Monday, September 7, 2015

Rome: Prayers for San Marco

Hello again, Rome!

After our four days in Venice, we were ready to move on, though we loved that city and will be thankful for another 24 hours or so when we go back on Friday. 

Our next stop: Rome! We arrived at our hotel around 5:00 yesterday afternoon. It is the same place we stayed when we were here last year (see here). We chose to come back because we liked the location (Monti District) and our room with its little terrace.

I'm a few pounds heavier than I was last year, when we had just come off
a three-week cycling trip.

The Monti District is considered a fun, "up and coming" neighborhood that is off the heavily-beaten tourist path. However, it is close to the Forum as well as the Termini train station and several famous churches like St. Peter in Chains (which has the "horned Moses" statue by Michelangelo) and Santa Maria Maggiore, which is just around the corner. Other sights can be easily reached by metro, taxi or on foot. (We did a lot of walking last year; this year, we won't be.) 

It's also a lively place in the evening. When we went out for dinner last night, the streets were full of young people, couples with children, and older people out for a stroll. There are lots of restaurants, and we aim to be a little more adventurous this year, rather than limiting ourselves to Taverna Roma where we went every night we were here last year for its carbonara. As it happened, it was closed last night so we had no choice but to try a new place where we had some lovely prosecco with our meal. Mark had carbonara (no surprise there), I had risotto, and we shared some meatballs as the second course. 

Backing up, when we arrived yesterday afternoon, there was an insufficient amount of our Salt Lake-acquired gin in order to have cocktails. So we had to go out. Our hotel person recommended we go to a "supermarket" on the other side of the piazza in front of Santa Maria Maggiore. We did so. On the way back to the hotel (which is really just a group of rooms in an elegant old Roman apartment building), we witnessed a festival of some sort involving Indians (i.e., from India). A procession had formed coming forth from Santa Maria Maggiore that passed us and wound around the side of the basilica. Meanwhile, the church's bells were ringing wildly. Only in Rome.

Our big activity today (Monday) was a foodie tour that started at Rome's biggest (?) market at the Campo de' Fiori and ended steps from the Pantheon. As it turned out, our guide, Joseph, was one whom we had met last year. He gave our small group a brief introductory talk, referring to some of the vegetables for sale, pointing out that, in Italy, only what is seasonal is sold at local markets. It's just the way they roll.

Speaking of tomatoes, Joseph (our guide) told us the story of how tomatoes were not originally accepted in what we now know as Italy because they were too acidic and made people sick. The people of Naples, however, were facing starvation and decided that their only alternative was to do something with tomatoes. So they fried them with a bit of olive oil, and they lived. And so did the tomato.

Scene near Campo de' Fiori

We followed Joseph (he's actually Dutch or perhaps Walloon) to a local bakery a couple of blocks away. Here, we picked up some freshly-baked bread (still hot from the oven) before heading back to Fiori. Meanwhile, our mouths watered as we looked at the pastries on display behind the counter.

Sfogliatella, a custard-filled pastry native to Campania (ankle of the boot) that our guide described as a "calorie bomb." We will perhaps go back on Wednesday or Thursday morning to partake. We know where they live.

Mark may be having a wet dream about these tonight. Again, we know where they live.

I had never seen black bread before. Hmmm ....

From the bakery, we went back to Fiori to sample olive oil. We learned a lot. (We used the hot bread from the bakery for tasting.) My favorite was one from Umbria. There were slight differences in the taste, but my palate is not educated enough to really appreciate these. With this almost bewildering display of many different types of olive oil, I wondered what kind of selection exists in Salt Lake. Typically in the past, I've just bought the extra virgin at Costco. Philistine. Now, however, with additional light and knowledge, I don't see that happening. Emigration Market? Caputo's? Granato's?

We were then treated to samples of various types of Balsamic vinegar and of glazes made therefrom, including truffle "infused." (Is that the right word?) We liked the white truffle. Who knew there was this whole culinary world out there? (Well, I'm sure some people did; but I was not among them.)

We moved on from the balsamic vinegar to the pesto. So many flavors. My mind was spinning. I calmed my mind, however, by recalling that, five years ago, I barely knew pesto existed. 

Pesto passed, we moved on to the pork butcher in a shop next to the Campo. Joseph explained that the owner had a farm in Umbria where he raised pigs that, um, supplied the raw material for his shop in Rome. Joseph had been to the farm and assured us that it was quite nice. I'm sure it was. The lead photo of this post is based on Mark's photo of the shop. (Let's just say filters were involved.)

Our group getting ready to sample various salamis, prosciuttos, liver (didn't see that one coming), etc.

Okay. So we had the baker, the butcher; now time for cheese. We walked a block or two and came to a cheese shop where we learned about and sampled parmesan-reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, pecorino roma (liked that), and several others. God, I felt stuffed by then, knowing that we had pizza on the horizon. And it wasn't even noon yet. Did I mention that we were offered (and partook of) red wine at the pork butcher's and white at the cheese maker's. Ooof!

Our next stop was a pizzeria that had a wood-fired oven. We were invited in to spread out our own (pre-prepared) pizza dough and choose our own toppings. Tomato sauce. Fried or raw zucchini. Red Onions. Artichokes. Porcini Mushrooms. Peppers.

Then, into the oven. After the pizza came out, we could then add salami, bacon or boiled ham as additional toppings. Mine was okay, but I think I had put on too many ingredients and the various flavors didn't mix well. I was experiencing what our guide had mentioned several times throughout the tour - sometimes, simplicity is best. Two many ingredients can ruin a dish. 

From the pizza maker, it was on to Sant' Eustachio for macchiatos all around, then to the taxi stand behind the nearby Pantheon to catch a ride back to our hotel.

This is my favorite picture of the whole day. This edifice was just across the way from the pizza place. It is Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza built in 1642-1660 by the architect Francesco Borromini and considered a masterpiece of Roman Baroque architecture.

Dear friends, my Marco is ailing. He is experiencing a lot of pain today. Please, if you are a praying person, please pray for him. If you are a thoughtful person, please send good thoughts. If you love him, as I do, please send love his way. Our dream is to enjoy this European adventure to its very last planned moment. 

Thank you. Grazia.

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