Sometimes I feel like my life is like a conversation between myself and Tom Petty.
Me: Man, I’ve got the travel itch.
Tom: Time to move on, time to get going.
Me: But where?
Tom: You belong somewhere you feel free.
Me: Duh! Where would you suggest? Italy?
Tom: You belong on a boat out at sea.
Me: But Tom, you know my track record with seasickness…
Tom: Let me get to the point, let’s roll another joint…
Me: Okay, now we’re getting somewhere!
It’s all my dad’s fault: he listened to Tom Petty for ages before I could even say “Tom Petty.” In truth the first complete sentence I said — “Go play on the freeway,” to a cute little old lady at the grocery store — was his fault, too. Supposedly I heard him say it to the dogs… apparently it’s real kids understand more than you think.
Speaking of kids… munchkins actually play into the way things are evolving but first: I want to touch on the way I’ve been feeling lately: like a leaf in the wind. Every day I am blissfully unsure of how things will unfold. It’s the most free and open I’ve possibly ever felt in my silly little life.
So when I read this bit of “Jitterbug Perfume,” by Tom Robbins (borrowed from my Italian friend/queen Lisa) I almost fell off the toilet where I do most of my reading. In this section one of the main characters, an ex-king named Alobar, is having a conversation with the village shaman, who speaks first:
“I encourage you to ride this strange wind that is blowing through you, to ride it to wherever it will carry you.”
“But which way shall I go?”
“That is between you and the wind…”
Lately the wind and I have been having a riveting dialogue, because in the last 72 hours, the “plan” (if anyone can call it that) has changed. It’s worked itself out in the most enchanting of ways, unrolling like pastry dough on the counter, ready to be filled with crema, nutella or marmellata… But the last couple days, my friends, are a story all of their own. Long story short, I am not coming back to the States until September… but the details are still evolving and all of that deserves its own glorious post.
So, while this new direction works itself out like a much, much more pleasant kidney stone, let’s allow the wind to blow us back to Rome, shall we?
We therefore pick up the trail in a hot and humid afternoon breeze outside the train station in Spagna, the Spanish quarter, in search of our quaint hotel. Kelly and Jacob are uncomfortably warm; I — the lizard — am in my happy place.
After ditching our bags at in our cool hotel room and chugging an appropriate amount of water, we burst back into the sun to check off the first item on our tourist list: the ancient Colosseum. And on the way, enjoy horse hats, the stately Altare della Patria and some more really old crap.
Not to be that person (although I’m gonna be that person)… but last I spent time in Rome, it was March of 2005 with my good friend Amy (AP Photo!) and her friend, Sherry. The streets — and the Colosseum — were cold, but deserted. This round it was busier than centro on market day, but nonetheless, the ancient, enchantment of such a structure remained intact.
With throngs of other humans we wandered in awe past old columns the size of Redwood trees and arches that had watched not only gladiators, but now — with an ancient eye roll — modern-day Selfie Stick aficionados battling with their Smartphones. I personally don’t need one because I was born with an arm… actually, two of them…
Even people carried from across the globe and deposited there like so many pieces of guanciale in a really good Carbonara (one of Rome’s specialties), the magnificence of so much history was not obscured. To read the Colosseum was regularly flooded for ship battles is incredible; to read people were tossed into the labyrinth of the Colosseum with lions like fish food into a fish tank to be ripped into tiny little fish food-sized pieces is gruesome… but fascinating, to be sure. Ahhhh, history.
Outside the Colosseum, with sweat moving like curious ants through crevices on our bodies which — unlike the Roman ruins we stood among — had somehow until this point avoided excavation, we spotted something incredible: free cold water. Throughout Italy a refreshing army of potable water pours from the frozen metal maws of lions or stoic faces but here, there was a choice between naturale (still) or frizzante (sparkling) water. From that moment on, the fizzy water stop became mandatory on all expeditions.
Post-Colosseum we paused for our daily gelato stop and found an appropriately ugly spot to suck it down…
We took the scenic way home, bypassing the chaotic, clogged but more direct shopping hub on Via Del Corso, stumbling across this lovely courtyard that probably has a story of its own…
After the hot sun went to bed, we decided a trip to Trevi Fountain — featured in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” — would be next. Despite feeling more like a zoo than one of Rome’s most ancient water sources (the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct built 19 B.C. provided water to the Roman baths and Rome’s central fountains), Trevi fountain at night was still magical. We grabbed a bottle of wine from a nearby enoteca and pizza al taglio (pizza baked in large rectangular pans, sliced in squares and re-nuked) and observed people chucking coins in the water. After some wine and some time, we noticed most people tossed over left shoulders, turned backwards. The key to a wish come true, apparently, is not to watch after the coin leaves your hands.
After leaving the zoo, we retreated to our cool, dark room and passed the flip out.
In the morning it was ____. Yep, you guessed it, hot! After an Italian-style caffeine-pastry breaking of the fast, we headed towards the Roman Forum, rented audio guides and proceeded to march around learning about, among so many other things, the 7th century Temple of Vesta, Umbilicus Urbis (the Roman entrance to the Underworld) and Basilica Julia, built by Julius Caesar. Over it all sat a blue sky over which the brilliant sun ruled; Kelly and Jacob sweated to death and soon retreated to a popular shady area to revamp; I continued my wandering, sweating to life 🙂
Sharing grounds with the Forum was Palentine Hill, one of Rome’s Seven Hills and where Romulus first founded the original city in 753 BC. We wandered among the House of the Vestal Virgins, learning those lucky ladies had to keep their virginal, ahem, properties intact or, of course, they were killed. Lovely.
Kelly and Jacob kicked it in the shade while I ran up to the top of Palentine Hill to check out the garden atop it and of course, the view!
Post-Forum we made a pit stop for acqua frizzante with a herd of other thirsty humans, found more pizza al taglio for lunch and made our way to Via Labicana to rent three neon bikes from Wheely Bike. With the wind in our hair, we zipped over to the (free!) and glorious Pantheon. Formerly a Roman Temple, the Pantheon was constructed between 118-128 BC.
Inside, with everyone else, we gazed silently upwards to marvel at the Pantheon’s spectacular oculus. And — equally stunning — to postulate how, almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon is still the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome. My mind still struggles to wrap itself around such a feat like a thick spaghetti noodle around a fork in a bowl of cacio e pepe (cheese, pepper sauce — another irresistible Roman culinary masterpiece).
After the Pantheon, we zipped through nearby (crowded) Piazza Navona on our way to the river and our obligatory gelato stop of the day: Gelateria Del Viale, some of the best gelato in Rome, according to a friend of mine. We cooled off along the river and rode the long way back to Wheely Bike to return our neon steeds…
After we ditched bikes, we figured we’d have enough time to trot over to the room, powder our noses and head to dinner at the charmingly-named Guilio Passami l’Olio (Guilio, pass me the olive oil). But suddenly we were the Lemony Snickets amongst a series of Unfortunate events: First, missing the first bus because we were on the wrong side of the street. Second, Sylva — The One Who Has Been to Italy Many Times Before forgot to pop in a Tabacchi and buy tickets before catching the bus. And the third bus (of course) was late enough to push our delayed arrival into the realm of “maybe they’re not actually coming at all…” Eventually, we threw in the cheaper public transportation towel in and hailed a cab.
At Giulio Passami l’Olio we found a hopping scene and our reservation had somehow gotten lost in the shuffle like an olive in a very loud, well-dressed salad. Eventually, however, we sat in sweaty clothes and tennis shoe to eat delectable food and consult the restaurant’s fantastic wine bible, or Wible.
To digest and enjoy the temperate evening, we wandered back along the river, enjoying the play of the lights on the water, the trees swaying in the breeze and the feel of a big city under darkness.
Back at the ranch, we made quick work of falling dead asleep. In the morning, at 8:30 a.m., we had a hot date with the Vatican and the even more infamous Sistine Chapel…
Morning found us squeezing onto la metropolitana with the rest of Rome — the Romans to work and us to Vatican City. Like an open bottle of red wine, we poured out onto the streets, directed this way and that by hawkers and helpful folks associated with the Vatican — problem was, it was impossible to tell the difference. But with such volume of people heading to gawk at the plush, art-full innards of the Vatican, we found ourselves funneled right into the gaping, rope-lined mouth of the museum. Luckily, we bought tickets in advance and soon marched up a long spiral staircase into the Vatican.
A sign presented two options: a short tour and a long tour. Two plus hours, Egyptian heiroglyphics, Roman statues, ancient painted maps and medieval tapestries, several Salvador Dali pictures and a Sistine Chapel later, we couldn’t even imagine what the long tour entailed…
In the Sistine Chapel, I was a very, very bad monkey and — amongst loud, firm admonitions via intercom for “Silenzio, per favore; silence, please!” and “no pictures” I fake sneezed, glanced both ways and pointed my very incognito camera straight up:
After the Vatican, we located some grub and had just enough time to sprint up the Spanish Steps for a view before getting sucked back into the cockles of la metropolitana and the expansive Roman stazione for the ride back to Faenza…
On subsequent episodes of The Sylva Lining… there’s Venice and I answer the same question The Clash pondered: Should I stay or should I go now? And furthermore, how? As they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. Or, as this Roman street artist penned: