Saturday, March 27, 2010


With only a short time in Rome, Thursday night to Sunday morning, I didn't have a moment to lose. As soon as I had checked into my hotel and unpacked, I picked up my map and my guidebook and set out to get my first look at the city. I spent my first few days in Florence last year getting hopelessly lost and wasting lots of time wandering around (though it didn't really feel like wasting time, as I got to see a lot of off-the-beaten-path areas of the city that way), and I hoped that by orienting myself and figuring out Rome's neighborhoods as soon as possible, I would be able to get to all the places I wanted to see and spend less time in deserted alleys and hidden neighborhood piazzas. My hotel was in the historic district, not far from the Spanish Steps in one direction and the Pantheon in another, and I encountered both in just a short time. I kept passing a triumphal column (it turned out to be Augustus's) again and again, so I knew I was walking in circles, and by about 8:00 I became literally dizzy with exhaustion. I realized it had been about ten hours since they had last fed us on the plane, and that it was time to find dinner, pronto.
On the next street over from my hotel, all the touristy trattorias have waiters calling out to passers by to come in and eat, so it wasn't hard to get a table. The restaurant was punningly called Aroma. The menu was predictably overpriced, and the dining room was full of tourists, but the food was actually quite good (though I have to admit that I wasn't feeling very judgmental at the moment). I ordered the "specialty" pasta, supposedly-homemade tonnarelli cacio e pepe - thick, square-shaped noodles cooked al dente in a creamy sauce surprisingly sharpened with finely ground black pepper and nubbly with shaved parmesan. It was exactly what I needed to restore my strength, both rich and piquant, chewy and very easy to eat. I also ordered chicory, a green leafy vegetable similar to kale which was sauteed in olive oil and red pepper flakes, and had a similar soft but peppery quality to the pasta. In Italy, vegetables are always a separate order from the main dish, which is unfortunate in that it adds 5 to 8 euros to the total cost, but great in that you end up with a larger portion than I'm used to (especially in Japan, where the side vegetables that come with a meal often consist of half a carrot, a single bean, and a head of asparagus). There was tiramisu on the menu for dessert, but I was just too sleepy and said no - though not without regret.

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