Friday, April 01, 2011

Roma, Day 1. Notes, and Eating

A guy could easily fall in love with Rome, and this guy pretty much has.

This first day on the ground was dedicated to the area near the Hotel Smeraldo where I am staying. Nice little place, recommended by a good friend, and ten minutes from the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and under five if I hurried from the Piazza de' Fiore where holy mother church infamously burned Giordano Bruno alive and nude in 1600.

The highlight of the day was gazing at Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath, normally in the Borghese, but relocated to the _____ as part of a show of contemporary records that touched on the painter's life. The painting is so raw and unromantic; this is no hallowed figure, but a mean boy who has risen to a challenge. The same show also had his portrait of Paul VI, the Borghese pope, who looked like some kind of modern gay leather guy duded up in fancy red and lace robes for a drag show that he didn't really want to do.

It was hard to enjoy the Caravaggio's in the San Luigi dei Francesi becasue of the incessant, albeit banned, flashing of cameras in aid of what must certainly end up as bad photography. Buy the postcards, you morons, and just shut up while you look at the art.

Ooops, cranky.

While we're at it, though, it still drives me nuts that people don't know that flash reflects off glass.

So as my wanderings began, I curiously could not find the Piazza Navona. That's a bit like missing the ocean at the beach because you are turned facing inland. But the good side of that was that the first site I saw ended up being the Pantheon. Christianity is all around in the Pantheon, but I kept looking at the stones, and the marble, and imagining how long it has been there. Swept up in reverence for time and ancientness.

Frankly, the Piazza Navona was tacky - not the fault of the architecture, but a vast amount of scaffolding in aid of what appears to be an upcoming concert. It was hard to see the majesty except up close. It was there that I decided that I would confine my video efforts to running water. I think I am a creditable photographer, but I do not have the patience for video, at least yet. SO if I get a bunch of footage maybe I can play around. There was a bit of a farce when I tried to shoot the Fontana el Moro. Every time I turned on the camera, a jackhammer started up behind me, and would only stop when I walked away. I did manage to get about 20 seconds in the end.

I watched the swarming youth in the Piazza Navona, but I think I will defer my notes on that to a later post.

When I travel, I am a terrible eater. As I write this, it is 6:30 in the morning, and I have been awake since 4. I am starving hungry in one of the world's capitals of cuisine. When I look for a place to eat, I am like an insect in a spider's web, strung up between mutually exclusive options, the stickiness of my situation entirely internal to my psyche. I fear that I will be stuck in a place with lousy food, and I don't want to go to a place that is oriented to tourists. But I deeply feel that most better places probably don't really want a single diner, and besides there is the language problem ... although that did not stop me from the same behavior in London or Paris where I speak the relevant language. I do not want to spend too much money, but I am afraid of seeming cheap. I loathe being approached by shills or friendly maitre d's so I never tarry long perusing a menu lest I have to say no or even just maybe. I feel as if I am required to go in if they say hello to me.

So when I look for food, I circle, and circle, and stop for photos, and circle back. I pick failsafes and then get lost and can't find my way back. I don't want to go into crowded places both because of the racket and because I, again, figure they don't want to waste a table on lone eater. But I don't want to go into empty places because I figure they can't be good. I don't want to go into popular places because I might feel cheap. But I don't want to go into intimate places because I feel like a voyeur.

All this is nonsense, of course. But it makes eating a nightmare. It took me about half an hour to find a place to buy a slice of pizza mid-day. The guy was actually really rude, but the pizza was sublime ... salmon and herbs, I would call it. That said, it was 6 euros and I was still hungry. I forced myself into some place for an espresso just for practice. They were nice, but I was so shy that they actually had a chat about who should rescue me. Later, filled with overconfidence, I went into another espresso place and stood by the counter. Three clerks studiously ignored me until one finally pointed to the cashier ... o, thought I, pay first. I watched others put their tickets down on the counter, and so did I. But still they ignored me. Finally, the middle-aged and haughty waiter picked up my ticket and said long and languidly, "Shuuugaaar?" ... i.e., sugar. "no" quoth I and I think that got me a little cred. The espresso was sublime.

So when I set out at 8 to find a place to eat dinner ... this is Rome, mind you, where food is everywhere ... it took me 90 minutes and I finally ended up in an outdoor place in the Piazza de' Fiore. when I said "uno", the lady nodded and disappeared. A party of six crowded in front of me, so I retreated, and came bloody close to leaving. But I was starving at this point. So I stuck it out and finally the lady re-appeared, seeming annoyed that I was still there. She wanted to stick me in a back table, but I pointed to one up front, so she shrugged and nodded. The waiter was a fine older man who sensed my discomfort and warmed to me. I had gnocchi with black mushrooms and a Roman salad with anchovy dressing. And some wine. Delicious, not filling, and 40 euros. At that rate, I could be bankrupt on Sunday ... but it wouldn't matter because I would be passed out from hunger in some piazza no more than 60 metres from a feast.

So travel for me is a combination of fabulous days of seeing and walking and experiencing, and nightmarish nights of searching, searching, searching for something to eat.

Enough for now.

All photos by arod, taken today. More on my Flick site once I figure out how to upload stuff - for some reason it is being cranky and refusing!

1 comment:

Matte Gray said...

What a delight to discover that you're blogging again! Your faithful reader, Matte.