Saturday, July 10, 2004

I'm on vacation!

Buon giorno. I talked to my sister yesterday and said I was on vacation this weekend, through Monday. She said, 'You ARE on vacation...your whole summer is a vacation!' I wonder if she's been reading my blog... So I'll start with Thursday, our all-day field trip to Terracina and Sperlonga. These are both coastal towns so we were near the beach. Terracina's claim to fame is the Temple of Jupiter Anxur, a huge, arched structure built into the top of a cliff. We explored the town, the temple, and a small museum. The views from the Temple were incredible and the whole thing just makes you wonder how they built this stuff! 'Sperlonga' is a corruption of the word 'spelunca' which is Latin for 'cave.' This is where Emperor Tiberius (perhaps other earlier emperors as well) had a beach villa and a grotto, or cave, where he had a large fishpond and a little dining platform in the middle of the pond. There are several literary sources for this, including Tacitus and Suetonius, and one of them tells the story of Tiberius almost dying when part of the cave collapsed during a dinner party. But the really cool thing is the statue groups they found inside the cave, five at least, and all of them tell different parts of the Odyssey. They were in the Sperlonga museum which we went to...just huge, marvelous, beautiful statues. That was Thursday. Friday was the beginning of my four-day long weekend. Most of the others are away, some to Venice, some to Pompeii, one group even went to Tunis to see the remains of Carthage (Nortern Africa for those of you who are geographically impaired). I decided to stay here and do some solo exploration. So yesterday I started with a trip to Feltrinelli's, a store not unlike Borders, where I found a guidebook on the Slow Food Movement, an Italian phenomenon that is the complete antithesis to fast food. It involves cooking and serving food only in traditional ways, with traditional ingredients, etc. The book is in Italian, and is very expensive, so I stood there and jotted down some names of Slow Food restaurants in Rome. They are known by their snail symbol. A few more stops (bought some linens for my newly painted dining room, had a couple of caffe freddos) and then I wandered the Jewish Ghetto in search of a rumoured wine shop where the owner, 'Mamma' opens only for lunch and serves you what she's having as long as you buy some wine. I found it. It was closed. But all the better, because as I stood, frustrated, in a nearby piazza, I saw people sitting in front of Da Giggetto, perhaps the best restaurant in the area. 'Surely they're not open for lunch' I thought. But they were. And I had a fabulous meal. The waiter was a distinguished gentleman dressed in dress pants, shirt, jacket and tie, and when he saw me writing in my journal, he grabbed the pen from my hands and signed the book as if he were a celebrity. After my meal, I decided he is. I ordered the traditional Roman appetizer, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese and anchovies. 'To follow?' my waiter asks. "I'm not sure yet," I reply. He says, 'You'll have the fish soup. Freshest fish, delivered at 10 o'clock this morning, from Sicily.' Okay then, fish soup it is. Now you have to know something about me at this point. I don't like fish. Shellfish, yes. Fish fish, no. So I find myself eating these wonderful fried zucchini flowers (picked just for me, he says) that are stuffed with anchovies, to be followed by fish soup. When I finish the appetizer, I start to regret letting him bully me into fish. When will I learn???? The 'fish soup' is an oval platter piled high with shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, a small fish steak and two whole fish (without heads), in a light tomato broth with slices of garlic and grilled bread. I dig in and when I look up again, my fingers are wrinkly from being in the broth, and the side plate is a pile of shells, bones and skin. The tablecloth is splattered with the sauce. I barely remember the waiter pouring me a glass of sparkling wine, winking at me, saying, 'Better for the fish.' He didn't charge me for the wine, and he kissed me on both cheeks when I left. I wandered the Pantheon area for awhile, church-hopping, shopping, people-watching, etc. Around 7, I decide it's Slow Food time (yes, I'm hungry again, go figure). One of the restaurants in the guide was also in my 'Top 10 Rome' book, so I figured I'd head there. I find it, after a bit of a detour, and it's a wine shop with about 10 tables. All the people in there are Italian men, smoking, playing cards, drinking wine out of the bottle. I hesitate but go in anyway, I pick out a bottle and the cashier/bartender/waitress takes it from me, opens it and hands it back to me, with a glass. The sign says, 'Tipico cucina Romana.' Yum. I ask for a menu. 'No, no food,' is the reply. What??? It in the Slow Food guidebook, it's in my Top 10 book under 'Top 10 Places to Eat near the Pantheon.' Ah Roma, you're killing me! I sit, drink, read a bit, listen and watch the men play cards, and one of them looks at me, calls me bellissima and brings me a basket full of chocolate-chip/almond biscotti. They close up so I re-cork my bottle and head back into the heat of the evening. By now I've given up on slow food, so I find the nearest ristorante and sit, not caring that no one else is in the whole place. I have four or five waiters serving me, and I have a wonderful little Italian dinner. Tomorrow is another day...

No comments: