“We have to visit Trastevere to experience the real Italian vibe” , Mami declared emphatically.
Trastevere, in Rome? It rang a bell.
I had devoured the Italian section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Love and Pray as a part of my travel research. She definitely ate in that neighbourhood.
Well, I wasn’t going to say no even if it meant we walk all the way to our destination.
Actually that’s exactly what we did. We started on foot from our B&B with Google map open on Mami’s phone directing our footsteps.
First stop was the most famous of all Piazza, the sweeping grey courtyard of St Peter’s Square with the Bascilica looming majestically. You have to stand there, see the beauty, the grandeur and feel the rush of pure joy coursing through you.
I wish I could explain but it’s magic! No wonder, I kept going back on all the three days I spent in Rome.
It was never enough!
I guess, it will always take my breath away.
It was a short walk to Castel San’Angelo, its unmistakable cylindrical walls glowed in the light of the fiery sun.
Strains of music wafted in the breeze.
A placard propped in a guitar case caught my eye.
“I need money to fix my time machine and take me back to the 50s.”
Not me! I had surrendered to the moment.
I walked entranced to Ponte San’Angelo, the Bridge of Angels; gigantic winged beings stood frozen on both sides all the way to the end of the bridge.
In contrast, the shimmering blue-grey waters of River Tiber flowed without any drama.
People sat, strolled, held hands, held phones, bulky cameras. A painter had grabbed a corner to display his artwork for sale. Watercolor sketches in glorious oranges, blue, black and white; the fountains, the Dome, the squares, pretty tables crowding the alleys, a souvenier from Rome.
Dodging curio sellers, there were quite a few, we raced towards U2.
‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for‘ . A band played the song made famous by U2 right there on the bridge.
A sign to keep walking perhaps?
Over the bridge, through streets, we followed the blue line on Mami’s phone till we had to ask. A girl laden with bags pointed to a lane, ‘Trastevere’!
Once again I heard the music before I saw the musician strumming his guitar and crooning a song.
Maybe Shakespeare was inspired by the Italians, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Trastevere wasn’t anything like I had imagined.
It was made up of narrow lanes that split and wound its way between tall building. Ivy clung on some, covering the brownish- gold surface in a picturesque manner. Yellow light spilled from the glass fronted shops and trattorias on to the shiny grey cobblestones.
Another lively tune and boisterous clapping and we were once again a part of a merry concert.
As we left the music behind, our lane unexpectedly grew very quiet and the shadows longer and darker. Wandering aimlessly had lost its charm.
“Dinner! Pick a place pronto.”
No longer ambling, we turned a corner and it was a wonderland of lights, laughter, chatter and the inevitable music. Tiny tables with enormous handwritten white menu boards on stands hogged most of the passage.
Maybe we looked lost or famished or simply confused as we peered at one of the menu board to make sense of what we wanted to eat.
An old man popped like a genie and over a stream of Italian shepherded us to one of the small tables sandwiched between two.
We had found our spot, food and wine. It was perfect!
Next to us sat a father and daughter duo, Andres from Atlanta and Vinnie, studying in Copenhagen. A shared laughter, some genuine curiosity on both ends and soon conversation flew thick and fast.
“That’s us in our tent on our way to Santiago in Spain”, Andres excitedly swiped his photo gallery on his phone to show where they had been before coming to Rome. He was on a spiritual trip with his daughter. Articulate with a ready smile, Vinnie was outspoken about her lack of faith but it was heartwarming to see her indulge her father.
We, as Indians I suppose, brought our secular Hindu perspective of ‘many gods, one goal’ to the conversation.
Time flew, communication flowed unhindered- Hindu faith, Catholic Church, Buddhism, Trump policies, Roman art and architecture, Chianti wines.
Then there was that intractable old Italian server who had taken us under his wings. He bustled about, hand flying, face expressively conveying what his non-stop Italian speech couldn’t. He refused to follow our cries in English or Andres’ Italian.
He insisted we eat dessert as well and round off our meal with a Limoncello.
It was an evening tinged with warmth of making connections in a strange land.
Till it hit me, “It’s late!”
My mellow warmth evaporated, replaced by sheer panic and prayer, “A taxi please, now.”
That day, all the powers in the universe looked out for us, I dare not think otherwise.
Andres rustled a taxi. Coincidentally, the father – daughter duo had their hotel in our neighbourhood and we ended sharing their ride. The relief was unimaginable and I just remember spending the whole ride gratefully babbling our thanks.
That was the last we ever saw or heard of them quite like , ‘Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing’ .
I think of Andres and Vinnie often, their affection for each other, their warmth and friendliness, their boundless curiosity. They rose to our help when least expected and turned our dinner in Trastevere, a night to remember.
Weekend Challenge: Story