If there are two things Italians love to tell you it’s “Non c’e’ problema” (No problem) and “Ci penso io” (I’ll take care of it).
They say these two phrases a lot and it is all so reassuring and you can just sense how in control the italians are in any situation – until there IS a problem – then they hit you with the many reasons there was no problem until __________ (fill in the blank) happened and how they were is control of everything until some unforeseen thing cause whatever was supposed to happen not happen. This is very Italian and if you’ve had any significant experience with the Italians in Italy you’re laughing right now because you fully understand this.
This was one of the first things I overheard this morning as I was enjoying an early caffe latte and cornetto, laughing to myself that I wasn’t on the receiving end of that non c’e’ problema.
Today was the first full day in Rome and I was going to meet up with a couple of my main friends from back in 1989 who are both Roman to the core. I wasn’t going to meet them until later that day so I had time to start the day at Pincio, a terrace overlooking Piazza del Popolo. The cool thing about Pincio is you can get a good sense of the layout of the city from up top from Piazza Venezia to the Left all the way to St. Peters directly across. It’s a good place to start almost any trek in Rome. From Pincio you can also walk along a high ridge over to the topside of the Piazza di Spagna and cut through over to Via Veneto.
That morning I had only come up to Pincio for the view though and after heading back down to the Piazza del Popolo, I crossed the city on my way to Campo dei Fiori, a small open air market I used to go to on some mornings for fresh fruit or breakfast. On the way there I crossed through Piazza Navona to see how things looked these days. I only noticed two differences from the place I knew – Cafe de Colombia was now gone (too bad) and with the huge Gucci banner covering one of the buildings it was clear that someone figured out they could sell ad space in one of the most visited places in the city.
One of the things I was looking to pick up in Rome was a new Moka for making stove top coffee. I had remembered that Campo dei Fiori also sold some housewares so I was happy to see a few stands selling this sort of stuff. The small streets around Campo dei Fiori are really better than the main piazza anyway which is a little touristy at times. The little streets there are quiet and to some degree even have a local, “not much going on here”, type of vibe. You see people going about their daily lives picking up groceries, reading the paper, sweeping the front stoop, and you can smell the early kitchen aromas at 9am from the residents preparing lunch for a few hours later.
The great thing about Rome and in fact most of Italy is the local markets and food shops. In Italy you have to search for a bad meal and in part much of that is because they have great ingredients. From fresh grown vegetables and fruit to incredible cheeses, what most in the USA would consider a hard to find or an expensive treat, the local shops in Italy deal in as daily fare. Even though it is considerably more costly today that it was back when I lived here in 1989 and was spending in lire (a far more interesting money than the Euro because it had it’s own personality and everyone was a “millionaire”), these ingredients are part of life in Italy and if you can’t afford it you figure out a way to afford it.
After roaming around the back streets I crossed back over the Tiber to get into St. Peters. It was a beautiful sunny day but there was a massive line to get into the church wrapping around 3/4 of the entire square. Let’s just say I didn’t waste 2 hours of my short trip back to Rome waiting in that line. There are now airport style x-ray machines to enter St. Peters (maybe it’s been this way for a while) and it’s all business. What’s not changed is the look of disappointment on people’s faces when they wait in line and get all the way to the front only to be told they can’t enter the church because their shoulders or knees are exposed and that would be a sign of disrespect. Almost as if by miracle there are people right there on the spot ready to sell you a shawl.
In May this isn’t a huge deal but in the summer I’m sure the faithful from around the world have a hard time with this. What also hasn’t changed are the Vatican tour guides that seemingly all have the inside track to the right store where if you buy something from that particular store they can make sure your purchased get blessed at the Vatican before it is delivered in holy form to your hotel room later that same day. Living in Rome and seeing the business side of Vatican City was one of the more eye-opening formative experiences in my life when I was a resident there.
I’ll never forget years ago my Roman friend Daria Z (the one I was to meet up with this same day for lunch) told me as a Roman she tries to avoid St. Peter’s as it’s almost always a logjam of people and traffic. For many Romans the Vatican is like maybe Niagara Falls for the people in Western New York, it’s always there and maybe once in a while you go that way.
I met up with Daria right at the opening of St. Peter’s Square on Via della Concilliazione and we took off in her little Italian car up to the Gianicolo (where there are more great views of Rome). We ended up picking up her mom and driving to the complete other side of town near the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to eat at one of her mom’s friend’s cafes. On the way we passed this car with the windows open and the drive happily singing to himself what might be the most Roman of all expressions “Mortacci vostri, mortacci vostri…”. In English we don’t have an expression that quite captures this phrase but the closest thing might be “your crappy dead relatives” or perhaps “I curse your dead relatives” – and the “vostri” part of that means all of them because on other occassions they use the singular “mortacci tua”. In any event, it was funny to drive by a guy singing this as if it were just on the radio.
At lunch the absolute coolest thing we had (and something I didn’t even know existed) was Caffe al Pistacchio, which is a Sicilian way of taking an espresso that has a base of white chocolate and smashed pistachios and turns your espresso emerald green. It is ridiculously good. You can see what was left of it in this photo.
Some may think doing routine things in Rome would be silly but I was more interested in these three day in seeing daily life than I was some monument. I headed on foot next to the Stazione Termini Train Station. I didn’t have any trains to catch but I hadn’t seen the place in a long time and I really only wanted to hang out in daily Roman life. That and I also was going to meet up with another one of my good friends from Rome, Renato, a partner in one of Italy’s biggest law firms not so far from that area.
The great thing about having friends in Rome (or any city really) is you see the place on a completely different level. After heading over to Renato’s law firm we jumped on his moto and shot across the whole city to go grab a drink near my hotel and catch up a bit.
We ended up back where I started my day in Piazza del Popolo at Bar Rosati for a San Bitter. It’s too bad we don’t really drink bitters in the States because even though it is an acquired taste (think non alcoholic Campari), it is a great drink. Bar Rosati has been there forever and I don’t think it’s the kind of place you go on a daily basis because it’s in a very packed Piazza but you go for the view (below) as the outdoor cafe is right in front of the two churches on either side of the Via del Corso.
My friend Renato told me there was a party later that night at one of his friends house and invited me. When I got there I noticed parked police cars and a security booth on the corner and entrance to the next door neighbors home. While waiting there for my friend to arrive, I asked the cops what was with all the security. They told me that the house behind them was the residence of the Israeli Ambassador to Italy. Later my friend told me “questa strada e’ la strada piu’ blindata di Roma” (this is the most armored street in all of Rome). Nice.
The party had a sort of “Eyes Wide Shut” feeling, there were 15-20 couples there, all well dressed, to hear a recital from an incredible piano player from the Academia di Santa Cecilia and she played this amazing piece of music called “La Jota Aragonesa” with a nice dissonance in all the right places. The house belonged to a friend of his who is the head of an investment firm in Rome and after the recital we ended up on the roof for cocktails and food.
I learned that evening that most of the crowd in Italy has only the propaganda view of Barack Obama. Many of the Italians only heard the “marketed” version of the American President and were unaware of the real story. I can imagine this. Truth be told how many Americans really know anything about Italian politicians other than the 10 seconds they might get on TV once in a while. One of the women at the party said to me about Obama with absolute confidence … “Vuole che tutti stanno bene, Michelle e’ bella e anche la famiglia” (Obama just wants everyone to be well and both his wife and family are beautiful). That’s the marketed image of Barack Obama that so many people see overseas and they’re just not getting essence of what’s taking place in the USA currently. In our conversation she was astonished to hear the other side of the story.
Back to the hotel. There was one more full day to go.
Day 1 is here.
Day 3 is here.