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Roman food and culture in Testaccio

2 Apr

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If you want to rediscover old-fashioned flavors, try our typical and genuine products! at the Testaccio Market in Piazza Testaccio

I haven’t been this excited about a post in a long time.

Let me just start by saying this:

I CAN HONESTLY SAY I HAVE OFFICIALLY EATEN THE BEST TOMATOES I’VE EVER EATEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

When’s the last time you were able to say that? Personally, I’ve never said it. Until now.

Not that I’m some kind of wacko tomato connoisseur (whoa, had to look up that spelling), but folks, just: wow.

I also had an amazing dish of cacio e pepe pasta (among others), a lively chat with a gelataio about the worst possible flavor combinations one could ever request (coffee and lemon together, apparently), and a variation on a supplì that was simply heaven wrapped in crispy fried goodness.

Before I start in on this, let me clearly state: I realize I’m not treading new ground here, and that in the three years I was gone from Rome, the blogging scene exploded and food blogging here became a “thing”– a mix of trendy and competitive, in which unearthing the most amazing undiscovered food finds here in Rome has become akin to some kind of extreme sport.

That, alas, is not my game, folks. (end disclaimer)

What is my game is doing fun things that celebrate Roman culture, food, and lifestyle. Which is exactly what my brilliant friend Kenny is doing in Testaccio, and doing quite well, I might add. (Y’all remember Kenny, right?)

Kenny was generous enough to invite me to tag along recently on one of his Rome tours in Testaccio. Having never really explored Testaccio gastronomy beyond knowing the “big names” and having a only a very general idea of the neighborhood, I was intrigued.

Without giving away too many of Kenny’s secrets, I will now share with you some photos from this not “three hour tour, three hour tour,” but–bonus!–four hour tour. (Thinly veiled Gilligan’s Island reference was clearly irresistable. As is my irrational love for parenthetical notations.)

Kenny lives in Testaccio and as his website states, he is a man who wears many hats. On the day I joined his tour, he was wearing a dapper tweed one.

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Isn’t he adorable? I know!

There were 11 happy and hungry souls visiting Rome and anxiously awaiting to discover Testaccio’s many gastronomical secrets. I can attest to the fact that they went away more than satisfied. You see, I was spying. I was like, embedded, you know? I can report back that I heard a bunch of the participants say how much they were enjoying the tour. And who wouldn’t?

We met Carmelo, the man who proportedly sells the largest selection and variety of tomatoes in all of Rome. His whole stand is JUST TOMATOES. Hence where I ate aforementioned most delicious tomato of life. Thank you Carmelo! You’ll have to take Kenny’s tour to find out why the locals call him the “tomato poet.” It’s a good one.

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In no particular order, I also discovered amazing cheeses:

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a still-functioning whipped cream machine from the 1930’s:

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a stand selling horse meat (no, no worries, this is not on the tasting menu):

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and–drum roll please–CHEESE PACIFIERS:

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Not to mention a pretty bizarre statue that the stand’s owner simply referred to as a “work of art.” I most helpfully commented that, IMHO (or SLMO, if you prefer), the squash was the most artistic part of the work. Don’t you agree?

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What to say? I tip my hat (as I, too, love them) to Kenny and his well-organized, informative, professional, and above all fun and delicious tour. We tasted ELEVEN–count them–eleven different deliciousnesses (yes, trust me, that’s a word) which ranged from savory to sweet, traditional to non, and all perfectly planned to introduce visitors to a side of Rome they’ll never get if they go on your typical “herd ’em through” tours, mindlessly following someone waving a flag. This, in short, was a lovely experience, and after eight years in Rome, I left with a wealth of new knowledge.

Grazie Kenny, and I wish you much continued success!

If you’re planning a trip to Rome, I highly recommend joining one of Kenny’s tours. Clearly I am not journalistically objective here. But that’s not why you read my blog now, is it?? I get you the good stuff. Period.

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Still the Best Hairstylist in Rome

16 Mar

Tell you a story.

The other night I was at the monthly meeting of the Rome Drinker’s Club Rome bloggers, and I erroneously referred to Kenny Dunn as Luke Archer. (This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the 8% alcohol content of my Belgian Super Beer from Open Baladin. Nothing, I tell you!) But where was I?

Oh yes! So Kenny, who I had never met before (hence calling him Luke, who, oddly enough, is another man I’ve never met before. I suppose I should just stop calling out to random men in bars, for the love of God! What is wrong with me?), when I told him “I am Shelley” of this illustrious blog, looks at me, pauses a moment, and goes… Ohhhh! So you’re Shelley!

I do get this a lot at these meet-ups. It has to do with the fact that I’m like the ol’ granny of Rome bloggers, without the bingo arms, at least not yet. I started in 2006, then quit in 2008, then started back up last June and found myself in this pool of new & improved, younger and hipper lil’ whippersnappers. Meaning I’m like one degree of Kevin Bacon from all of them in some weird shape or form.

Bringing me back to Luke—ahem—Kenny. Who tells me that he knows about me because his friend moved to Rome three years ago and she didn’t know where to get her hair cut and so typed in an online search engine “Rome blog written by crazy American girl who might possibly sometimes get her hair done” which then brought her to this post, and come to find out, she’s been going to fantabulous Alberto for three years now, and what’s more, she just happened to live in the building RIGHT IN FRONT of Alberto’s salon.

All of which totally reminds me of this scene, by the way (well at least up until :22, that is):

I know! It’s that Kevin Bacon thing I was telling you about.

To which Alberto told me, when I told him this tale yesterday while booking a hair appointment: “Well, Shelley, you know why? Because you Americans don’t trust Italians so you have to read other Americans’ opinions on Italian things before you’ll try them.”

Which is reason #3,297 why I love Alberto Rizzuto.

And why this post is dedicated to him and his masterful use of scissors, and for teaching me the word “sudiciume” today. OhmyGodAlberto, I am wholly convinced that you are the first person ever to use this word, maybe and quite possibly in the entire history of the Italian language.

And that is reason #7,432 why I love Alberto Rizzuto.

So follow me now, my friends, on an odyssey filled with hair, candy, and maybe even just a little sudiciume.

First, as always in a story of the good, the bad, and the ugly, there is the ugly:

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Yes, that is me with my humble cell phone camera, trying to faithfully document the ragged mess that had become known as Shelley’s hair. The last time I had gotten my hair cut was back in September. This could be a testament to my lack of material wealth, my laziness, my workaholic tendencies, or possibly just the fact that I am a single mom of three small children. Take your pick! No reason stands to justify the ragged mess, however.

This led Alberto to spread some henna on my head. To which he described to my housemate Taylor, who is just learning Italian, and I quote:

“Sembra merda. Theess eeess like shheeeet. Eeet luuks like sheeet. But eees not color of sheeeet.”

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Um, great Alberto. Always glad to be your guinea pig. (Hairdresser comparing your hair color when applying to the color of excrement? Not promising. But see, here is where the 10 years of trust come in.)

Then he wrapped the shit in cotton and wrapped that in plastic wrap and then covered it all with a black hair net.

Yes, this is also known as the recipe to become the most undesirable woman on the entire planet. But I’d rather like to think of it as a social experiment.

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After which, he cut my hair. I never give Alberto ANY directives on how to cut my hair. We have a routine that has been going on for at least five years. It is:

I sit.

He says, “Io taglio, eh?” meaning, hey there lady, I’m about to start cutting, is that ok with you?

To which I always reply: “Mi fido ciecamente.” I trust you with blind faith.

And it’s true.

Thus, I never know what he’s going to do, how short or long he’ll leave my hair. It’s always a mystery until the end.

So here’s me in the mourning stage:

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I told him I thought it looked like a little dog.

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See how I sacrifice for you, dear readers?

And yet, in the end, you know, it always seems to work out just fine.

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Plus, he has a bowl full of candy and it makes me feel like it’s Halloween. Which, incidentally, is Alberto’s birthday. And which he unceremoniously dumped all over his desk because my housemate was digging around in there for, like, EVER, looking for the one damn chocolate egg that was hiding.

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Unceremoniously dumping candy out to assist someone in locating chocolate? Reason #1,048 to love Alberto Rizzuto.

But most of all, love him because he kicks ass at cutting hair.

And because he and I are going to go on a couple’s weekend to Amsterdam to go see my other secret lover, Eleonora. Shh! Don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.

If I haven’t scared you away, you’ll find Sig. Rizzuto at: Laboratorio Figaro, Via dei Conciatori 22 (Testaccio), Tel: 06 5758099

No, he doesn’t have any kind of fancy-shmancy website. I guess by now he leaves the promotion to me and my blog. Good call, Rizzuto, very good. I’ll try not to make it look like sheeett.

Caffè Inquisition

29 Jun

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The other day, as I was treating my friends Sara and Helen to a caffè completo (yes, I am obsessed, what of it?), an older man looked at me and at my hat on the bar.

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“Is that your hat?” he asks me.

“Yep.”

“Well, signorina, that’s a man’s hat.”

Me: “I know.”

Him: oddly smiling “So why do you have it?”

Me: “Because I like it.”

Him: “Where are you from?”

Me: “I’m American.”

Him: “So, do you know anything about the United States?”

Me: oddly smiling “Well, I do come from there.”

Him: CAPITAL OF CALIFORNIA!!!!

Sara eagerly jumps in to my rescue: Sacramento!

Him: CAPITAL OF WISCONSIN!!!!

And so on, literally for about 25 different states.

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What the heck, man?

Sara then proceeded to quiz him on the regions of Italy. It was this whole surreal 8th grade geography moment. I just thought I’d share. Like, to tell you, brush up on your state capitals if you go to get a caffè completo. I don’t know if you’ll run into this guy, but if you do, I just want you to be ready. That’s all.

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L’altro giorno, mentre offrivo alle mie amiche Sara e Helen un caffè completo (sì, sono ossessionata, emmbè??), un uomo anziano mi ha guardato e ha guardato il mio cappello che avevo appoggiato sul banco.

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“Il cappello è suo?” mi chiede.

“Sì.”

“Ma è un cappello da uomo.”

“E già.”

Lui: sorridendo “E allora perchè lo mette?”

Io: “Perchè mi piace.”

Lui: “Di dove sei?”

Io: “Sono americana.”

Lui: “Sai qualcosa degli Stati Uniti?”

Io: sorridendo “Vabbè, vengo da lì.”

Lui: CAPITALE DI CALIFORNIA!!!!!

Sara: Sacramento!

Him: CAPITALE DI WISCONSIN!!!!

E via dicendo, per tipo ben 25 stati.

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AHO’! Volevo solo prendermi un semplice caffè, non tornare alla geografia della terza media!

Sara poi gli ha fatto un’esame sulle regioni d’Italia, che alla fine ha dovuto rispondere lei a tutte. Perchè vi racconto questo? In realtà non lo so. Perchè è stata una cosa surreale. Perchè voglio avvertirvi. Perchè che ne so, può essere che pure voi dovrete subire un’inquisizione mentre bevete il vostro caffè. O forse ‘ste cose succedono solo a me.

Comunque, il capitale di Wisconsin è Madison, in caso dovesse servire.

The Morning Rounds – I Giri della Mattina

17 Jun

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Moving back to Rome after three years in the States is a big, big adjustment. I haven’t ever lived in Rome with three children. I live in a new neighborhood now as well. It’s hard to feel at home right away.

One thing I love about Rome, however, is the sense of community that one can build almost immediately, just by having certain routines each morning. I have already developed a sort of “morning round” that I take with my kiddos before they go to nursery school/preschool, and it gives me an immense amount of comfort to know that there are certain people I can see each morning and chat with. This is what makes Rome such a special place for me.

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First thing I go to the bar. I think a lot of Roman residents have breakfast at the bar. As far as I’ve been told, it’s not as common up north to eat breakfast out at a bar (I could be wrong here, but that’s what my friends have told me). In any case, I really enjoy this ritual. Besides the fact that there is absolutely nothing like an Italian cappuccino served at the bar with a cornetto (Italian croissant, less buttery, I like mine with jam inside!). When I was visiting in March with one of my very best friends, she wanted a nutella cornetto but they didn’t have any ready. So the pastry baker made one up specially for her! Yum:

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The best part for me though is the banter back and forth with my favorite barista, Stefano.

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That’s us back in March when I came for a visit. That’s when we first became pals, because I was staying here in the neighborhood where I’m currently living. He and I hit it off for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we are both fans of the Lazio soccer team, which bonds us in a way that only Laziali can understand. I heart him dearly. In just the few days since I’ve been back, I know about his wife being off work for a back problem, that he’s already had a little vacation (he’s all tan already, no fair), and that next week he’s working afternoons and not mornings. He’s been a barista for 25 years and his brother is a barista too, in a different neighborhood. What’s more, when I told him I was going to put our picture on the Internet, he said he doesn’t have Internet or email, and that he still hand-writes letters. Love.

Meanwhile we have Orazio, the neighborhood disabled dog. Orazio and his owner are always hanging around the bar in the morning. Orazio has some problem with one of his back legs, and/or he’s just on in years, so his owner has created this cart for him. I feel like he’s the mascot of the bar. I always say hi to him every morning.

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Then there’s the “signora” who runs the pasta shop next door. I think she’s from Puglia because her pasta shop is called “Pugliapast.” I don’t even know her last name, I just call her signora. I know her first name though, Lia. Because she calls herself my babies’ aunt now: “Zia Lia.” Every day she says hi to my baby girls and the first day Paola started crying. So now every day Zia Lia says “piano piano” (little by little) the girls will get to know her. “Ti voglio bene piccola, lo sai?” she says to my girls–“I love you little one, don’t you know?”

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Making my morning rounds gives me a sense of having a little family downstairs. I would miss them if I didn’t see them, and they would miss me too. Vi voglio bene, lo sapete? I love you guys, don’t you know?

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Ritrasferendomi a Roma dopo tre anni in america e’ una cosa grande, sconvolgente. Non ho mai vissuto a Roma con tre bambini. Sono una persona diversa ora. Vivo in un quartiere diverso di prima. Insomma, non e’ facile sentirsi a casa subito.

Una cosa che amo di Roma, comunque, e’ che qui c’e’ un senso di communita’ che in america mi mancava. Una persona puo’ sentirsi a casa quasi subito, giusto prendendo dei rituali ogni mattina, inserendosi nella conversazione quotidiana della piazza sotto casa. Io mi sono subito sforzata per presentarmi alla gente della piazzetta, e mi da’ un sacco di rassicurazione sapere che ogni mattina ci sono certe persone che posso salutare e con cui posso chiaccherare. Per me, quest’e’ la magia di Roma, ed e’ questa che rende la citta’ un posto che non e’ mai andata via dal mio cuore.

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Prima cosa, vado al bar. Credo che tanti romani fanno la colazione giu’ al bar. Per quanto mi hanno detto alcuni amici miei, non e’ cosi’ comune al nord fare colazione fuori al bar. Io sono contenta che qui a Roma si fa, perche’ a me piace tantissimo questo rituale. A parte il fatto che veramente non c’e’ niente al mondo come un bel cappuccino italiano servito al bar con un cornetto italiano (che poi e’ tanto diverso da quello francese). A me piace cosi’ tanto con la marmellata. Quando stavo qui a marzo con la mia amica, lei voleva uno con la nutella e non c’era. Percio’ il pasticciere del bar e’ sceso giu’ in cucina per farne uno espresso. Eccolo, vedete che capolavoro?

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Quello che vale di piu’ per me, pero’, e’ la chiaccherata che faccio ogni mattina col mio barista preferito, Stefano.

