Thursday, August 07, 2008

Last Day in Rome 2008

I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. Today is my last day in Rome and although I'm ready to go home, I'm sad to leave. I decided to explore my neighborhood, Trastevere, today. I wandered through its narrow, winding streets, looking in the shops, watching people at work, daydreaming about all the time I've spent here. I found a restaurant whose chalkboard beckoned me with, "We are against war and the tourist menu." A Vespa was parked in front of the counter and every word spoken around me was in Italian. I had bruschetta topped with vine-ripened tomatoes that were bursting with a sweetness that was balanced with fresh oregano. I had my last excellent cacio e pepe because I haven't quite mastered that one at home. I had the vino rosso della casa, something I would never order at home, but that beat most bottles I would order at home. Afterwards, I led Tatyana's group past the Trevi Fountain to Il Vineria di Chianti because she was craving rabbit. We had a great time telling stories of how we met our spouses and savoring our Tuscan food and wine. We made it to San Crispino just before midnight. They were about to close but welcomed us in to taste the best gelato in Rome. It was such a fun night and I'm glad Tatyana et al. live close by - South Hadley, Mass! A taxi-driver I met a few nights ago is picking me up at 8:30 to take me to the airport tomorrow and that will be that. Let me wrap it up with this quotation I read once - If Rome were a meal, or a book, or a woman, or a wrinkled, wise and ancient face, it would be the only face worth studying, the only woman worth loving, the only book worth reading, the only meal worth eating. You must go and go and go again.

Is it Tuesday?

Since I went to Florence on Monday, I must be on Tuesday's blog. Tuesday was fantastic. I slept in and around noon decided what I wanted to do: the Trevi Fountain neighborhood. So I took the tram to the bus to hoof it down the Corso (main street). Whenever I got hot, I stepped into the nearest shop that had air conditioning and pretended to browse. I did find a great jewelry shop, right before the street vendors that sell all the postcards, calendars, and other tchotzkes. I even went into the "mall" and had the best caffe freddo I've ever had, single ice cube and all. After that, I found my way to the nearest Frette shop and splurged on 70% off sheets. I heart Frette sheets. I lugged all my goods along to the Trevi area where I set my sights on finding sandals for Mamma Mia as well as other shopping errands. Along the way, I had lunch at Il Vineria al Chianti, a great Tuscan-style restaurant. I must have been craving good Tuscan food after being in Florence on Monday. I had a tasty Tuscan white bean starter followed by spaghetti alla ragu di cinghiale (in a meat sauce made of wild boar). I sat and read and people-watched for close to 3 hours before I decided to call it a day. Before doing so, however, I found the BEST gelato in all of the world. I must now apologize to everyone I've ever told that Giolitti's is the best because, darlings, I have been corrected. San Crispino's makes gelato from only the freshest, seasonal ingredients and won't even serve their gelato in a cone because cones have artificial ingredients. I had their signature honey gelato and thought I was eating the nectar of the gods. Amazing stuff, people. Anyways, after coming home to drop off my packages and freshen up, I met Tatyana and her peeps for dinner. Her husband and a couple they know have taken advantage of her situation in Rome to make it a vacation. They live in South Hadley, so we've become fast friends and have made all kinds of future plans. We enjoyed some tasty tidbits (meats, cheeses, bread) in their apt (which is under mine), then made our way to Il Buco for what should have been an amazing Tuscan-style eating experience. I had eaten at Il Buco my last night in Rome 2004 and had fond memories of it, so when Tatyana mentioned last week that she wanted "some bunny" I informed her about the place. She ate there shortly afterward and couldn't wait to share it with her husband and friends. We got there, and it was...closed for renovations. We walked around the block and found a great fresh-seafood place that was a little more refined but quite good. After that, we strolled to the Pantheon for a good look at it in the night light and since we were right there, I brought them to Giolitti's as a tease, telling them it was the second-best gelato in all of Italy. It was a long day for all of us and thus, we made our way home and retired to our respective apartments with satisfied stomachs and dreams of the next day's adventures.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Salve Firenze!

So Karl, a guy in the program who stayed a couple of extra days, asked if I wanted to go to Florence on Monday. Knowing that most museums and cultural crap (which I'm over right now) are closed on Monday, naturally, I said yes. Turns out he had never been to Florence before. So we made a deal on Sunday night - he figures out the travel plans and maps, and I figure out what to do when we get there. Cool with me. We get there smoothly, bus to train station to Eurostar train to train station. Nice. We spot our favorite Italian ad at the train station - it's for one of teh million brands of bottled water and it shows a gorgeous young thing drinking the water with the caption that says she's really 82 years old. Hilarious. At first, when we arrive, nothing is recognizable to me b/c I have not gotten there by train before, but once I hit the Duomo, it's all good. We find the Central Market, a huge food market not unlike the one Chris and I went to in Budapest. We had a blast tasting different meats, cheeses, balsamic vinegars, wines, and limoncellos. After the time we spent there, we were almost ready to go back to Rome! But we did the responsible thing and visited a couple of strange museums that were open. Nothing to "write home about" as they say, although I saw a few nice Michelangelos. We enjoyed a decent enough lunch and did some more shopping in the afternoon while hitting the major Florence sights. The last stop was Santa Maria Novella (Joanne, don't worry...I gotcha covered) and a close-by wine bar. We had a glass of red and some snacks and hopped the next train back to Rome. We found ourselves in the American section of the train, across from a couple who had been on a Mediterannean cruise, and then near a teacher who was going to Rome. We had great conversation and shared travel tips, wine and snacks. We got "home" around 10 and found ourselves awake and hungry since lunch had been around 2. We broke off from each other for 1/2 hour to drop off our packages and freshen up, then went into Trastevere for a late dinner of fried vegetables and pasta. It was Karl's last night, so he needed to call it an early one, but I was glad because "my dogs were barking" and I couldn't wait to go home and review my spoils. Florence is awesome. I'm pretty sure Karl enjoyed his first visit, and I was pretty proud of myself for remembering some Florentine details. Go me. I should get a job as an Italian tour guide! Ciao peeps!

Day of Rest

I gave myself the day off on Sunday. I did some laundry, watched TV (horror!), read a little and napped a lot. Went out to The Morgue pizza place (see earlier post) and had some fritte fiori di zucci, arancini, and pizza quattro formaggio. Had a gelato on the way home and stopped to visit Mike the florist to say goodbye. Not much else to say about that so here are some random musings I've had lately:

Americans who walk into a Tuscan restaurant asking for pepperoni pizza should stay home and order Domino's.

Americans who expect lunch to take 15 minutes should go to McDonald's. They have those here.

Seeing the same cute old man on the tram everyday makes me feel like I belong here. I love how his pants are up to his chin.
The best thing about being in Rome in late July/early August is the SALDI! (sales)

Eating all this good food is not conducive to buying clothes meant to fit Italian women.

The dollar-to-euro ratio totally sucks right now.

Italian deodorant does not work.

Italians stink but they don't really sweat.

I could never walk down cobblestone streets or drive a Vespa in stilettos.

The shoes make the tourist.

My feet hurt.

I heart gelato.

