Ciao From Roma

courtyard

The courtyard in the center of my building

Ciao From Roma! More specifically from the beautiful courtyard in the center of my building.

I have landed in Roma! The ancient city has not disappointed. In just two days I have stumbled upon the body of a dead saint, witnessed castello di sant’angelo as the sun rose on my morning jog, followed a nun into a hidden underground chapel, and awkwardly drank a cappuccino surrounded by suited Italians on either side.

Mumbling my way through the shops of Trastevere I have eaten a piece of Lazio’s best percorino romano from antica chucaro. The shop’s Ricotta Fresca is perhaps the best cheese I have ever had. Slightly sweet, firm, but melting in your mouth, it is cheese worthy of popularity in Roma.

I have visited this tiny but acclaimed shop every day I have been in Rome. Each day I purchase one item—whether it is salume or formagii. I am already acquainted with the owners, an older couple. As the wife is the only one of the pair who speaks English, I have been forced to utilize a language combining hand gestures and Italian. The friendliness of Italians is incredible. Upon visiting restaurants I speak of my experience cooking and specific interest in Italian cooking. I have received contact information for chefs and have even been invited to learn techniques by a few (I plan to start trying to find a job in a matter of days).

The cafés (what we call espressos) have not disappointed. Having one perhaps two (fine, maybe three) in a day, I have tasted them at many of my neighborhood shops. Standing at the counter as the Romans do, I have drunk my café, glass of water, and morning pastry (it seems a stuffed croissant is the favorite of Romans).

After my breakfast I walk amazed through the ancient streets, visiting sites—whether famed sites overrun by tourists or churches I share with only a nun. Perhaps the most exciting experience in terms of history was in the crypt of the Church of Saint Cecila in Trastevere. A 5th century church, it is home to great works by such artists as Pietro Cavillini. A profound church with an even more profound courtyard, the most memorable moment occurred when I visited the crypt.

With a clearly outlined path for visitors once one takes the stairs underground, I followed seeing what appeared to be quite early works. As I walked through this underground crypt (be mindful that it is for arguments sake empty except for me, a friend, and a nun in all white), I stumble upon a gate that opens into what is perhaps one of the most fantastic rooms I have ever seen. Spending what felt to be an hour (but what was probably only moments) looking at each and every work covering the walls and ceiling of this room, a nun comes walking in. After conversing briefly on our —in an attempted Italian—my friend and I leave. Coming back minutes later and other days this gate remains locked, sealing off this room from the world.

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The chapel hidden below the 5th Century Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

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Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

At times I simply wander through the streets of Rome. As I walk under the hot Mediterranean sun I see glimmers of hope in the way of famed or intriguing structures peering through the cracks between buildings. As I wondered through Rome with no destination or goal in sight—other than to lose myself to history—I stumbled upon sight after sight. First the Pantheon, then Piazza Novono, followed by a brief walk along the Tevere. Finally, after a walk up the Fiume Tevere I stumble upon the Vatican (In all honesty I followed the tip of St. Peters, using it as my true North). Other days I traveled from the Spanish steps to the Piazzo del Popolo into Galoppatolo and finally to Castel Sant Angelo. There is indeed no better way to understand a city than to simply walk and run its streets.

pantheon peaking

Witnessing the Pantheon peaking through buildings after walking for some time

As I am a foodie, I must comment on the food of Rome. In all honesty I have not been impressed by the finer meals in Rome, but rather by the quality of cheaper food. It is said good food is accessible in New York, but in Rome the freshness and quality of the food at each and every place I have been has far surpassed even finer places in the U.S.. There are around 5 cheap cafes or pizza places within walking distance from my apartment. Each and every place would become a local favorite in NYC.

Pizza Bianco or other traditional Roman pizzas are mere pennies costing around 3 euros for enough to constitute a full meal. A morning pastry and café or cappuccino costs a simple 2 euros. A trove of vegetables from the fields of Lazio at the morning market cost a mere five euros. Guanciale, cured pork’s jaw rare in NYC  (I have only found it at very specific Italian food markets), is sold in mass at common supermarkets. Coppa is sliced and packaged as is prosciutto—with a choice of prosciutto di san daniele or parma—as cheap as processed sliced meats in the U.S..

However, eating out for pasta or other foods I have failed to be impressed. Though often good, the sauces are disappointing. I must profess, though, that the bite of the homemade pasta (which is indeed present at nearly all restaurants I have been no matter the price) is impressive.

I have spent the first week in some ways living as a tourist. I simply understand Rome on the surface. However, as I begin to develop a general routine by visiting the same shops—from my morning café to drinks at night—I will begin to (I hope) act and live as the Italians.

I feel as though that only one week into this experience I am learning more than I have in four years of high school or would in four years of college. I have learned self-sufficiency, traveling through a city with no map in hand at times (Google maps does not work here on my phone), and failing to speak the language I am forced to adapt.

The bells of the church across the street are ringing so I will take that s a cue to finish up. By now I have moved to my porch and have watched the little foot traffic that my tiny street gets. I am amazing by Roma each moment. As I finishing up my post I see what looks to be a Roman ruin flanked by a Renaissance structure across the street. Ciao for now…

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