My eyes open at 5:30am; I’m wide awake. My body’s internal clock is uncalibrated but at least its working to my advantage. I rise at 6:15 and head to the lobby of Calisto6 with my laptop. I blow through nearly all of the 170 new emails, and I type up Day 1 of our trip from my notes the night before. It’s now 7:30.
I walk southeast and duck into Baylon Cafe, a chameleon that is alternately a cafe , bar, wine tasting room and gelateria. The typical Italian breakfast – a lovingly crafted cappuccino and croissant, for some reason called a pasta. The narrow streets of Trastevere are being systematically cleaned of detritus from the vast Bacchanalian evening the night before. A vespa pulls up, blocking a car while the driver pops in for her regular café. An Italiano in his seventies, white hair offset by his deeply tanned, weathered face, speaks with friends, hand gestures more subtle than a typical demonstrative Roman.
I cross Viale Trastevere, with its legion of Smart cars and Fiats, and cross the river. Sycamore leaves shed their coat in the first signs of fall on an otherwise hot summer morning.
I cross back over and find the centrifughe. Ali Sun is awake and showered as I present her a fresh juice.
We walk to the Old City, entering Camp di Fiore from the southwest corner. Restaurants are still closed; thankfully Rucceri is open. Ham hocks and wheels of cheese swing overhead. The three butchers behind the counter are artisans with decades of experience, if not generations. I use an unwieldy combination of English, Italian and Mime to build a picnic lunch of Milanese salami, sheep cheese, grilled melanzane, sun dried tomatoes and black olives. The vegetables – verdure – are drenched in a sweet, full bodied olive oil. €6,70. I’m delighted.
We take our lunch over to Piazza Navona and grab a curb in the shade between two restaurants shaking off the sleep from the previous night. Foot traffic is light, it’s not yet noon.
The food is heavenly. Is our perception colored by our surroundings? We agree that our lunch, plucked with oily fingers from butcher paper, may be the best we have ever had as we wipe our fingers on the paper bag. Rucceri in Campo di Fiore was that good.
The light colored buildings add to the contrast of the dark and heavy Pantheon on a bright, sunny day. It is our first experience on the turista A-list; we don’t stay long. Were we to visit on a quiet twilight evening, it may more intimately convey the weight of its millennia.
Fontana di Trevi, another A-lister. The overwhelming beauty and immensity of the fountain is overshadowed by the sideshow of turistas, suvineros, hawkers and grifters. We step into Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi to escape the heat.
The walk to Musei Vaticani is nearly ninety minutes. We walk through rooms filled with countless busts, sculptures, tapestries, paintings, reliefs, frescoes and turistas, before entering the Sistine Chapel. The guards vainly shush the hundreds of people filling the cappella and only occasionally stop the prohibited photography. Yeah, the Sistine Chapel is pretty awesome, but it is difficult to connect with it as a place of worship and divinity.
Adjacent to the Vatican Museum, St. Peters Basilica is staggering in scope and much more solemn. A service is taking place, the Latin reverberating distantly in the cavernous cathedral. Catholics enter one of a dozen confessionals; a Franciscan monk walks by as we stand near St. Peter’s tomb in the center of the basilica. The building carries the feeling of pilgrimage, a destination as significant as Jerusalem or Mecca.
We stop for gelato and walk back to Trastevere with two UC students on a four month program at “UC Rome.” Lucky bastards.
It’s late. We eat at Popi Popi, the patio adjacent to the massive front doors of a beautiful church. Vino della cassa, ravioli, rigatoni d’arrabiacca, pizza con fungi, another bottle. We don’t have plans for the next day as the night comes to a close.