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Eccoci noi quando stavo qui a Roma in vacanza. E’ li’ quando ci siamo diventati amici, perche’ alloggiavo qui nella zona dove abito adesso. Io e lui ci siamo trovati subito per tanti motivi, ma certo soprattuto il fatto che lui e’ Laziale lo rende un grande comunque. Percio’ gli voglio un sacco bene. Nei pochi giorni da quando sono tornata, gia’ so un po’ della sua storia, di sua moglie che ha alcuni problemi della schiena poverina, che ha gia’ fatto le ferie (tutto abbronzato gia’, non e’ giusto!), e che la settimana prossima fara’ il turno del pomeriggio. E’ barista da 25 anni e suo fratello pure, ma il fratello lavora in un altro bar in un altro quartiere di Roma. Quando gli ho detto che avrei messo la nostra foto su Internet, mi ha detto che non ha l’Internet e che scrive ancora le lettere a mano. Vi ho detto che gli voglio bene.

Poi c’e Orazio. Orazio e’ il cane disabilitato della zona. Lui e suo padrone ci stanno sempre intorno al bar la mattina. Non so esattamente che fanno tutto il giorno, ma la mattina stanno li’. Orazio ha qualche problema con la gamba, e/o e’ semplicemente anziano, percio’ suo padrone gli ha fatto una specie di carozzina con un cesto della frutta come lettino. E’ geniale. Io saluto Orazio e suo padrone ogni mattina.

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E per non parlare della signora della pasta! Lei ha il negozietto accanto al bar. Si chiama “Pugliapast.” Non so nemmeno il cognome della signora, io la chiamo “signora” e basta. Ma so che si chiama Lia perche’ si e’ autonominata subito la zia delle mie figlie gemelle, chiamandosi Zia Lia e accarezzando i loro visi. La prima volta che ha toccato la faccia di Paola, la mia biondina, Paola si e’ messa a piangere. Quindi Zia Lia, utilizzando una delle filosofie piu’ sagge del libro di filosofia romana, ci ha detto “piano piano” e prendera’ confidenza. Infatti stamattina quando Zia Lia ha accarezzato la faccia di Paola, non ha fatto neanche “ngue'”. Zia Lia fa “Ti voglio bene piccola, lo sai?”

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Facendo i miei giri la mattina mi fa sentire che ho una piccola famigilia che mi aspetta ogni mattina sotto casa. Se non li vedessi la mattina, mi mancherebbero, e so che pure io gia’ dopo pochi giorni che sto qui, mancherei pure io a loro.

Vi voglio bene piccoli, non lo sapete??

Amadeo Part 2 – Amadeo Parte Secondo

11 Jun

Clicca qui per l’italiano

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Part of what I really love about Rome, that I just couldn’t find during my three years in the US no matter what I did, is a true sense of community.

I don’t mean to say that there isn’t a sense of community in the US. What I do mean to say is that, in my entire life, I had never lived anywhere as long as I lived in Rome. I lived in Rome for seven years. I’ve moved a lot and so I suppose in making Rome my home for such a long time (for me), I finally understood what it means to have a sense of continuity.

That being said, one of the most beautiful examples of that happened by chance as I was walking towards the 8 tram today.

Amadeo!

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About five years ago, one of my first blog posts was all about this lovely but mysterious character who drew amazing chalk murals in the same exact spot, nearly everyday. Always different and varied, and always with interesting messages, I found the murals intriguing. If you haven’t read my first post about Amadeo, go ahead and take a second. Go on! I’ll wait.

Ok, are you back? See? Isn’t he talented?

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So here I was, back at Largo Argentina for the first time since I returned, and there was Amadeo, all a smile with his tin plate held out.

“Amadeo! Hey! How are you??”

I told him all about how I had written an article about him years ago, on the Internet.

“Wow! The Internet! I don’t have the Internet. I don’t even have a cell phone.”

“What do you need with the Internet and a cell phone, Amadeo? You’re good to go here with a bit of chalk and a smile.”

