Rome is Where the Heart is
I fell in love in Rome.
In love with my boyfriend, yes, but also with travel. I don’t remember how or when we first talked about going to Italy, but I got my passport at the end of July 2004, and we went to Italy at the end of August. I remember that the Republican National Convention was going to be taking place in New York and we wanted to avoid the madness. Scott and I had been dating since March of that year, and traveling to another country together – Italy, no less – seemed quite romantic and adventurous and wonderful to me. The very idea that it was this easy – this possible – to become a “world traveler”! It was eye-opening. And I loved it.
When I was a kid, my family used to drive across the country from Texas to Washington (state) to visit my aunt and uncle every other summer for two weeks on vacation, so I saw a good portion of the western US, albeit through the eyes and interests of a 6, 8 and 10 year old. But the only times I had ventured outside the continental US were 1) a 4-day trip to the Bahamas that my boss gave me as a gift, and 2) church mission trips to Mexico when I was in junior high/high school (interesting tidbit about your Ramble Girl – she was once a Bible-toting Baptist whilst growing up in the great state of Texas. But I digress). I knew nothing about leaving the country and I didn’t do anything that I would now do in preparation for a trip. I didn’t study the area, or its history. I didn’t know how to get around, and I didn’t have a map. I took ridiculous shoes and clothes and had very little that was comfortable to wear for an average day of touring. Suffice to say, I was excited but ill-prepared.
Scott has a friend named Domenico who grew up in Italy, and who still lives and works part time there and part time in New York. Dom made our trip more memorable in so many ways. If you ever have the opportunity to travel somewhere with a native of the area, I highly recommend it. (See also our trip to Russia with our friend, a native Ukrainian.) Dom is the kind of guy who knows everyone, and everyone owes him a favor. He had a relative who worked at the Hotel Bernini Bristol, and got us a hefty discount without which we would not have been able to afford such luxury. It’s located at the Piazza Barberini close to both the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. There is a lot of traffic around the piazza, but our room had heavy windows and blackout curtains so that we could have a wonderful view of the piazza when open, and silent darkness when closed. It felt like we were in the center of the city, with all of Rome buzzing past.
Dom took us out two nights for very different but equally enjoyable excursions. The first was a night out in Rome at a restaurant where he was good friends with the head waiter. We must have spent the entire evening eating and drinking. We didn’t even look at a menu; they just brought us what they thought best, and everything was perfect. The first course came with champagne, and every course after came with a different bottle of wine. By the time the desserts came out with the grappa, I had quite sufficiently exceeded my tolerance. (Ramble Girl is no lightweight in the drinking arena, but this was beyond the pale.) After the food and drink extravaganza they called dinner, they wanted us to go out somewhere else. Scott must have put the kibosh on that and somehow we were deposited at our hotel by a friend of Dom’s who kept offering me some of his pot despite my refusals. (To each his own, but I don’t smoke because it just makes me hungry and sleepy.) Night one with Dom: without question, the best meal of my life.
The second night we spent with Dom was at a party his family was throwing. They own a restaurant outside of Rome in a small town. His sister works at the Vatican and she speaks perfect English, as does Dom, but most others there did not. They were, however, incredibly gracious hosts and genuinely seemed pleased to have us there. They were roasting a pig and had tons and tons of food. Someone came in with wine in two liter soda bottles, and Dom told us it was from a vineyard owned by someone in his family. Naturally, it was great. They also had cheese – ah, the CHEESE – like no cheese I’ve had before or since. Dom told us he had driven some distance (hours away) to get this cheese, and I thought that sounded ridiculous. Then I tasted the cheese. Oh, it was worth a day’s drive. Multiple days. In fact, I might fly back to Italy just to eat that cheese. Dom’s father took a liking to me and decided to show me around the restaurant. He spoke a little English and I found him absolutely adorable. He took me into their kitchen, and was showing me the pizza oven. He asked if I liked pizza, and I said, yes, of course. He starts yelling to the cook to make me a pizza. I was horrified seeing as I had just eaten plenty of food (including at least a pound of cheese), and the cook seemed quite busy as it was. But by the time we were finished touring the place, he handed me a piping hot pizza which Scott and I proceeded the scarf. He also brought us espresso with grappa. It seemed that every Italian I met felt grappa was the only way to top off a meal. I don’t do shots or drink straight liquor, and I don’t even drink regular coffee, but they had been such wonderful hosts that didn’t know how to refuse. It actually was fine, probably because I was feeling no pain after yet another evening of massive quantities of food and wine.
We took an interesting day trip to Naples and Pompeii. Seeing Pompeii was fascinating. It was also very hot and very big. Be prepared to walk a lot and if you visit in summer, know that your favorite place will be the cafe where they sell ice cream. When we saw it, we thought it had been sent directly from Heaven. (Similar sensation: Hot chocolate at Starbucks in the freezing cold Forbidden City in Beijing.) And in case you think I am over-romanticizing Italy, I can tell you without hesitation that Naples was D-I-R-T-Y. Giant stinky piles of garbage stacked in the middle of the streets. Perhaps the garbage situation was temporary and has since been rectified, but when we were there it was just gross. I still recommend the trip to Pompeii, though.
Our other days and nights in Rome were more traditionally touristy, but unforgettable. We saw Michelangelo’s amazing work at the Sistine Chapel, were in awe of St. Peter’s Basilica, and stood in the center of St. Peter’s Square. We ate gelato on the Spanish Steps and drank Chianti at Piazza Navona. We marveled at Ancient Rome as we walked through the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon. Legend has it that throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures a return to Rome. I threw several, and I certainly hope that particular legend is true.
Late one night, near the Triton Fountain in Piazza Barberini I turned and looked at Scott and I knew in that moment that I had fallen in love with him. When I was a teenager, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a man who would make every day an adventure. I’m not 16 anymore, and I know that far too much time has to be spent at jobs we don’t love and activities that are more necessity than joy. But I still saw that Scott could be that man for me. He’s always learning – much more so than I am – and he’s creative in ways big and small. He can be judgmental and difficult, some days to the point of exhaustion, but he believes in my dreams and my abilities and pushes me when I want to be lazy. He took me to Rome and obliterated my ideas about the size of my world. It’s easy to fall in love in Italy, I suppose, but these many years later it feels just as real.