“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 part of my Roman research. She definitely ate in that neighbourhood.
Well, I was definitely going even if it meant we walked all the way to our destination.
Actually that’s exactly what we did. We started on foot from our B&B Al Colonnato di San Pietro, Google map directing us.
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 its beauty, 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!
Every time, it took my breath away.
From there it was a short walk to Castel San’Angelo. The unmistakable cylindrical walls of the Castel glowed in the light of the fiery sun.
I paused. 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.”
I had surrendered to that surreal 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 displayed his artwork for sale in a corner. It was Roma all the way. Watercolor sketches in glorious oranges, blue, black and white; the fountains, the Dome, the squares, pretty tables crowding the alleyways.
Dodging curio sellers who had also laid out their wares, we raced across the bridge towards U2.
‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for‘. A band was playing the U2 song.
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, crooning the song.
Shakespeare had to be inspired by the Italians, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Anyway, Trastevere turned out to be unlike what I had imagined.
There were narrow lanes that split and wound its way between tall building. Ivy clung on some walls 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.
A lively tune accompanied by boisterous clapping outside one and we were once again a part of a merry concert.
Walking away from the music and unexpectedly our lane grew very quiet. The shadows were longer and darker. Wandering aimlessly suddenly lost its charm.
“Dinner! Pick a place pronto.”
No longer ambling, we had our fingers crossed for an inviting place. Turning a corner and came across 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.
We were lost, famished and confused. We peered at one of the menu board to make sense of what we wanted to eat, Italian words mixing with English.
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 to top that Andres refused to split the fare. I spent the whole ride gratefully babbling our thanks to the wonderful father and daughter.
That was the last we ever saw or heard of them.
‘Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing’ .
We were those ships.
I often think of Andres and Vinnie. Their affection for each other, their warmth, friendliness to us, their boundless curiosity towards the world. They rose to our help when least expected and turned our dinner in Trastevere, a night to remember.
Weekend Challenge: Story