Familiar Friends, Familiar Places

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"Hey, Al! What About...?"

A fairly large contingent of people from my company and a few others had to fly over to Roma for a week of meetings. Everyone pretty much knew I knew my way around and so I ended up getting pelted with newbie questions. I finally wrote a "Rome Tips" page and sent out the URL.

I did like having the questions asked, though.

My first day I met up with one of the guys and we walked around a bit. We ended up in Piazza Navona doing a typically tourist thing - eating a pizza at a cafe. It was an acceptable meal and I went back to the hotel and slept. I was timeshifted the next day. Everyone else appeared at the hotel the next morning just as I was finishing breakfast. They checked in and we then out on the Rome Death March.

I took my ragged band of Americans around to the various typical sites. I gave my now well-rehearsed spiel. In fact, we would go out every night after work and before dinner to some favorite spot of mine and we'd look at it, talk about it and then find some place to eat.

Seeing the Stuff... and Stuff

Via Giulia One of my coworkers and I visited the Vatican and afterwards took a stroll down Via Giulia, a Renaissance era street built by Pope Julius to give him a straight line into the Vatican area. It endured various zoning law changes, swinging from snooty neighborhood to holding a jail and then returned to its snooty roots. It's lined with old palazzi and the vine-covered walkway bridge at the southern end was designed by Michaelangelo.

As a group one night we all visited Trajan's markets, which is a part of the various Fori that have been excavated over the years (and then plowed under by Mussolini when he built Via de Fori Imperiali). Trajan built this one right next to Augustus' forum, which is across Via dei Fori Imperiali from the "Roman Foum", which is the one Julius Caesar built. It's an extensive ruin; the hemispherical wall that faces the street is the remains of an immense inner space which was covered with, of course, a huge dome. What remains today are those walls and a few columns. Behind the curved wall , cut into the hill, are a series of shops that are incredibly well preserved. As is typical of this town, buildings have been built on top of these, using the ancient contruction as foundations and walls. A church uses the first few floors of Trajan's work as a foundation up on the hill behind.

It seems the Italian government has been investing money into the restoration of both Augustus' Forum and Trajan's Markets. The scaffolding is extensive and the stairs and ticket booth are evident.

I spent Saturday out at EUR, which was Mussolini's "suburb of the future" 60 years ago. It has a stark quality and unabashedly echoes the Empire that ended 1500 years earlier. Several of the buildings use Coliseum-like layers of archways and large statues. The modernistic details set them apart from true Classical style, but the intent is clear. Mussolini's rule was meant to be a resurgence of the Roman Empire.

Along a wall that borders Via dei Fori Imperiali are a series of maps that show the extent of the Empire in ancient times. Rumor has it the blank fifth spot originally held a map of the "modern" empire. This map was apparently recently found in storage somewhere in the city. But I don't know anything else about it. Sorry. :-)

Dealing with the Locals

The weather was warm, humid and rainy for the week I was there. I had neglected to bring an umbrella, but never mind. Everything is available for a price in Rome, of course. The same sidewalk peddlers that harrass you every 20 meters selling cheap T-shirts when it's sunny switch to umbrellas when the rain starts.

There were always a group of them outside the hotel door.

Trajan's Market If they said anything - usually they'd just show me one as I left the building - it'd be "Umbrella?". So, one day it was raining and I needed one.

"How much?"

"Ten thousand." (Ten thousand Lira is about $5.50)

"Ten Thousand! No, that is too much! Too much! Five thousand!" and I started to walk away.

"OK, five thousand."

Well, cripes. That was no fun. He gave in too easy. But I had a black umbrella for less than $3.

I managed to lose that one within 24 hours, so I bought another one.

"How much?"

"Ten thousand."

"Ten Thousand! No, that is too much! Too much! Five thousand!" and I started to walk away. Heck, it worked the first time.

"Eight thousand."

"No, five thousand."

"Eight thousand."

"No, you are wasting my time. Six thousand." Now I really do start walking.

"OK, six thousand." He then pulls out a lame looking blue one.

"No, signore. Nero (black)."

Pink House "Ten thousand", he says. I am busting up inside, ready to burst out laughing. But, I must be strong!. "No!" and I walk away. He follows me.

"Five thousand," I say.

"Ten thousand."

Sigh... I do need an umbrella, but he is one of literally a dozen guys within 10 meters of me selling these f'ing things. "Signore, six thousand, but that is all. Six thousand."

"Seven thousand."

Now I am ready to throttle the guy, but OK, "Seven thousand." I smile as I walk away with my new umbrella and the cute Italian girl walking next to me is smiling, too. She saw the whole thing and is as amused as I am.

One night the group went to a local hole-in-the-wall place. The cook greeted us and took our order. The first guy in our group ordered spaghetti vongole - spaghetti with clams for twelve thousand lira. Immediately the cook says, "I can make you all spaghetti vongole!" I just burst out laughing because it's obvious he doesn't want to cook three or four separate meals. It's easier to make one than four, right? So, I said, "OK, we'll all have spaghetti vongole, but for a special price! Ten thousand for each! Dieci milla. Tutti quaranta milla! (forty thousand for all of us, we were four).

We all start laughing as the cook drops his head and says, "I have to ask. I am not the boss."

So we're all snickering and I of course am inordinately proud of my cleverness when he comes back and says, "OK. Special price." Hooray!

Later I managed to get a free beer out of them, too. Hey, I was on a roll!

Visiting Friends and Eating (The Important Things!)

As a group we all went to Le Grotte again and had limoncello as an aperitif. Yahoo! I thought of an old friend who is no longer with us and with whom I shared a limoncello in that same restaurant two and a half years earlier. Amazing how time passes by, isn't it?

One of my cow-orkers and I had a great dinner with two of our Roman friends and I had dinner at a great vegetarian restaurant near Piazza di Spagna with two other friends my last night in town. Funny how food seems to be the main point of going to Rome and Italy with me, isn't it? As is usual for me I walked almost everywhere. I was walking towards Piazza di Spagna to meet my friends for dinner when I was asked by an Italian woman (in Italian) if I knew where Piazza Venezia was. Well, since we were near Piazza Barberini we weren't far, so I answered her in my best Italian (which is to say, terrible Italian). I then said a few words in English and she replied, "Oof... English... OK." I reconfirmed what I had told her and off she went, her umbrella held high. Ah well, perhaps I should have insisted she join me for dinner, eh?

Rome has become a comfortable friend. I was showing everyone around without a map. I knew where everything was except for Piazza Navonna - I can't seem to put it in the proper north-south space for some reason. I guess I have to keep going back until I get that right!