One Night In Rome

chocolate croissantYesterday I got off the train from Napoli and found the bus around the block. I left my stuff there to go to the BNL to have enough money to last me in Holland. I trusted the girl who said she would “controlare” my stuff and the bus driver outside smoking who said the bus would leave in 8 minutes. As I jogged back to the bus I thought about how trust is necessary for humanity to work. I blackrode the six stops to my hostel.

When I arrived a cute petite woman with thick eyebrows over blue eyes gave me tips on where to go. I told her this is my only night in Rome, but I’ve been here before, I’d be ashamed if I hadn’t, this, one of the world’s greatest cities. I want to have a night I’ll never forget, one with espresso and good food and gelato. She laughed. I watched her thin tattooed wrist as it moved over the map, suggesting espresso and gelato. Our fingers brushed without a second thought, fulfilling unconscious expectations for physical contact. I asked her what time she got off and she said 11 and laughed.

I dropped off my stuff and walked past the students, down the hill, to one of the espresso joints, or maybe it was the gelato place, Louisa had recommended. I had a macchiato and a chocolate croissant for 1.40. It was gooey and cremey and everything I wanted it to be. Too early for dinner, I walked in the opposite direction, past a school. In late winter the children dressed in primary-colored coats and parents yammered at them and with each other in Italian in the early evening sun. I took off my glasses and smiled in awe at this Brueghelian scene. I continued on, arriving at a cemetery gate.

There were four huge statues of lamenting women with Latin inscriptions I couldn’t quite understand. I walked in, photographed the statues of prominent Romans from 100 years ago, noted the different styles of marble sculpture, from those 130 years old to those 20 years old, how they weather over time, the different vanities and styles of bygone eras, and finally I decided to leave. I walked to the front gate, which was locked. Two cute Italian girls approached me. They thought I was a gardener because I was wearing green and I have a beard. We joked and spoke mangled versions of each other’s languages, communicating effectively, flirting. I departed. They were going to the opening at the art show, and I was going for food.

I walked back to one of the recommended places on the map and went into one that looked nice but was far too expensive so I walked up the corner to another where they showed me two different menus rather nervously. The father showed me the dinner menu while the mother fumbled with thumbtacks, posting the dinner menu on the easel. She dropped a thumbtack and I picked it up for her. I told the father, maybe you have something cheaper than six euros? He beckoned his young blond daughter to translate. The entire time I had the feeling they were showing me the tourist menu, that the pasta/panini plus a drink for 4 Euro Louisa had told me about was either for those fluent in Italian or for those savvy enough to find a better restaurant. I told them I wanted arrabiata for four euro and they said okay. As soon as I sat down, the mother said no, pasta fagioli, and the blond girl said, pasta fagioli, is that okay? I didn’t really want pasta fagioli but I said okay because I was tired of these poor Italians. I asked for water, and they said bottle and meal for fourfifty and I said frizzante? and the matron agreed and I smiled because now I could just relax. The pasta was small and tasty and hearty and served with basil and tomato and pinto beans, which was odd and not what I was expecting. I was thinking more along the lines of cannellini, and for a second thought maybe they just poured this out of a can, but no because the matron came over and asked how it was and I nodded and ate it all. Besides, they gave me some bread and olive oil and I wrapped the bread in a thick yellow napkin for tomorrow’s brunch.

I headed home to recoup because if I was going to spend the next few days camping in the Dutch woods, I’d need some clean clothes and some good rest. Louisa told me of a place that would let me wash and dry tonight and the whole time I was thinking of what else I could do. Part of me really wanted to take Louisa out for a drink, just own it, buy her a drink and go back to her place, but the other part of me said you can’t do that, this isn’t that kind of trip, and I argued with myself, why not, this is your only night in Rome, but remember last time you tried to go hard then travel, you got sick and spent three days in bed in Bucharest, and you don’t have forty euro a night to be sick in Den Haag for three days in a hostel or hotel. So I said maybe, though, maybe, because Louisa really likes me and she’s bored and really wants a dashing young American to sweep her off her feet, and we resolved to see how we feel later.

I met Eric back in my room, nice fat Canadian with small eyes and a newsboy cap and a Belgian look. Turns out he lives in the Ruhr region. He told me about what to expect in his part of the world, (pilsner, industry). Then I dropped off my laundry for seven Euro, left my bag, and got on the train for Trastavere. I asked a woman which stop would be better to cross the Ponte Palatino and she said prossimo then felt bad when we went to Piramide and I understood that she was an idiot who gave me the wrong directions. I thanked her anyway and left.

I was trying to figure out if I could walk or take a bus or if I’d have to go back to Circo Massimo and asked a couple of people not from Rome. I asked a young attractive woman on the stairs and her friend turned around when she heard her stopped and they both opened up their maps (lot of tourists in Roma Capitale, slogan is ama Roma, way different than dirty ol’ Naples with its poverty and laundry hanging because here there is pride in being a global city not just a regional capital) and finally they decided that I should go with them back a stop to Circo. They were from Milano, cute girls, going home, tired after walking all day.

I mostly just like seeing the city and maybe meeting people, having interactions and such. So I double-checked and asked a woman who spoke perfect English if I was going the right way, then walked past the Circo Massimo, under the high pines shaped and manicured all purpley. I crossed the Ponte Palatino and down narrow streets with quiet tavernas and trattorias, to a cafe with art books. Downstairs was a show called Missing Milo, with simply drawn caricatures on black and white backgrounds. It was clear, but basic. I went into another cafe because I was craving some sweets and I saw that they offered cake, and here was bohemia, with independent-printed poetry on tables and hip older people drinking beers and nice food, beans and pasta tapas style, and a DJ setup. There’s no underground in Naples. Just a bunch of Italians. But in Roma… amo Roma.

I wasn’t sure if I should sit down or wait at the bar or stand so I stood and lingered near the bar and even though they greeted me they were still nervous and one of the guys broke a glass so I sat and asked him if he had cake and he said no so I left.

I finally found gelato, and ordered pistachio and chocolate orange, which was entirely delicious. The guy working there who the girl had laughed at because he knew English (Italians laughing at those with more knowledge, which is why their country is how it is) I told him it was because she’s jealous and he liked that. He came over and told me to take the H bus to get back to Termini. So I walked to Piazza Belli, named after some poet from the 30s, statue of him wearing a hat, looking down all melancholy, and asked a beautiful brown-eyed blonde with bright red lipstick about the bus and she said it doesn’t come often this time of night, and she walked away, leaving me wishing I were going with her. But just two minutes later there it was, the ol’ H bus and I rode it back and picked up my laundry which wasn’t folded, which disgruntled me, but the Moroccan or Turkish guy was pretty nice anyway.

On Universita was eerie silence under the plane trees. Earlier this place had been teeming with students and now it was just me. At the hostel, I said Buona notte to Louisa, who was happy to see me, and she corrected me, buona serra, for the same reason we reserve good night for just before bed in English. And I asked her her plans (none) and how was her evening (boring) and said I was going to take a shower, thinking that I would see how I felt because I’d walked a good five miles today and to walk the forty minutes to her neighborhood to spend ten euro all in hopes of trying to seduce this sexy little Swede instead of researching my next step and preparing, well, I’d see.

So I showered and sat at my computer and tried handling some business, which included a couchsurfing invitation from a small-eyed large-breasted Dutch woman just outside of Rotterdam, which meant a place to stay instead of the tulip fields, so that really convinced me to just save my energy for Holland and pretty soon it was 1050 and I wasn’t going out and Louisa came over and washed out her cup, wearing her scarf and I could tell she wanted me to take her out but I was resolved and said to myself you know how many people come through here wanting to take her out and how often she maybe goes out with them? Get some rest, you won’t regret it. And I trusted in my heart that it was better to be responsible and prepare for a medium-sized day than to exert myself just for poor sweet Louisa.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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