In this city of many bridges, I realized that I had crossed a very important bridge. Week seven marked the latter half of my stay here in Rome, and that sharpened my experiences.
My seventh week in Rome began with an excursion to the Roman flea market called Porta Portese. I went with my padrona a casa who I adore. She RULED at the market. She hondled, I bought. She also fixed me fabulous food while teaching me to cook in the style of Calabria, my grandparents’ homeland.
On the other hand, she detailed her ongoing feud with her upstairs neighbor who plays her television too loudly. That week I learned such Italian words as dispetto, or spite. And my favorite: maleducato which, by the way, is not Italian for “uneducated”. It means rude.
On the advice of a worldly and sophisticated Roman woman, I bought a shortwave radio to listen to the BBC’s reporting on the bombing of Afghanistan. The reporting was insightful, imbued with the expertise of journalists who have been covering that part of the world for years.
She asked me about America’s dropping packages of food to the same citizenry upon whom they have dropped bombs. She wondered why they would dare touch those cartons.
It was a good question. Wouldn’t the Afghani people be more likely to think the packages were bombs or poison–some kind of untouchable object? One of the students at my Italian school, an American, told me that the U.S. was also dropping short wave radios so the Afghanis could hear explanations of the food drop from Voice of America. Excuse my skepticism, but even I couldn’t figure out how to get Radio Free Europe on my own short wave radio!
Remember the tale of the man and his salami? Well, his store reared its head again in my adventures. On the weekend, I needed a sandwich for my field trip to Ostia Antica. I ordered un panino formaggio and asked the counterman to put some pesto on it. He looked at me in horror, uttering, “Pesto!?”, shaking his head madly back and forth.
It was as if I had asked him to put cat poop on my sandwich. I probably don’t need to tell you that I didn’t get that pesto.
Un Po P.O.V. Ah, the lowly moped in Rome. It is fair to say that this vehicle, more than any other, defines the lifestyle of a Roman. It is both fabulous. And, maddening.
It is absolutely impossible to avoid them in Rome. It seems to this observer that there are more mopeds here than there are automobiles. They are an ingenious way to get around a city with narrow streets and too many cars. You see them weave in and out of traffic, between the cars, up on the sidewalk. And, on the narrow streets, they dart past you at breakneck speed, and you damn well better get out of their way.
Although they move as fast as cars, the people who ride them act, sometimes, as if they were on bicycles. They wear helmets. That’s good. But, I see women on i motorini wearing skirts, fishnet stockings, and even sandals. This is particularly tricky, because they use their feet as if they were brakes. Can you imagine that? Driving a vehicle as fast as an automobile and hanging your foot out the door to use as a brake?
My visiting aunt (remember the Zii?) declared that they should simply not allow mopeds to drive in the streets. I suggested that was like saying they shouldn’t allow salmon in the Columbia River. This is Rome. And, mopeds ARE Roma.
This month’s school field trip was to Ostia Antica, an ancient trade city located at the mouth of the Tiber.
When I was growing up, the oldest thing in my life was a tree! Our guide was a teacher from the school, who explained, in Italian, that Ostia Antica started in the 4th Century B.C. This made my question about putting Madonnas in the niches particularly lame. ‘Twas unlikely, she explained, that there would have been Madonnas in the centuries BEFORE Christ.