Last Day of the Program

Saturday was the last day of the program. We met in the lab in the morning and we were put into random groups. The assignment was a scavenger hunt for certain pictures and then we had to take those pictures and use all the different technologies we learned to do certain things with them, like Photoshop them, put them in a website, animate them, etc. The trick was we only had an hour and a half. My job in my group was to make a photo collage in Photoshop, so I poked fun a Julian Caesar in it. I called the page "All I want is a beer and a rest" and you can see it above. He was known for shouting "FBD" at like 11 a.m. (First Beer of the Day). I got all "10s" and our group came in second place and won Rome key chains/beer openers. Suitable prize, I think, although we should have come in first ha ha. They gave us the afternoon off then we met at the Colosseum at 6:15 to do our last site visit which was the remains of Roman villas that can be found under the church of Saints Giovanni and Paulo. There's an area that would have been a wine shop, the remains of the dining room with frescoes, a fountain area, and more. There is also a very nice museum there but unfortunately, no photos allowed at the site or in the museum. We knew we were having our last dinner back in Trastevere after the visit, so many of us were dressed up. Unfortunately, bad planning made it that we had to walk to the restaurant, which was unsuitably far and ticked most of us off. By the time we crossed over the Circus Maximus, then the river, then through the Trastevere neighborhood, we were sweaty, sticky, angry, hungry, thirsty and had blisters on our feet. Fortunately, these things all abated when the courses began. Each course had two courses within it - antipasto was a plate of meats and cheeses, and a seafood salad; pasta was a shrimp pasta, and a cacio e pepe spaghetti; main course was steak and potatoes, and various grilled fish; dessert was a millefoglie cake (see photo) and of course, the wine, water, and limoncello flowed freely. We had the whole room to ourselves except for this poor old couple who was stuck in the middle of it all. We toasted them and thanked them for their patience with our cheering and gift-giving and speech-making. Who knows if they understood us! Afterwards, the AUR student who had been our assistant all week had some friends who were opening a bar in Trastevere that very night so a bunch of us went to check it out, then off to bed because mostly everyone was leaving early the next morning. It was a bittersweet night, for sure.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Top 10 Reasons Why Ostia Antica is Better Than Pompeii

10. It's flat.

9. There are second, and sometimes even third floors to walk up to.

8. It's only 1/2 hour from Rome.

7. The merchants' guilds' mosaics are awesome.

6. There are fewer tourists.

5. You can crawl around the ruins.

4. None of the buildings are closed or locked.

3. They have a restaurant that's open and good bathrooms.

2. Playing "What god am I?" on a column base is fun.

1. It wasn't ruined; it was only abandoned so it's in better shape.

Yes, Friday was Ostia Antica day and it was fabulous. I always forget how much I like going to Ostia Antica. It's a great archaeological site, and I enjoy it more than Pompeii for several reasons (see above). There was nobody there, so I got a lot of great pictures of the site without people in my shot (I hate people in my shots!). There's plenty of info about the site on my 7/16/04 blog called "Ostia Antica is Really Cool" and at this website if you're interested. We spent a half-day at the site and then had a group lunch at a restaurant closeby. They served us family style and it was very good, especially since we were all very hot and tired after the site. I rested in the afternoon and then got ready for our gang's last night dinner. Tatyana, Chris, Ramona and Kathy trusted me to take them to a special place I found in my 2004 explorations (see . It's called Antico Arco and is up near the top of the Janiculum Hill. You can read my detailed experience on June 30, 2004 and suffice it to say that it has changed, as things often do. The place no longer looks Italian, but like something you'd find in Manhattan, including the techno background music. The prices were much higher as well, so I felt bad suggesting the place, but I had had such an awesome experience last time I couldn't help it. Luckily, the food was still excellent and everyone enjoyed a memorable meal. I had mozzarella di bufala and tomatoes wrapped in phyllo dough and baked for a starter. For my main course, I had anatra, or duck, cooked medium rare in a honey glaze with roasted potatoes. For dessert, a trio of different profiteroles served over hot fudge with a burnt sugar topping. Everything was amazing. Other highlights of the meal included Kathy's beef tartare tasting appetizer, Chris's sesame-seared tuna, Ramona's chocolate lava cake, and Tatyana's hilarious sense of humor. Even the cab ride home was fun since the driver was playing Totally 80s music and I asked him to turn it up so we could dance a bit. That got him going, and eventually, he gave me his card and said he'd take me to the airport Thursday morning for a discounted fare of 35 euro. He even penned me into his appointment book! So it was another successful evening and all is well in the land of the Ancients. More later...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Thursday: Lab day, si?? No!!!!

