Monday, October 18, 2010

When (I Was) (Often Drunk) in Rome (and Florence)

Oh, the pressure of writing a vacation roundup post. It’s like telling a friend about the dream you had last night, or sharing passages from your diary: fun for you, boring for everyone else. Since I’m already fucked, I’ll start with a dream I had my first night in Rome, as told through my dairy (which took the form of a letter to Jeff):
Dear Jeff,
Last night I was awakened twice, first by boisterous, drunken group singing and second by a flock of seagulls (the birds, not the synth-heavy, hairspray-happy 80s band). The seagulls here sound like small children screaming through throats full of mucus, so that was fun. But when I slept, I dreamt of making out with circa-1991 Jason Priestley*. So it evened out.
*Don’t worry, I’m sure he was just you in disguise.
Love, Una
I arrived in Rome on Thursday morning after a long flight, and managed to buy a ticket and get myself to the Stazione Trastevere to meet Momma C. She brought me back to her apartment, on a cute little street in the heart of Trastevere (literally, “across the river”), which is not just a clever name as it’s across the river from the old city of Rome where all the ruins are. We ate gnocchi for lunch since, apparently, all Romans eat gnocchi on Thursdays. We took the "when in Rome" thing super seriously, which meant we also ordered a half-liter of red wine (actually, mom says that Romans don't drink that much, but shit, we were on vacation).

Mom's street in Rome -- maximum quaintness!

I was so busy before I left that I barely thought about the fact that I would be in a foreign country among people who speak a different language. As a result, my Mom talked to everyone - vendors, shopkeepers, people on the street - and I generally stood there, nodding dumbly, her mute, slightly stricken-looking companion, like Beaker from Sesame Street. People might have thought I was simple, but at least I was polite - I said hello, thank you, and, occasionally, “yes.” Mom even gave me a piece of paper with her name, address, and phone number on it to keep in my wallet if I got lost, but at least she didn’t make me wear it pinned to my chest.

Jeff lent me his SLR for the trip, which I used to take portraits of myself looking like a paparazzo.

Normal days went like so: We'd get up, drink rich, delicious espresso brewed in a little double-boiler pot on the stove, shower (which I'll get to in a moment, as it deserves special mention), and head to the Piazza del Campidoglio's open-air market to pick up fruits, vegetables, and flowers if we were feeling whimsical. Then we'd stop at the forno (literally, "the oven," a generic term for any shop selling oven-baked bread, pizza, and the like) and get squares of pizza wrapped in oily wax paper, which we'd eat as a late breakfast. We'd spend the afternoon walking around, seeing sights and stopping occasionally for cappuccino or wine, and then head home, stopping to pick up fresh pasta and prosciutto, which we'd eat (with more wine) up on the terrace. It was a rough life.

P.S. Behold the aforementioned “shower”:

No, MTV, this is what happens when things stop being polite and start getting real.

That there is a shower head over a sink and toilet in a room the size of an airplane bathroom (with a wooden - and not waterproof - door). It requires both flexibility and creativity, and it’s hard to un-learn behaviors like “don’t spray water all over the toilet like you're inside a one-woman naked car wash.”

Artsy photo interlude!

On Saturday we took a Eurostar to Florence. Momma C. lived in Florence for a year in 1972 while on a Fulbright scholarship for painting, so it's a special place for her. We stayed in the Palazzo Guadagni Hotel in the Piazza Santo Spirito, which dates back to 1505! Our room had 20-foot ceilings and a grand fireplace. The street door downstairs was huge and opens automatically but verrrry slowly. (Not a place to duck inside if you are being chased.)

The church in the Piazza Santo Spirito, where we stayed in Florence. It also kind of looks like Teresa's house from Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Ok, so are you ready to have your minds blown? Krista, one of the employees at the Palazzo Guadagni, READS THIS BLOG. On our first night, she was at the front desk, and she was all, "Can I ask where you're from?" And I was jet-lagged and kind of drunk, and all but slurred "New York," and she goes, "Because I read your blog, and I thought you were going to Rome." I have never been recognized by a reader before, and the fact that this happened in Italy made it all the more surreal. Seriously, what are the odds? Krista is an American, from California, but snagged herself a Florentine husband and so now lives there full time. She was lovely, and I'm not just saying that because she made me feel, if only for a moment, like a celebrity. Girl, I'm sorry you got peed on by a homeless person (see above note about that slow-moving door).

In Florence, we went to museums (saw the David, Boticelli's Venus, and lots of baby Jesuses... or Jesi*), took the bus up to Fiesole, the hillside town where Momma C. lived in '72, and ate dinner at Club Paradiso (sadly, not the Club Paradise run by Peter O'Toole), a restaurant owned by mom's old friend Andrea and his wife Manuela. Mom says she met Andrea when he showed up at her door in Fiesole along with another Italian, Roberto, and an American woman also named Ellen. She claims that they showed up for no reason, but that she let them in anyway. This, apparently, is how my mom made friends in the 1970s. She also, I learned, hitchhiked across France in 1966 with two Norwegians and yet another Ellen. I need to get my mom into StoryCorps with a bottle of wine.

*You can only see so many Madonna and Child paintings before you have to start giving them nicknames to differentiate. At the Uffizi Gallery alone I saw Baby Jesus With a Spray Tan, Baby Jesus With Down Syndrome, and a Mary who looked like Mr. Bean wrapped in a Slanket. 

Hey, did you know that in addition to his slingshot skills, David owns and operates a leather factory?

Little-known fact: He also celebrated his victory over Goliath with some hits of amyl nitrite.

Or that the famous Hotel California that the Eagles made such a big deal about is actually in Italy?

The paper sign calls into question the four-star rating.

On Sunday, in between museums, mom and I made sure to stop at the statue of the boar in the Mercato Nuovo. People rub the boar's snout for luck, and I wanted to recreate a photo of myself (doing just that) from 1982. 

God, I've gained so much weight.

The boar remained, as ever, unmoved by my pilgrimage.

Then, on Monday, before we left Florence, I climbed up to the top of the Duomo... which involved inching sardine-like in a pack of tourists through comically small stone passageways, including a final ascent that recalled The Princess Bride's Cliffs of Insanity:

Momma C. and I then made our way back to Rome, where we spent the final days of my stay eating incredible amounts of cheese and bread and watching the Chilean miners get rescued on BBC World News.

It was pretty great.

I was sad to leave, but I missed Jeff somethin' terrible, so there was a bright spot as I boarded my 9 1/2 hour flight back to JFK. En route, unable to sleep, I watched four full-length movies. Delta's selection was limited, but luckily being on an airplane gives me entertainment beer goggles, so I was able to sit back, relax, and watch Death At A Funeral, Grownups, Just Wright, and Valentine's Day without shame*.

*Okay, actually, I am ashamed about Valentine's Day. But it was either that or The Bounty Hunter, and I just couldn't bring myself to look directly at Jennifer Aniston's melty plastic surgery nose for that long.


  1. The pee dripping on my head was definitely a low point of the week. Professionally speaking, I probably shouldn't have told you guys about it. But I needed as much sympathy as I could get.

    It was great meeting you and Momma C! I hope we meet accidentally in the future again one day. Touching the boar's nose is supposed to be good luck, as well as a gaurantee that you'll return to Florence (it worked for me).

    And everyone knows that all Italian superstitions have water-tight logic. So never pass the salt from hand to hand or else you'll argue, touch your balls if you see a nun to avoid bad luck, wear red underwear on new year's, don't try to make pizza while on your period because the dough won't rise, and if somone gives you bunny ears in a picture, it means you're being cheated on.

  2. That pic of childhood and adulthood, melted my heart. Seriously.

    And I loved Valentine's Day, even if I did want to punch Jessica Biel on her mug quite a few times.

    Glad you're back and safe.

  3. Am completely jealous of your holiday - sounds lovely.. aside from the shower of course?! And your Mum sounds just a bit awesome! Oh, and I applaude your movie choice rationale - what else could a girl do, when faced with such a situation? :)

  4. I loved reading about your vacation! It made me really jealous, and isn't that the whole point of posting vacation stories/photos?

    One day, I hope to run into one of my readers and be recognized. However, I'm pretty sure I'll recognize them back, considering the very manageable size of my followers list.

    I didn't think Valentine's Day was all that bad...except for the fact that Jessica Biel is so emaciated in it. Seriously, why would someone who is famous for her gorgeous, curvy booty want to starve herself into losing it? Also, why would she be cast as the girl constantly eating chocolate if she's so skinny now? #thingsthatannoyme

  5. Soooooooooooo jealous! I want to visit Rome/Italy/Florence so bad.

  6. I LIVE in Rome for study abroad: EVERY post is a vacation wrap-up post.

    ....And would it be creepy of me to say that I took the exact same picture as your first picture? And the Roman Forum picture? I plan on going to Florence in a couple weeks, so I'll be sure to hit up a couple of the places you mentioned.

  7. it sounds like you had a lovely time. i only hope that one day i have the money and the balls to actually take a flight to europe. the 2.5 hour flight between orlando and new york is trying enough for me, but i have always wanted to go to france. and maybe italy, mostly because i want to eat myself into a stupor and italy seems to have the best food.

    i also want to go to england and ireland, but i'm afraid i won't want to come back to the states. or that i'll be forcibly adopted by a loving irish family due to my lack of pigment except in the form of freckles and my love of boiled potatoes.

  8. The bathroom was HIL-arious!!

  9. I love it! The showers there are hilarious-I told my husband that my vacation time in Rome is the only time I have found it acceptable to pee in the shower...and that's just because there happened to be a toilet in it.

  10. SO JEALOUS. So glad you had such a great vacay! and I am definitely one of those ppl that watches awful movies on long haul flights (bc my husband would mock me mercilessly if I were to watch at home).

    I climbed to the top of the duomo last fall and I don't think I'm climbing to the top of anything again. While the view was absolutely breathtaking (we went at dusk), the whole winding stairs in very very small spaces made me want to pass out!

  11. Holy shit, so fucking jealous. I've always wanted to visit that part of the world.

    Someday, Toni.

  12. Gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing your trip adventures with us. Wow! Couldn't imagine trying to use something the size of a porta-loo for showering and the likes. Crikey!

  13. This was the least-boring vacation recap I've ever read. It sounds like you had a fabulous time!

  14. I love Italy! I can't wait to go back.

    I did find that the toilet in the shower thing came in handy when I tried to shave my legs - gave me something to prop my foot up on.

    And, hey, at least you had a toilet - one of our hotels only had the squat toilets :)

    I'm super jealous about being "recognized" by one of your followers in a different country. The world is really, really small, no?

  15. I'm insanely jealous! That looks really awesome, I didn't know people could be blog famous. Although I think if one of my followers said they'd recognized me I'd run.

  16. Guess you've grown out of trying to pick the boar's nose...

  17. I got to go to Rome and Florence a year and a half ago. I went to a few other European cities, but Florence was probably my favorite. Part of the reason for that might have been the awesomely delicious Italian food. =)

  18. I am thrilled you just used the term "jesi". i have a collection of various tacky jesus paraphernalia that has taken me years to collect, and i affectionately call it "jesi and crew." i always get very strange looks when i say that word, but now i know i am not alone.


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