Thursday, 3 November 2011 – Part III of III
On my way in, I figure it won’t hurt to check if there is a room available, regardless what booking.com showed. My friend, Antony, the ultra-professional desk clerk who had seen me to my room when I arrived, tells me I can stay another night, but I will have to change rooms, from 14 to 12, to an actual single – and the price will be the same as tonight, 88 euro. (I must have been upgraded at no charge, without even realizing! :-)) I am thrilled, not to mention relieved. Whew! Yippee! Another night in Rome!
I would like to do the Forum/Palatino tour, since it is included on the Colosseum two-day ticket, but I don’t think I’ll make it. I am more interested in visiting Castel Sant’Angelo and can take a look at the Vatican and St. Peter’s if I head there, since the closest Metro stop is near there. I would also like to see Santa Maria Maggiore or stop back in the Pantheon area to eat. So much to see (in my quest to visit as many Dan Brown novel locations as I can), so little time. I’ll have to check out by 11 on the 5th and figure out where I’m headed next so I can figure out the Eurail pass and get any train reservation needed. (NOTE TO SELF: Write in the travel date!!!)
After all this spinning in my head, as I make my way to the room (remember, the elevator is very slow…), I figure it’s time to relax for a bit. I am really worn out. I check my e-mail, look at booking.com again to research Genoa and Nice in case I end up there in my quest to avoid natural disasters, and change clothes. Ugh – 6 p.m. now, and I am sooo hungry, still running on the granola bar I had for breakfast. Time to go in search of nourishment.
I start walking up and down every street in my little neighborhood, checking what’s on the menu (most of them post it by the door). Nothing sounds good, no matter where I look – think I must be over-hungry. I stop at one place, and it’s time for the next round of “mistaken for Italian.” This particular joint seems very tourist-friendly; its menu is posted in six languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, and a couple of others. My brain capacity is so limited at this point that I am scanning through one of the menus and not even paying attention to what language it is. (My language skills always seem better when I’m not fully functional, for some reason.) The young Italiano host approaches, observing which menu I am focused on, and points to a different one as ‘Italiano’. It is only at this point that I realize I am scanning the Spanish one. Awakened from my semi-comatose state by his intrusion, I glance briefly where he’s pointing and then shift my gaze to the English version. I flash him a quick smile as I proclaim ‘Inglese’ and watch the (by now anticipated) surprise flash across his face. (In case you can’t tell, I am getting a kick out of all this confusion. When I planned my wardrobe for this trip, I deliberately tried for a more continental look than I would typically wear, in hopes that I would not be immediately identifiable as an American. Guess it’s working!)
I end up passing by the pizza place right at the entry point to the neighborhood, where my “friend from Texas” works, and he immediately recognizes me and approaches. He gives me a big hug, asks for my phone number, and tries to persuade me to stay and have a drink. I graciously beg off all counts and continue on my way down the street.
I settle on what appears to be a very reasonably-priced place, Trattoria Pizzeria Luzzi, right across the street from the Anti Luzzi Café that fed me last night. It’s again on the early side for eating here, so there are only a few people at the long outdoor banquet-style tables, and I am hoping it’s just the time and not an indicator about the food. The host seats me at the near end of one of the long tables, the rest of which is empty.
After much deliberation over the menu, I decide on the risotto with prawn cream. The host regrettably informs me they have run out of this, as well as my second choice. The good news is they do have the grilled squid and prawns I wanted, so I order that with some gnocchi and, of course, vino, served in a small bucket glass as opposed to a wine glass (hmm…that’s interesting…starting to wonder what to expect from the food at this point…then again, I often drink my wine from a small bucket-type glass at home, easier not to spill with. :-)). For some reason, the word ‘gnocchi’ has given me consistent problems in the past; I always want to say ‘chee’ at the end instead of ‘kee’. The host/waiter corrects my mispronunciation, and I am pretty sure I will never make that mistake again. (This knowledge makes for some amusing anecdotes months later in Las Vegas, which has only sealed the correct pronunciation in my mind.)
Well, for as quiet as this place was when I got here, it’s rapidly picking up. Shortly before I ordered, the host seated a man around my age, with a boy of maybe 10 or 11, at the other end of the table. Not long after, the host brings a couple over, seating them between myself and the man at the other end, on our side of the table. The couple looks very friendly, and the guy is a little boisterous, not in a bad way. The funny thing is he’s speaking English, with a clearly Australian accent. I think “What are the odds, English speakers right next to me?” Not one to strike up an immediate conversation with strangers, I just silently enjoy their accents while sipping my wine.
Not long after, another couple is brought to the table and seated across from me. The outgoing Australian is like the social coordinator or welcoming committee, and it is immediately obvious that the new arrivals are also English speakers, this time with an Irish accent. As the group got acquainted, the quiet man at the end of the table was drawn into the conversation, also an English speaker from Sweden as it turns out. I can’t help but wonder if the host has intentionally arranged the seating.
As the conversation continues, I still seem to be invisible. No one even tries to draw me in (which seems odd for the outgoing Australian), and it works for me because I like to be the silent observer, at least for a while. The Irish guy is almost directly across from me, and I quickly notice he is the observant sort. I catch him glancing at me discreetly several times as they all talk, perhaps because a small smile flashes across my face from time to time, in response to some of the amusing anecdotes being shared. At last, he can take it no more and bluntly asks if I’m Italian. Seriously, just looks at me and says, “Are you Italian?” I pause for effect and then slowly, as in Texas-drawl slow, proclaim, “I’m from the US.” This stops the Australian in his tracks for a moment, before he bursts out with a hardy laugh, as everyone else at the table also chuckles. To find out we are all primary English speakers is amazing and amusing to us all (and again I wonder if it was by design). I mention that I had noticed as each group arrived at the table, because I’d always heard that, for the best food, you should eat where the locals eat, and realized clearly this wasn’t the place. I am rewarded with a big laugh all around.
We go through a full spectrum of subjects as we chat the night away – climate change, water use and the desert – all global issues with the advantage of truly ground-level global perspectives. A typical topic might go something like this… Irish guy: “Our seasons have changed considerably – temperatures, rain levels and the sort. Have any of you seen that where you’re at?” And then the conversation begins, with full participation around the table. This happens topic after topic (including one focused on water use in the Vegas desert, thanks in large part to the Australian’s questioning), and it is a pleasure to be able to have this sort of conversation at all, much less with strangers. I continue to wonder why those from Europe and “down under” seem so much more informed about and interested in conversing on a wide range of topics compared to most Americans. The isolationist tendencies in the States really concern me. Anyway, I digress. This night is like a small refuge in my journeys through lands that are not primarily English-speaking, and I find myself a bit wistful when it is time to say ta-ta.
When I get my tab, I am pleased to find there is no coperto (seating fee) here either. My bill is 15 euro total ($20) – 4 for a ½-carafe of vino and 11 for my ‘combo meal’. And the food was fine in the end, nothing fabulous but certainly edible, and it filled the huge void of sustenance that had needed to be satisfied.
Again, I am exhausted, especially with a belly full of pasta, seafood, and vino, so I head back to my room. As I near the hotel, I notice there are people walking right behind me speaking American English. I guess they must have had an experience with the locked door as well, because they ask me to hold it for them. I am pleasantly surprised to hear the English (guess it’s just “English” night) yet am too tired to strike up a conversation. That will wait till another day…
I head to my room and go directly to bed; no wi-fi, no TV, and no last-minute excursions for me tonight! It’s only 9 pm when I hit the pillow.