I had a great day on Thursday. First, Kathy and I decided that learning yet another computer program was not in our cards, especially not one that was described as being "very difficult." Julian told us we should eat fish the night before and get a good night's sleep. Quidquid (that's Latin for "whatever"). So we skipped. Our first stop was the Campo di Fiore, which I described in a previous post. We wandered around the square allowing all of our senses to feast on the gorgeous bounty found there. As we wandered, we ate fresh raspberries and fragolini (mini wild strawberries), and made a few foodie purchases. We found a great costume-jewelry shop and made a few girlie purchases. Then we decided it was time for lunch, of course. We found a hosteria that smelled wonderful, but they were having their staff lunch so the owner asked if we could wait 15 minutes. We were grateful for the seat and the shade since it's getting very hot here and our feet always seem to be hurting. When the waiter finally came, we ordered proscuitto and melon to start with. The melon was sweet and juicy and perfectly ripe. Since it was Thursday, I decided to be traditonal and have gnocchi tossed in a simple marinara sauce. Bad gnocchi can be very heavy, since it's made from potatoes, but these were light and fluffy, and the tomato sauce was bursting with flavor. Kathy had a carbonara that was the best we've tried yet. We skipped dessert because we were in the Giolitti's neighborhood and that was going to be our afternoon reward. After a bit more shopping in the Piazza Navona and Pantheon area, we happened across a hole-in-the-wall supermercado. We had no idea how big the place truly was, and we were delighted to find a room labelled "gastronomie," containing all sorts of epicurean delights. I bought some wild-boar sausages and guanciale to take home. I can't wait!!! Finally we had our gelato (coffee, cream and chocolate chip topped with fresh whipped cream) and managed to get home with all of our packages. After cooling our feet in the bidet (I've found it to be great for this purpose), we had a little nap time, then met Chris and Ramona for dinner. Chris wanted to visit his old "hood" where he spent some time in the 90's. It's a part of Rome that I don't really know and it was fun roaming new streets. The restaurant he had in mind had closed, which was a big bummer, but a place with street tables under umbrellas lured us in. I had grilled scamorza cheese and spaghetti all' aragosta (with lobster)., both of which were good. Chris claims he can't taste anything because he's a smoker, so he always asks for pepperoncini oil for his pasta. This oil had so many pepper flakes it looked like mud! He was happy. Ramona, who isn't very adventurous with her tastebuds, got cacio e pepe (again). Kathy had something with fish because I think she's getting homesick (she's co-manager in a seasonal seafood restaurant in Maine in the summer). For dessert, we shared a lemony cakey thing with limoncello custard that was way strong, and a creme brulee that had a burnt sugar top that was 1/2 inch thick (too much of a good thing can happen). I now have a theory that gelato really is the best bet for dessert here. Anyway, we topped off the night at an Irish pub (I know...French dessert and Irish beer - quidquid). Overall, it was a nice day spent with good friends, new and old. Here's to that.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Rome versus Home or Why I'd Move Here If I Won the Powerball

Home: Starbucks on every corner. Anything you order costs at least $3.50.
Rome: Locally owned cafes with any kind of coffee you would ever want for less than $1 on every corner.

Home: The poop-streak(s) left by the last person in the lav.
Rome: Plastic toilet brushes left next to EVERY toilet so you can clean up your own mess and spare your neighbor.

Home: Feminine deodorant spray.
Rome: Bidets.

Home: Low-carb diets.
Rome: Eating bread, pasta and wine yet still being in shape.

Home: Mini-vans and SUVs.
Rome: Vast and easy to use public transportation system,s Vespa and SmartCars.

Home: Thinking Boston is old.
Rome: Walking in the footsteps of Caesar.

Home: Buying bottled water.
Rome: Carrying a bottle and refilling it from fountains flowing with fresh spring water.

Home: Botox.
Rome: Daily walks.

Home: Lipitor.
Rome: Red wine.

Home: Hating people who don't speak "the" language.
Rome: Helping people practice when they try to learn your language.

Home: Stiff handshakes or uncomfortable hugs.
Rome: A hug AND a kiss on both cheeks.

Home: Ginormous portions and doggie-bags full of leftovers that more often than not get thrown away.
Rome: Portions that are the exact size you can eat. The translation for "doggie-bag" is "sacco di cane," or "sack of dog." You can only imagine what the Italian waiter thinks you are ordering.