“You’re right, you’re right!”

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He beamed once again when I gave him all the change I had, which added up to about 4 euros. I seriously would take a picture of his artwork everyday if I were a professional photographer, and then make it into an art show.

By the way, when I asked to take a picture with him this time around, he said, “No, no! I’d break the camera!”

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Then he got excited to see how it turned out. (And my camera is doing just fine, thank you very much.)

I don’t know where he lives or if he has a place of his own, shares a place, or lives on the street, or what. But … don’t anyone ever try to take that piece of sidewalk away from him. It’s his workshop!

PS Speaking of a sense of community, in an amazingly serendipitous moment, as I was chatting with Amadeo and taking pictures, one of my dearest friends basically bumped right into me on her way home. I’m telling you, this city is magic.

Again I would encourage you to get your caffe’ completo and then go check out my pal A and his artwork. Worth it.

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Una delle cose che adoro di piu’ di Roma, che non sono riuscita in tre anni a trovare in america dopo di aver vissuto qui, e’ un senso di vero communita’, una specie di ricca tessuta sociale.

Non voglio dire che la gente in america non sa formare delle communita’ in cui ognuno aiuta il prossimo, ma la mia verita’ personale e’ che prima di vivere a Roma (dove ho vissuto per sette anni), non avevo mai vissuto in un posto per piu’ di intorno a cinque anni di seguito, fin dalla mia nascita. Mi sono dovuta trasferire e sono “stata trasferita” tante volte in vita mia, quindi, dopo di aver fatto di Roma casa mia per sette anni, ho finalmente capito il valore di sentirsi a casa in un posto, di poter chiamarlo “mio” e saperlo con tutto il mio essere.

Detto questo, uno degli esempi piu’ squisiti di questo senso di casa mi e’ successo oggi mentre camminavo per il tram 8 a Largo Argentina, un posto dove ho lavorato per tanti anni e dove sono tornata a casa a Trastevere a piedi una migliaia di volte.

Amadeo!

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Circa cinque anni fa, uno dei miei primi “post” sul mio blog parlava tutto di questo personaggio fantastico ma molto misterioso che disegnava affreschi di gesso per terra sulla marciapiede per l’8, sempre nello stesso posto, quasi ogni singolo giorno. Sempre differenti e sempre variati, e sempre con dei messaggi interessanti e delle volte anche profonde, ho sempre trovato molto intriganti questi disegni. Non ho scritto il mio primo post in italiano, ma se volete vederlo e se leggete pure in inglese, andate un attimino a vedere. Non vi preoccupate, vi aspetto!

Tornati? Avete visto? Talentuoso ‘sto ragazzino, eh?

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Poi se non leggete in inglese, la cosa e’ questa. Come tante persone che stanno per strada a chiedere soldi, lui da’ l’impressione di essere un po’ “pazzo” per mancanza di un termine piu’ delicato. Cioe’, semplicemente, il suo comportamento non rientra nelle nostre schemi mentali abituali, in cui tutti devono essere “giusto cosi’.” Amadeo, non essendo “giusto cosi'” non e’ sempre trattato con tanta attenzione, anche se secondo me la merita perche’ e’ un vero artista.

Quindi, eccomi a Largo Argentina per la prima volta dopo di essere ritrasferita qui a Roma da una settimana, e eccolo Amadeo, tutto sorridente con il suo piattino di acciaio davanti.

Spontaneamente, faccio: “Amadeo! Ehi! Come stai??”

Sembrava un po’ sorpresa che qualcuno sapeva il suo nome. Gli ho detto tutto su come avevo scritto un articolo su di lui quasi cinque anni fa e che sta sull’Internet.

“Davvero!? L’Internet?! Io non ho l’Internet. Non ho nemmeno un telefonino.”

“Ma tu che ci faresti col’Internet e un telefonino? A te, te serve solo un po’ di gesso, ve’?”

“Giusto! Hai ragione!” mi risponde.

