From the Piazza de Popalo, you can see down five streets. If there was a sixth street, a Val del Past, I might have been able to see the day before.
I’d see us at the airport with plenty of time, relaxed, through security and detached from all the hassles of preparation. A slow lunch at a nice airport restaurant. I’d see the flight to Phily, where I sat next to an avid reader and chatted about books and life. Even at Philly, where Air Force One’s passage snarled traffic and kept our Rome flight on the ground for 90 minutes while we waited for 110 Italian cardiologists (flying home from a New Orleans convention) to catch up, that was fine. The plane was quiet; we got what sleep we could. In midmorning, we were descending from gloriously clear skies into Italy. A quick train trip into the capital, a little confusion finding the hotel, and we were there. Time for a little easy-going first-day sightseeing.
We returned to Termini Station, as close to Miéville’s Perdido Street Station as you could get, huge, sprawling, busy, confusing, disinterested, exciting. Some fumbling at figuring out purchasing tickets and then we were cattering along in the flesh-packed toothpaste tube of the Rome subway system. Into the sun at Flaminio Metro, and at the Piazza shortly after.
It was strange, this plaza with its identical churches, its obelisk, its crowds, its hawkers. Snapped some shots almost because I was expected to. The idea that this was Italy! This was Rome! had not really sunk in yet.
Finally we drifted down the Via del Babuino towards the Spanish steps, poking our noses into side streets, looking at shop windows, marveling at the tight parking. About this time, realization finally struck. THIS WAS ITALY! THIS WAS ROME!
Lunch was at a small outdoors cafe (so many to chose from). Our waiter was forgiving of our cobbled tour book Italian, speaking English fluently. I ordered wine (so decedent for a weekday from the standpoint of American sensibilities) and spaghetti. And what can I say?
How can I ever enjoy Olive Garden again? This was not just noodles in sauce, this was rapture on a fork, steaming and succulent, eggish and spicy and so very, very good. In our pre-sized, pre-cooked, corporate-profit world, we forget just what food can be. And here was dining at its best, in a small street-sitting restaurant on a tiny lane, wedged in between the ancient building wall and the whizzing mopeds. If I go back to Italy, it will be for the food, foremost.
A little more looking here and there during the day. Then, at my suggestion, we checked out Palazzo del Freddo, an old ice cream parlor, as night fell. So good.
Italy is about its food and its history. Tomorrow, it would be history’s turn.