Home: The workday's 20-minute lunch which includes getting and eating your food as well as doing any personal hygiene.
Rome: The workday's 3-hour lunch including two courses with wine and a siesta.

Bless Me Father, for I Have Sinned

Well, I guess God, the Pope, and Julian Caesar are going to have to forgive me for Wednesday's sins. I did the unthinkable and skipped the Vatican. Now, before you get all judgemental on me, just remember that I've been there before...on at least five separate occasions. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Basically, I needed a break. And as much as she is my passion, Ancient Rome is also my work, so I decided to take the day to be in modern Rome and do as the Romans do. So I slept until 10, lazed about until 11, finally got myself together and left by noon. I made my way downtown and left it to my memory to find my favorite wine shop/trattoria. Success! It was right where I left it in 2004, and, they were having a 20% off sale! I feebly asked for "suggestione, e something speziale, a State Uniti" or something to that effect. A nice gentleman assisted me, asking only "rosso?" to which I replied "si." Four nicely bubble-wrapped bottles later, I turned the corner to the attached cafe. The winelist by the glass was in four sections, labelled cult, classic, chic and casual, and there were different symbols to denote rosso, biancho, or rosata. I asked the waitress to choose a nice red and she brought me a taste of Brecciarolo, which apparently is a Sangiovese and Montepulciano blend. Very nice. With that, in air-conditioned comfort, surrounded by beautiful and smartly dressed Italians (interestingly mostly male), I enjoyed a leisurely lunch. I started with an appetizer of warmed fresh bufala mozzarella over arugula. For my main course I had thinly sliced beef rolled around marinated zucchini flowers and topped with shaved parmesan and toasted almonds (practically licked the plate on that one). Then, a dessert of dark chocolate cake layered with ricotta mixed with candied lemon. And there was an Uncle Gene look-alike sitting right behind me. I had to do a triple-take ha ha. It was a fabulous lunch, after which I went back to the apartment for a siesta. We had tickets for the opera for the evening - Madame Butterfly at the Baths of Caracalla. It was an amazing outdoor setting and wonderful experience, but a little confusing to watch an opera set in Japan being sung in Italian at an Ancient Roman site. Nevertheless, we had a great time and all in all, I had a fabulous Wednesday.

Lab Day Five and a Soiree

I realize I'm behind and I do apologize. I have not, in fact, dropped off the face of the earth. Let me get ya'll up to speed.

We had an additional lab day on Tuesday to make up for not being in the lab over the weekend. In the morning we learned a lot of Mac stuff which, being a PC owner, didn't mean that much to me other than it was cool and made me wish I had a Mac. For example, creating MP3 files and making 'songs' on GarageBand. Then Rob Latousek, one of the course organizers, talked about different software that is available for classicists. I knew about a lot of it, but some of it was new so that was interesting. After a lunch of ziti carbonara made with guiancale (pig's cheek) instead of pancetta, we learned an animation creation tool called SwishMax. I really had fun with that and see how it could be a great attention-grabber in the classroom. And it's actually pretty easy! Tuesday evening the six ladies in the apartment below us hosted an Italian soiree. They had gone to the famous Roman outdoor market the Campo di Fiori to buy supplies earlier that morning and bought cheeses, fruits, meats, breads and wines. We had a beautiful feast and enjoyed being able to mingle on their large balcony. Afterwards, Kathy, Karl and I went to a local ristorante for a little pasta and dessert. We were missing Chris and Ramona because they had gone to see a concert in the ancient amphitheater at Ostia. Some crazy rock/alternative band called The Mars Volta. Anyway, the ristorante was air-conditioned which was a huge plus until, just as they delivered our steaming plates of pasta, the power went out. Luckily, it came on again a few minutes later. I had pasta bolognese and shared a fruit platter with Karl who had veggie risotto. Kathy won, though. She had a cheese/honey/pear purse of phyllo dough that was amazing, and followed that with a chocolate lava cake. Holy yumminess! And that was Tuesday!