Where: Rome, Italy (you don’t need a map for this one, do you?)
Plate of Food: Well, how long have you got? This could really get out of hand. Choosing a favourite meal in Italy is like choosing a favourite child…although we all know you have one.
One of our trips to Rome was to visit friends who were living there for a year (I know! You love ’em aaaand you hate ’em). They made us a pasta dish on our first night that I still think about and periodically try to recreate. As with all good Italian food, it is simple: rigatoni (large tube pasta), roasted squash, chunks of crispy pancetta, pecorino cheese, and olive oil. Combine. Pile on your plate. Eat. Be closer to God. (Thank you, Steve and Sophie)
We also had lunch at one of their secret neighbourhood restaurants, a place that was hidden behind a large wooden door on a quiet cobbled street. Inside it was a like a rabbit warren, tables tucked in every available corner and all of them packed with locals having lunch. I don’t remember ever seeing a menu (this often bodes well – remember Buonamico?), but suddenly small plates of food began arriving at the table.
First, grilled aubergine, then small balls of mozzarella, then a basket of fresh rustic bread. We passed around the dishes, sampling everything. Next came thin slices of Parma ham, marinated mushrooms, stewed white beans, artichokes, grilled red pepper, juicy melon…ack! The onslaught of deliciousness!
We carefully stacked the dishes 2 or 3 high just to accommodate the selection on our small table. There was so much to taste and savour.
The best: My first glimpse of the Colosseum. We walked from our tiny hotel by the train station (not a salubrious neighbourhood, just FYI) through a park on a hill just as dusk was approaching. As we crested the hill we saw the Colosseum with the last golden rays of sunshine peaking through the arches. Breathtaking.
We sat and watched the sky turn deep blue, then black, as shadows enveloped the Colosseum’s ruins. Its arches loomed above us, now lit from within. The Colosseum has a commanding presence, partly from its size and impressive architecture, but also from its epic history which seems to seep from its stones even with a modern city bustling around it. Beautiful.
Story that needs to be told: In a move that may have altered the universe forever, I actually made a purchase at one of the designer shops on the famous Via Condotti, at the Prada store to be exact. This was a huge departure from my usual shopping habits at, say, H&M.
The day before my momentous purchase, I scoped out the store and had my photo taken in front of the open door (no, there is no shame). One of the carefully coiffed women working inside silently closed the door. Point taken.
The following evening we went back and I mustered all the confidence I could in my corduroy trousers and sensible walking shoes (we will never know why I was channeling a 58 year old woman), and walked into the store and straight up the stairs. There the real merchandise was kept in small rooms on sumptuously lit shelves. Delicate garments hung on sparsely stocked rails. The carpet was very plush. There were velvet covered benches and fresh flowers.
Eventually I found the room with the handbags (my carefully selected target; timeless, useful, one size fits all) and set about finding the right one. This was complicated by a thin reed of a woman who busied herself with folding official Prada tissue paper in the same room (the alarm was obviously raised when they caught sight of the corduroy).
It was further complicated by the fact that I could not find a price tag. Anywhere. This was not a place where you wanted to guess at the price. After opening clasps, zippers, and buttons I finally discovered a discreet price card tucked in the innermost pocket of a bag. I then had to repeat that conspicuous unearthing of the price tag with a further 6 bags until I made my choice.
I took it to the tissue paper woman who then took my bag away to be wrapped. I was ushered to the payment area which, surprisingly, was a grimy little counter with a computer. Gone were the soft lights and music. It appears that the veneer of luxury stops when reality hits and money has to exchange hands. Once that deed was done, I was reunited with my bag which was now ensconced in a soft monogrammed pouch and secured within a dark blue Prada shopping bag.
This time the door was held open for me as I left, but really I should have kicked it shut with my well-worn sneaker. Next time.
Great handbag, though.
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers.
The mind can never break off from the journey.” Pat Conroy