This is the first of four posts linked to a recent family trip to Rome, as part of the English school half term.
We are in Rome. On a pilgrimage.
Whilst it may not be as intense a journey taken by those clad in religious robes of many colours – as long as they are earthy, neutral; It is a pilgrimage all the same.
One of warmth, friendship – but above all, taste.
As with all expeditions, there is great hardship along the way. I often wonder that if a modern-day Aeneas, having fled the wars raging back home, would have looked at Ciampino Airport and simply turned back – rather than face the fate of the shuttle bus to the local train station.
A journey so complex that you wonder why a global city such as Rome, would not simply just build a) a train station at the airport or b) a small tunnel to take you under the runways – rather than a dirty, beaten up bus to go all of 15 minutes?
Dirty Old Town
Should they make it as far as Termini, the main Roman train station, the weary traveller bears witness to a scene not too dissimilar to the morning after the sacking of the city, by King Alaric and the Visigoths. Rome can often look terrible – think any UK region during a bin strike.
But wait. The city is testing you. Are you able to look past the overflowing bins and detritus, or will you leave Rome with a lasting impression that it would be OK, were it not for state of each street corner. Open your hearts, not just your eyes – but also, maybe cover your nose from time to time.
As with all pilgrimages, there are places of worship that we will further expand on in tomorrow’s post – but also spiritual leaders to meet as our journey draws to a close.
The First Encounter
The first of those is the High Priestess of taste, Hande Leimer (@vinoroma on both Instagram and Twitter). Hande’s lessons on wine, where to eat and what to avoid in the city are invaluable principles that – whilst we may occasionally stray – we know we will be brought back to the right path with a cutting remark about a certain trattoria’s style of cooking, or their wine list.
We meet in Bonci’s Pizzarium. The first sure sign that we are part of a new caravan of worshipers, inspecting the divine gifts on offer – just don’t forget to take a ticket from the machine outside.
We swap stories, gain insight from the changes since our last trip – ruing the fact that I am not on Facebook and unable to book the current best place to eat in the city (Santo Palato). I even have time to hand over a gift from the outer reaches of the Empire: an English Pétillant Naturel from Tillingham Wines (which we later discover goes perfectly with Octopus).
We say goodbye and vow to return without the children, so that we can spend more time together on our next trip. For, as we later throw a coin each in to the Trevi Fountain, we know we have to return. Many times over.
The next stage of our journey takes us to a place we have visited before, but I have grown to know more through the writings of the head of my favoured Roman order – The Followers of the Kitchen Sink.
I will confess to being slightly nervous at the thought of that night’s encounter. Less “never meet your heroes”, more, what if I run out of anything to say? Yes, I am sure that is possible.
Thankfully, as Rachel Roddy invites us to drink wine over a board of cheese and salami, any room for fear is quickly taken up by the food, drink and conversation that flows well past bedtime.
This is my kind of place of worship – to all that is good about family and friendship. The warmth of the room is judged not by the steam coming from the pasta pot, but by the shared stories and the ability – even if us adults are reserved – of children who have never met, to pick up toys and games as if they last saw each other over breakfast.
My heart leaps the moment I see our boy slide out from his initial hiding place, protected by A., to running around a kitchen with another child; happiness etched across his face. LLK following not too far behind.
As we ready ourselves for dinner, I wonder if Seneca or Marcus Aurelius had ever considered that the key to a happy Roman life is not simply through Stoicism, but through the sound of children playing in the next room as you slosh nice wine in to tumblers, whilst you wait for the pasta to cook.
The food is perfect – for the mood and the audience. The wine compliments it greatly. As do the stories of previous pilgrims to this place. I particularly like the sound of the person who “likes to open wine bottles”. I feel we may share something there.
We came to Rome looking to share our love of the city with our children. We left having found even more to love about this great place – even more restaurants and places to drink for next time we come back.
Look past the rubbish etched in to the rain-soaked streets, or the billowing smoke from the locals as you push your way out of the station. In many ways, even look beyond the line of devotees that snake around the walls of the Vatican museum or the other great monuments to Rome’s past.
Instead, if you can, look into the hearts of the people who call Rome, home. There you will find what you are looking for. All the better if they have an open bottle of wine waiting to greet you.