with breakfast? Does anyone else have an unhealthy fixation with hotel buffet breakfasts? Let me be the first to stand up and admit: my name is Lauren Everdell and I am an addict. I absolutely, positively cannot resist ridiculously tiny muffins, arrays of dried fruit in sauce jugs, 6 different flavours of yogurt that all taste the same, juice in enormous and impossible-to-wield jugs, cereal in insanely complex dispensers, the feeling that everyone in a ten mile radius is staring intently at the back of your head and criticising your fast breaking etiquette, the fact that europe is still pretending it eats salami for breakfast and us Brits are still going along with it, the overriding terror that you will drop a plate, the certainty that you will eat more than you have ever even attempted to eat in one sitting ever before simply because it’s already paid for, ignoring the feeling that going back for thirds is conspicuously greedy and doing it anyway because you’re fearless like that and taking a ridiculously tiny muffin for the road because sitting down to eat is for slow pokes.
Moving, somewhat gingerly, on from breakfast. Today has been a day of Piazzas and Palazzos. I have noticed that one does not walk in Rome, one does not amble or stroll, saunter, sashay, toddle, mosey or wander either, let alone meandering or perambulating. The basic rule of thumb is to strut. “To strut,” meaning “to walk with a vain, pompous bearing, as with head erect and chest thrown out, as if expecting to impress observers.” So, accordingly, having taken a very Italian amount of time over my appearance I left my hotel and strutted off…. in totally the wrong direction. Pretty tough to do a u-turn with any vanity or pomp really, one-eighties tend more toward the sheepish end of the ambulatory spectrum I reckon. And so I gave up pretending to be Italian in favour of a dawdle. On a related note; have you ever tried to walk in goggle-eyed wonder, gazing around you and drinking in the beauty of a culturally astonishing city… with cobbles underfoot? I’ll tell you now it’s a f*cking nightmare! (Pardon my french, and mum, if you’re reading this I’m so very sorry I kiss you with this mouth) but really! What masochistic moron with a penchant for wrenched leg ligaments thought up cobble stones!? Combine this with the tendency for blond women to attract the attention of every male in Rome and my day has been rather tortured by shame. It’s no good being all sexy and aloof, fielding the lolling tongues of builders and cafe waiters with demurely fluttered eyelashes…. only to oafishly trip over your own feet as you forget that you have toes which are biologically designed to fit perfectly between two cobblestones and lodge there and completely explode your carefully orchestrated je ne sais quoi.
Where was I? Oh right, heading off in the wrong direction. Moral of the story: give in and break out the map. Once I did this I had a revelation, I went full on tourist: camera, guidebook, map, broken Italian. It was glorious. I got in peoples’ way, I nearly got run over by about 5 taxis at once, (the general rule in Rome is walk and pray, if Santa Maria’s got your back you’ll be alright, and it turns out she’s got a soft spot for pedestrians with vias to cross), I stuttered into the faces of many waiters, I blocked the views of many tourists and I dripped mint choc chip on a couple of locals, I shamelessly snapped shots of seemingly mundane Roman buildings and revelled in a tourists right to stop dead in the middle of a street to inspect her map with her tongue poking out in concentration. My advice: come to Rome and ogle. It’s beautiful and everyone’s so busy strutting they don’t even notice a little girl with a map and a sony cyber-shot. When I finally figured out which end of Piazza del Poplo to leave by I was well on my way. What followed was a lot of this:
But then, then something outstanding happened. Behold… the scene of the Great Pizza Orgasm of 2012.
Doesn’t look like much, I know. But inside is a droll Roman with an enormous knife. With said cleaver he will hack a slice… no, slice is the wrong word… a slab… of your favoured flavour of pizza from the enormous oblongs of deliciousness laid out behind his counter. Then the strange Italian tradition of having your food wait for you at a table while you walk away from it to pay will play out (I think it’s a ploy to build suspense personally) and at last, finally,you will find yourself perched on a high stool before your slab, which the thoughtful owner has kindly divided into four innocent-looking fingers of pizza bianca. There are two basic categories to choose from: bianca or rosso. Bianca means white, and translates to real life as “no tomato sauce,” while rosso, meaning red… well, you get it, right? Directly resulting from there being these two main pizza shorthands will be the strange phenomenon of having your meal punctuated not only by the crashing of the proprietor’s machete, but also by his bellows of “bianca!!” and “rosso!!!” as stocks of each diminish under the masticating weight of the lunch rush. Within each category are the standard variations of cheese + other key ingredient. Fresh mozzarella, tomato and bazil, mozzarella and zucchini (sorry… courgette), mozzarella and beef, mozzarella and pork, mozzarella and mozzarella. I plumped for mozzarella and spinach. So, having parted with my money and climbed into my seat I sloughed my coat and bag. I lifted one steaming slice to my lips. I took a tentative bite, and… oh. my. god.
This was not pizza for the faint hearted! There was a veritable mountain of mozzarella, gorgeous, oozing, melted, creamy mozzarella, and about a metric ton of spinach. Now, spinach has a bad rep, I know, but I just so happen to rate it, alright. Someone has to. The base of the pizza was wafter thin and crispy in the extreme and here and there were scattered tiny nuggets of minced beef. I very nearly had a genuine moment of silence. Anyone who’s had dinner with me will know that moments of silence are usually reserved for desert, and even then almost exclusively for banoffee pie. But this, this was savoury with a smile. Too much of a smile it turned out. I was only half way through my four delicious ingots when I felt my strength waining. Between the salt and oil of the cheese and the richness of the spinach plus those little land mines of mince my poorly-trained English system was receiving a serious continental battering and I was unequal to the task at hand. I forged ahead as best I could, making it half way through a third slice. But I was weak, and, gathering my belongings as fast as I could I hustled, head down, from the bakery my chagrin following close behind.
I decided, like any self-respecting tourist in Rome, to recover with an ice cream. I have been to Rome once before, with my Dad, and I had fond memories of ice cream by the Trevi fountain. I decided the walk to Trevi would give me time to rally. Then round two could commence. I consulted my map and set off at a cheery, cobble-negotiating amble. My dolce vita was nearly punctured by a bout of leering from a priest… I mean really! But fortunately my Iphone (yep, unashamed apple fan boy) came to the rescue. Like most card carrying members of 21st century youth, I was plugged in, and at that very moment The Georgia Satellites filled my ears. I seem to be afflicted with a particularly frustrating taste in music: it has a habit of causing me to bop. You know, wiggle, bounce, sway, tap and otherwise “groove.” When I find myself in a public place at these moments… well you can picture the scene.
A young woman trips slightly over a wayward cobble stone. Catching herself, she looks up, in the shy hope no one has seen her, straight into the grinning face of a passing lascivious priest. She frowns, displeased and embarrassed. She hurries past and…. begins to boogie.
…Not exactly the stuff film noir is made of… Also, I know, I know: Shut up about the wretched cobble stones already. I promise. Next time, I keep my paving complaints to myself.
Anyway, I made it, rad dance moves and all, to the Trevi and of course, ice cream was a runaway success. A little lost-in-translation flirting earned me an extra scoop of tiramisu flavour. (Yep, I’m a shameless hussy. But, you know what… all’s fair in love and ice cream.) The rest of my day is a blur of carved marble and sunshine – I spent it reading Sherlock Holmes on the Spanish Steps.
I’ve got to go now: it’s midnight and I’m exhausted. But more tomorrow, I promise. I don’t doubt Rome with deliver plenty to boast about. In the mean time I’ll leave you with this to ponder… did you know, that the Pantheon has an iphone app?