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E anche questa volta quando gli ho dato i soldi per i gessi nuovi, tutti gli spicci che avevo in borsa (che alla fine erano intorno a 4 EUR), mi ha ringraziato tantissimo, dicendomi quanto ero generosa. Generosa io? Figurati in confronto con il suo dono di condividere l’arte e il suo talento con tutti noi! Sul serio. Se fossi una fotografa professionista vi giuro che andrei li’ ogni giorno a fare delle belle foto dei suoi disegni, e poi farei una bella mostra mettendoli tutti insieme.

Questa volta quando gli ho chiesto se potevo fare una foto insieme a lui, e’ diventato un po’ imbarrazzato e mi ha detto “Ma rompero’ la macchina io!”

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Pero’ poi e’ stato cosi’ contento di vedersi davanti alle sue opere. (E la mia macchinetta sta tanto bene ancora.)

Io non ho idea dove abita, o se ha un posto tutto suo, o se condivide un posto, o se vive per strada… non lo so. Ma, vi dico, nessuno dovrebbe mai ma MAI cercare di rubargli quel pezzettino di marciapiede! Ci sara’ una ragazza americana incazzata, vi dico solo questo! Non e’ piu’ una marciapiede. E’ un laboratorio!

Quindi di nuovo vi dico di andare a prendervi un bel cafffe’ completo (si’, con tre efffe), e poi, andate a salutare il mio amico artista! Ne vale!

PS Parlando del senso di communita’, in un momento di incredibile sincronicita’, una delle mie piu’ care amiche e’ passata proprio mentre parlavo con lui. Lei mi ha detto dopo, “sapevo che eri tornata, e quando ho visto una ragazza fotografando questo, ero sicura che dovevi essere tu! Poi, quando ho visto che la ragazza aveva un capello adosso, allora ero sicura!” Ebbene si’. Non sono piu’ cosi’ in borghese come una volta.

Lavender on Lungaretta

4 Aug

On Via della Lungaretta, heading towards Santa Maria in Trastevere, there is a man who sells little sachets of dried lavender. He has a cardboard box full of dried lavender and next to it he has all the little sachets he has prepared, dried lavender wrapped in a bundle of obnoxiously colored tulle.

No, I’ve never talked about my ongoing love affair with lavender on this blog, because frankly there was never any reason. But the time has come, my friends!

Now that I’m at just about two weeks away from D-DAY, that is, departure day for my beloved state of Washington for a year, I’m getting this ridiculous urge to try to cram in all the things I’ve wanted to do but never did in these past seven years. Not touristy stuff. Just stuff, in general.

Take for example, Mr. Lavender Man. I walk down Via della Lungaretta ALL THE TIME. And I’ve seen him there for months now, in the evenings when the crowds start to build. He mixes up all the dried seeds in his cardboard box and you can smell the perfume for yards before you arrive at his little makeshift table-top store, and for long after you’ve walked by.

Every once in a while he says to the passersby, “Lavanda!” Small groups of girls on vacation together, “Lavanda, ragazze?”

Usually people just walk by. Last night a small group of girls walked by and I was behind them (as I bravely carried my diary, my cherished latest copy of The New Yorker, and the new book I’m reading, heading for a gorgeously indulgent evening by myself on a quest to dive into a beer and Chinese food at my favorite Chinese restaurant, eaten religiously with chopsticks, but, as always, I DIGRESS). After they passed the table, they turned their heads as the lavender scent wafted around their heads. I knew it had gotten them.

You know what it’s like when you walk by a bakery and smell freshly baked bread? Or when you walk by an ice cream shop where they make waffle cones and the sugary perfume drifts out onto the street? Or the smell of cotton candy? Or the smell of fried donuts? (OMG Krispy Kreme, I really hope you might possibly exist in Washington like you did in Arizona, if so, I’m on my way, wait for me!!!)

I’ve always thought that the Internet has one rather large defect. It’s not scratch and smell.

Because folks, if it were, I’m sure I could entice you to come back to my blog again and again by stirring up the lavender seeds I finally broke down and bought from the man last night on my way to my cena cinese.

