Tuesday 3 November 2020

Home from Rome with an S key!

Anti-curfew protest on Campo de' Fiori
Anti-curfew protest at Campo de' Fiori 
Benedict Ambrose and I came home last night to November. What a difference a month makes to Edinburgh--a month and the Covid measures, but that's another story. 

At last I will be able to write with ease about our time in Rome! In my desk, half-forgotten, was a slim Apple keyboard. Hoorah! Now I have another excuse not to take my badly abused galley slave of a MacBook Pro to the shop. I would, but what would I write on? 

B.A. and I are now debating whether or not our rental flat in Rome was bigger than our flat here. The place near the Campo de' Fiori had higher ceilings, the floors were wood or tile, and the windows had views of ochre or vine-draped oxblood walls. When we looked down from any window in the CdF direction, we could see the umbrellas of the nearest cafe-bar. When we looked up from any window, we generally saw azzure skies. The kitchen there was only one side of the spacious sitting room (which had a comfy couch and a poster advertising Campari among other interesting furnishings). 

Now we are home, which means a network of small rooms, shabby chic armchairs, and windows showing cloudy skies, skeletal trees, a Presbyterian church spire and a repurposed 19th century factory. No cobblestones--cars roar right along. The garden is an unholy mess. When I get up, I will go out and begin to rake it up, salvaging any apples fit for cooking. 

"Where is my breakfast cornetto?" I cry. "Where is my morning cappuccino?"

Every day for three weeks, Benedict Ambrose went to Italian class a very short walk away, usually stopping in one cafe-bar or another for his cappuccino and cornetto. I sometimes dropped into a normal cafe-bar and sometimes went to the hipster-ish Barnum, which has really amazing pains-au-chocolat, or paste di cioccolato, as I called them. I saw hipster-ish because I never really felt comfortable sitting and working there. Others may disagree, but I did not feel friendliness in the air. In the end, I took to dropping in and buying a pasta di cioccolato to take away. 

The friendliest place in Rome, which I hope with all my heart is still there when we get back, is La Botticella on Via di Tor Milina in Rome. Tor Milina, which has lots of little bars and restaurants jostling each other in the narrow street, was still busy until the 6 PM curfew was announced, and even then La Botticella was a good place to be at 5. 

The star of La Botticella is its owner, Giovanni, who was born in Rome, brought up in Toronto, and went back to Rome with, for some reason still a mystery to me, a passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Giovanni, who looks like he could have played for the NFL, is a great host. He switches back and forth from Toronto English and Roman Italian with enviable else, and comes out of the bar to check on his guests at the tables with real solicitude. "Where's your friend?" he asks. 

The Swiss Guards drink (or use to drink) at La Botticella, and the Scots College definitely does, when the seminarians get a chance to come into the Centro Storico. The English College might, too. La Botticella is simply a great place for ex-pats to go, drink Campari Spritz, snack on complementary peanuts, chat and watch the street scene. On Sunday afternoon people sitting at tables along the street broke into applause as a bride and groom walked along. 

In short, if you're in Rome and you fancy a drink, please go to La Botticella on Tor Millina. Back two or so weeks ago when we could sit there late, we could even eat dinner there because Giovanni has an arrangement with the restaurant across the street. One night we ate "pinsa romana", which is Rome's native pizza, and utterly delicious. 

"Now I want one," said B.A. just now, as I brought it up, and made a little noise of sadness.

"I like this room, though," he added. "And I'll like it better when it's painted green." 

So that is my report for now. I thought the most important thing was to promote La Botticella. Tomorrow I will recall the restaurants. As I told our friend Maria, my very favourite thing in the world is to eat a big lunch with friends in a good restaurant in Rome. For this I am willing to sacrifice many, many things. For example, I did not buy a stitch of clothing for myself, or even boots, or one of the ubiquitous handbags. The only fancy bags we carried were from Nonna Vicenza, a small chain of Sicilian pastry shops, and Gammarelli, where we bought collars for a priest. 

I should also write about Gammarelli, which is simply the Traddiest Trad Trad shop I know of in Rome. Naturally you should never, ever, ever go in without a Very Good Reason and your order at the very tip of your tongue. It's the kind of place where, if you go in to buy a replacement zucchetto for the cardinal whose current zucchetto you have your eye on, they know his size. Naturally: it's Gammarelli. Buying collars for a priest is cool, but buying cardinal socks is really not (unless for a cardinal), and I know for I have bought both collars and socks in my time.  The socks were for Polish Pretend Son, and I was somewhat tempted to buy the baby-sized version for his child, but she is a girl, so it would not be appropriate, really. For my god-daughter silk scarves from the Via Condotti when she is old enough to appreciate them. 

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