Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!
That means Happy St. Patrick’s Day in good ol’ Irish, you know…that language that I can’t get enough of.
As this blog post goes to press I’m back in Rome for a second weekend of exploring and enjoying the Eternal City. Truth be told, I’m probably here…
…which is exactly where I started last Saturday, after picking up some Rome-friendly shoes. The Abbey Theatre pub is located in my favorite Roman neighborhood, the centro storico (historical center) which is triangulated by the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Campo dei Fiori. I had read about a great discount shoe shop near the Campo (every pair cost from €99-289, so…um…no thanks) and after a short wander, found a sign that sent me down the narrow Via del Governo Vecchio to the Abbey. Just in time! I’d had no breakfast, as the Italians follow the continental style with bread, bread and more bread. And chocolate. Inside the Abbey I was instantly transported to Dublin and enjoyed an appropriate brunch of bacon, sausage and steak with fries and just enough salad to make the plate look respectable. And a pint of Magner’s cider to wash it all down. It was the weekend, after all.
Happy to be in an English-speaking joint, I chatted it up with two couples ending their holiday and heading back home to New Hampshire. I also talked with Michael, the owner, and Alessandro, the waiter whose Italian parents had emigrated to Ireland and raised him there; his Italian heritage had drawn him back home. We discussed the difficult Irish language (both conceded that I probably had more of the language than either of them) and the more difficult Italian language, which suffers from strange grammatical rules and a gazillion irregular verbs. I noticed that a big to-do was planned for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and promised I’d be back to partake of the corned beef, colcannon, and live music by Rome’s resident traditional Irish band, The Shire.
Fortified with a proper breakfast (sorry, Italians) I headed out to do what I like to do best in a new city: wander. I wandered throughout the centro storico, taking in the modern Roman life and finding myself pleasantly disinterested in the tourist sites. But I have to toss out a disclaimer here, as Rome is basically the grandest living museum in the world. There’s no way to not sightsee, because every age of Roman history lives jumbled together in the streets – the time of Christ mingled with the Berninis of the Renaissance with Baroque meringue adorning the building faces – and amidst it all, modern Romans in jeans and a manageable amount of tourists from all over the globe. I did a little vintage shopping on the Via del Governo Vecchio, bought a beautiful piece of art in the Piazza Navona, indulged in some gelato, shot back one of the best espressos in town from the Tazza d’Oro, and had a Hipstamatic orgy with the city.
The Piazza Navona, populated by two Bernini fountains. This one, the lesser of the two but a great introduction to the square.
The other so large I couldn’t take it all in at once.
Look at the exquisite feet!
Near the Piazza Navona I came upon Pasquino, the “talking” statue, so named for a 15th-century cobbler named Pasquino who, annoyed with the Church for curbing freedom of speech, wrote out his grievances and stuck them to the statue.
The goddess of the Tazza d’Oro sprinkles espresso beans on a grateful city.
The courtyard of a garden statuary shop.
A woman emerging from a wall.
While I generally left alone the tourist sites, there was one wonderful exception…a longtime favorite from my undergraduate Art History class, where I developed a ridiculous intellectual crush on Marcus Agrippa, designer of…the Pantheon.
It’s true. I kind of wanted to marry the guy. Why that is, I have no recollection. But the Pantheon really is one of the most marvelous feats of engineering, ever. The dome is as high as it is wide, with no supports whatsoever, defying the laws of gravity but maintaining itself perfectly for over two millennia.
I’d return to the Pantheon later that evening, when I joined the Irish-run Angel Tour of the Heart of Rome (led by Ben, a great guide from northern England).
After a day of solo wandering, I joined Ben’s group for some structured wandering, starting at the Piazza di Spagna and ending at the Area Sacra. Along the way we saw…
…the Spanish Steps…
…the meringue-like interior of one of the 650 (650!!!) churches in Rome…
…and the Pantheon again, at night.
It was lovely to see it both day and night, and going back with the benefit of Ben’s degree in ancient history made for an interesting second go.
After the tour Ben directed me to the Scholar’s Lounge, another popular Irish pub where I enjoyed some beef stew with mashed potatoes and another Magner’s (gotta love cheat day!), grinned at the whooping and hollering Welsh couples who were drunkenly celebrating a soccer victory against Italy, and struck up a conversation with a nice Italian guy who spoke fluent English. We talked about all sorts of things, the most fascinating and foreign to me being the immense power of the Church in Italy…on a post-dinner stroll through the centro and the nearby neighborhood of Trastevere, he pointed out the Vatican coat of arms which adorns many of Rome’s buildings; tenants pay their rent directly to the Church and in return, enjoy diminished renters’ rights such as the right to be thrown out with only one week’s notice if the Church deems it necessary! The coat of arms was on dozens and dozens of buildings – probably on hundreds throughout the city.
The walk through Trastevere was lovely – this little burg across the Tiber from the centro storico is where the real Romans live. They call themselves Trasteverini and even have a distinct accent; residents celebrate their us-versus-them superiority each year at the Fest de’ Noantri (the festival of us!). The introduction was nice as I’d be back in Trastevere the next morning…and Rome would once again cause me to scrap all my best-laid plans and surrender to the city.
Catching up? Read all my Italy posts here!