“Quattro sachetti, cinque euro.” Four sachets for five euro. God knows if it’s a rip off or not, I’m at the point where I don’t care anymore. I needed a hit. (Have I also never talked of my irrational love of L’Occitane? And have I not also mentioned that mere hours from the house we have rented in WA, there is a disproportionately large outlet center where there is none other than a L’Occitane OUTLET? Just try to HOLD. ME. BACK.)

So here you go. It’s quite a humble little display, and if I could, I would grant you the superhuman power to scrach and smell, but I can’t so I’ll give you this:

Dear Mr. Lavender Man, thank you for gracing my neighorhood street with a tiny corner of what I imagine it must smell like in Provence. Although it is Rome and that’s probably better, every once in a while we need a little bit of a Calgon-take-me-away moment, no?

Ode to my mojito-loving pal

31 Jul

There’s something about leaving a place that is causing me to want to gather up all my memories, all my friends, all the things I cherish, and heap them into a grand pile and then sort them all out again one by one. Like after trick or treating, coming home and dumping all the candy out on the linoleum of the kitchen floor with my brother and friends, putting all the candy into piles (“good” “full size” “chocolate” “non-chocolate” “crap” “scary stuff from religious neighbor”) and then trading it, talking about it, deciding where to start and where to end up.

That’s basically where I’m at right now. Deciding where to start and where to end up and trying to do it all in the span of the next 20 days.

Sigh.

(I know, there has been far too much sighing going on around here lately. Chiedo scusa.)

But let’s not get too sentimental here because this is surely not the time nor place for it. No, indeedy! We are toasting today a most extraordinary woman.

None other than…

DRUM ROLL PLEASE…

NYC/Caribbean Ragazza!!!!

Oh my gosh Arlene please I’m not trying to embarass you but it’s true! You rock!

So as many of you know, Arlene made the “big leap” in moving to Rome without knowing whether or not there was a safety net to catch her. After watching her grow and thrive since April in this rough and tumble city, I’d say either she had a pretty good safety net or, more likely, she’s just pretty amazing.

Take for example her penchant for aperitivi. I’ve lived here for 7, 8 years, or whatever it is, and yet Arlene in a span of just a few months has already introduced me to two very cool aperitivi bars in my own neighborhood that I didn’t know about. No, this is not a statement about how much we drink, stop that! It is merely a statement that when in search for the perfect mojito, one must do lots of research.

So here’s us the other day, sipping our cool drinks while half-naked men fanned us we dripped and sweated in the impossibly Roman heat. The first thing we both spotted with our blogger eyes was this ridiculously small chair. You see, the bar we were at, Mr. Pucci, has an assortment of cool and various chairs, including old movie seats.

I got an Aperol soda and Arlene continued her quest to find the perfect mojito.

When I look back on this blog up until now, I am amazed and humbled to think about all the connections I have made. All the bloggers I have met, the friendships, the insights and discoveries. Amazing stuff. I remember when Arlene was simply visiting Rome and we went to get a drink together, chatting about my life here and her future life here. Rome has this effect on some people, it just draws you in and never lets you go.

Well sometimes it lets you go. Or sometimes rather you decide it’s time to let go. But I think that if you throw coins in the Trevi Fountain it pulls you back.

So Arlene is going to keep the flame burning for me while I’m gone, I’m sure! Passing the torch, woman! I expect great things from you! Keep the Rome blogging up. And, IN BOCCA AL LUPO. I am proud to categorize this post as both “Fellow Italy Bloggers” and “Meet the Locals” because you are one and are in the process of becoming another!

We did the whole “MIB” thing for our photo. We accosted a poor woman who was sitting by the fountain in Piazza Mastai. She told us to take off our sunglasses and we had to laugh. “There’s a reason for them.”

Well folks, here’s an excerpt from Arlene’s mojito research notebook, take it and run with it:

Freni e Frizioni,
Via del Politeama 4-6
Mr. Pucci, Piazza Mastai 18