I will state immediately that I spent a third of my time in Rome working: about seven to eight hours a work day. Benedict Ambrose will say that it was more than that, but as far as I can recall I worked just one Sunday and then a Saturday. I definitely wrote an article on the Monday of our flight home because the President of Poland had done something important, controversial and disappointing on Friday, and despite all our positive coverage of them, my bosses are not shills for the President of Poland or his political party.
I did a lot of writing in the second bedroom. It had a sort of desk, but it was too high for typing on, so mostly I stretched out on one of the narrow twin beds and typed on my laptop. This was a very sunny room, and however depressing the news got, at least I had sun.
Benedict Ambrose did all the home cooking, as he usually does, but he was relieved from this task when we went out for supper or for an enormous lunch which reduced supper to a snack. Most of the time we went to restaurants within easy walking distance, but once we met a seminarian friend in a building that used to be part of the home of the King Over the Water, i.e. King James III and VIII, and family. It was about a 40 minute walk away.
I shall now squeeze my memory for names. "La Quercia"--we went there twice and had to eat indoors both times. That place we went with Andrew Cusack across from the Chiesa Nuova--we did get to eat outside. "Supplizio" for fried rice balls-- arancini or supplì-- three times, the first time to take them home, the second time to continue drinking with Edward Pentin.
Once to the glorious fish-heavy "La Pollarola" restaurant for lunch with a Top Museum Person Emeritus. Once to "Abruzzi", in the aforementioned former palace. To "La Botticella" numerous times for Aperol or Select spritz, feasting on pinsa delivered to our table from across the narrow street once. Four times to the all-you-can-eat sushi joint favoured by our Traditional Latin Mass ex-pat friends in Rome. One glorious last mid-day feast in "Ristorante Velando" near the Borgo Pio.
Sushi? Yes, I'm afraid our ex-pat friends in Rome (although not the seminarians) have wearied of all the Roman and Italian dishes we still find madly exotic, and therefore their weekly Sunday lunch is conducted inside the sushi place. We were able to eat upstairs one or two Sundays, but after that we were definitely relegated to the cellar.
Now for the food: pasta carbonara at "La Quercia" which uses real guanciale, cured pork from pig's cheeks. Fried squash blossoms (Fiori di zucca) and fried artichokes (carciofi alla giudia) when I saw them on a menu. Fish tartar at glorious "La Pollarolla", grilled squid with artichokes for me, and then we had monte bianco chestnut pudding afterwards. On Monday, flight day, B.A., our two friends and I had utterly delicious chestnut flour pasta with chestnuts and mushrooms at "Velando", and I could not resist ordering "salame di cioccolato" to see what it looked like.
October is chestnut time in Rome. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. The first time I ate chestnuts in Rome, I was a wee slip of a thing of 27, I bought them from a street vendor, and I thought they tasted like soap. However, when I went with a friend to Mugnano del Cardinale a couple of weeks ago (a story for another blogpost) and we finally found lunch in a restaurant called "Pagliarone", we were served hot chestnuts just because, and they were stupendously delicious.
Because the pandemic raged invisibly somewhere, dining in Rome was rather different this year. First, we ate in half-empty rooms. Reservations were necessary to get tables out of doors because they were socially-distanced. When we entered some restaurants, most memorably at the sushi joint, we were shot in the forehead, or shot ourselves in the forehead, with a thermometer gun, to prove we didn't have fevers. There was anti-bacterial fluid in every doorway--which was the same for all churches and shops, too.
We were also conscious that we were voting with our cash. Every time we ate out, we knew that our presence might just mean a business stayed open for another day. This is one reason I suspended my habitual penny-pinching. The other reason was that my very favourite earthly delight, after Christmas with family, is enjoying a restaurant meal in Rome with friends. Restaurants in Rome with friends is what money is for, in my humble opinion, and goodness knows if we'll still be able to afford it when we are old.
However, I pinched pennies in another way: by not buying any clothing or perfume or objets d'art or any of the other things I will definitely buy after we win tonight's UK lottery. The temptation was enormous, for I passed the haunting window displays of "Chez DeDe" almost every day. One window exhibited a very large silk scarf depicting a cartoon woman in an evening gown sitting on an elegant sofa. It costs €190, but I was tempted anyway.
"Do I want that scarf, or do I want to be the woman on the scarf?" I asked myself at last and then, a week later, "Why do I want to be the woman on the scarf when her nose is in the air?"
Because she looks incredibly rich, that's why, and it is more fun to sit elegantly on a sofa on an evening dress than to sit on a bed banging out news on a computer without an S-key.
The woman on the scarf is interesting because, although model-thin, she is clearly no spring chicken. And her nose is in the air, I now perceive, because she is smelling a lovely perfume. Darn it, I love that scarf. But where would I wear it? And with what?
No, when it comes to silk scarves versus guilt-free visits to Roman restaurants, I will pick the Roman restaurant every time.
Meanwhile, the sun is no stranger in Scotland, I am happy to see. Though it be November, it is now shining in the east.