My hotel has a historical marker, which in a city founded 38 centuries ago is no small thing. Water gets into the ancient building when it rains and certain corners smell damp even when it's dry. My room is on the top floor and the ceiling has a rain hole no one could miss. Why not fix it? I don't know.
But I didn't care about the rain hole when I peeked in at the complimentary breakfast yesterday to find this:
Which you can eat here:
So to remain affordable I'm hoping the hotel keeps putting its profits into the breakfast and patio and leaves the rain holes so the British tourists can keep complaining about the damp smell on Yelp and scaring everyone away. Italians know what's important.
I'd like to tell you that after breakfast I jumped the Metro and did a whirlwind tour of the city, saw the ruins, shopped the Tridente, gawked at the Vatican. Sorry. I just loafed around Monti. That's why they call it vacation, as in, vacating the need to run around. For an hour after breakfast I sat at a table in the piazza, sipped espresso, and watched the "street opera" - lovers quarreling in public, Italy's national pastime. At the same time I was reading a book by the Italian cultural critic Beppe Severgnini. "If the French and Germans were to shut their eyes and think of Italy, they wouldn't see the Colosseum," he writes. "They'd see a guy talking to himself in the street with one hand over his ear. Like that one over there. Observe how he tells the world about his love life..." On cue a guy in the piazza puts a hand over his ear and starts shouting at his significant other through his cell phone. I plan to pass the book to Hal for all he needs to know about Italy before I drag him here to live. Which I'm thinking should occur, I don't know, next month. The rest of you can borrow it before you visit.
OK, so I did see one famous tourist sight yesterday. Wandering around I turned a corner that gave a different view of the piazza than before. I'm thinking, gee, that building at the end of the street is in rough shape. Then I realize, whoa, that's the effing Colosseum. It was right there all the time. I walked down and it's not as close as it looks - it's a rather large structure. Still I'm amazed at how relatively few tourists I see around Monti given the throngs circling a few blocks away.
A Monti attraction I'd read about in guidebooks and on food sites is the sandwich shop Gaudeo. Similarly to the Colosseum I ran across it by accident just before lunch. Given its renown I was expecting something eight times its size. I was the first customer at noon and the only one in the place as I ate, though I imagine later it got busy, as Romans keep a strict schedule of lunch at 12:30. I had the Novellara, next to the Sorbolo. No pepperjack cheese or ranch dressing, no "works" - just shaved mortadella on a fresh baked roll with a light drizzle of truffle oil. Not the cloying truffle-flavored oil of America, mind you. Oil that'd spent several months since truffle season with actual truffles floating in it. It was like being taken to Shangri-La on a pork tram. A funeral dirge version of the Subway five-dollar footlong song played in my head as I trudged away.
I was down most of the afternoon with a nagging sore throat I think I picked up in the plane. I took a post-lunch nap long even by Italian standards, but even that didn't completely soothe the pain. So I decided to apply some gelato. Gelato joints are on every corner in Italy these days and 95 percent are junk tourist traps. One way to recognize a good one is by how little attention it calls to itself, as if the Italians are trying to keep it secret. Witness Fatamorgana, in the tiny Piazza dei Zingari uphill from the main square in Monti, an outpost of a more central location of Fatamorgana that's a pilgrimage spot for gelato lovers. When the doors are closed you can't tell anything is there at all - in fact, I spent a quizzical half-hour looking for it earlier in the day, not realizing it hadn't opened yet.
Gelato itself should be quiet too. It's supposed to be dense, which makes it expensive to the wallet and unimpressive to the eye. In a tourist trap they whip the gelato until it cascades over the top of its bin, and they add eye-catching colors not found in nature. In a place like Fatamorgana, the gelato almost hides. Until you taste it. I had the pear-and-gorgonzola, which tasted so much like pears and gorgonzola cheese, so un-sweet, I wondered if it needed to be gelato at all. But actual pears sprinkled with actual gorgonzola wouldn't be as cool or refreshing or portable or Italian.
I poked into some shops before dinner. Monti has good shopping, especially vintage. In this vintage sportswear shop many of the emblems are Italian knockoffs of American sports culture, like gym shorts that say MASSACHUSETS CRICKET, spelled that way, around crossed baseball bats. I heard an Italian customer ask about the Duke jacket at upper right. "No, no," he was told. "Not a real place. Imaginary." As a prank on my Newcastle United co-blogger Matt, a Duke grad, I opted not to dispute the information.
Now that's a flower cart.
I could go on and on about dinner. Suffice to say I got a tip in the piazza that a chef from Umbria, my family's region north of here, was doing excellent Umbrian cuisine in Monti. I hadn't ever heard of Umbrian cuisine; I've always thought of Umbrian and Tuscan food as classically Italian, just as people of those regions tend not to speak with strong regional accents. The menu at this little place read like it was ripped out of my family's cookbook, if there was such a thing.
The plate of gnocchi with meat ragu I savored at my sidewalk table was so much like my mother's it choked me up. Literally. One of the best restaurant meals of my life, and a great transition to the real thing as I prepare to take the train up to see my family today.