When in Rome, Eat

Arancini compliments of the Trevi Fountain

It’s about noon on Saturday and I’m eating an arancini (rice ball that you’d sell your liver for) in a back alley in Rome’s center. The Trevi Fountain is causing liquid havoc behind us as are the roughly 23,000 people there. Up ahead are the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. I have been, as are many people, vastly overwhelmed by the history in Rome. It’s not that every shop is historical, for example I’m pretty sure Cicero didn’t have a fridge magnet in the shape of rigatoni. But history is everywhere and that can be hard to wrap your head around.

We got in at about 9 am yesterday and dropped our bags at the hotel. We then instantly went out for a walk, making the Colosseum and the Forum our aim for the day. We set this because we know that once these aims are met, we can begin our more primary (corporate lingo for “actual”) aim of eating food and drinking wine.

But first, the history. Despite all attempts, the Colosseum has grandeur. It’s hidden behind 19,293 people taking selfies (us included) and the Spanish tongue lashing I get for walking down the steps to the Colosseum in between a man and the woman he’s trying to video in slow motion seven feet away on the other side of the steps. I point to the fact (twenty feet away now) that perhaps his placement for his project and the fact that there are roughly 10,000 people trying to walk down that artery is the culprit rather than rude tourists, but he’s already yelling at a group of Russians for the same infraction.

Amid it all – the heaps of tourists, the men dressed as gladiators, the African gents hocking wares and then saying “Africa” to us (we couldn’t really suss out the strategy there) – we can poke through to the history. If you think about it, the Colosseum was not only famously the site of famous gladiator competitions, brutal fights, and slaves and citizens being forced into the most monstrous and awful situations. It’s also where Cicero and Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius went to watch these things happen.

I’ve been to baseball games in stadiums that copycatted the Colosseum and I know that each night tells its own story. The sport on the field is its own drama, of course, but if there are 36,203 people in the stadium, then that’s 36,203 minds wandering to personal issues, relationship conflicts, and petty arguments. Cicero spent an afternoon here sometime in the 50s wondering how to break things off with Terentia. A fleeting thought about his senators’ loyalty crossed Caesar’s mind just before a Carthaginian slave was eaten by a lion to the delight of thousands. And Marcus Aurelius mentally composed one of his meditations here while cleaning crews picked up the carnage in a lull in action.

It was overwhelming. So much so that I needed a cannoli. Another cannoli, to be grammatically correct and, well, honest. By noon on Friday I’d been in Rome for 3 hours and had had five pastries. I will not excuse myself except to say that eating and drinking helps me deal with the overwhelming history of a city.

Rome isn’t the only place this sort of overwhelming cloud befalls visitors. People visiting Jerusalem believe they are a messiah after the barrage of religious sites and am overdose of hummus. Paris has its own syndrome based on disappointment, which means the visitor is underwhelmed by the city of lights. This may come from the stress of pretending the glass of wine you’ve just spent 17 euro on is good. Or it might be a result of trying to fit in with the detached cool of its residents. In any case, an entire syndrome based on disappointment is the Frenchest thing ever.

With Rome it’s not so, but it’s probably because the food and the wine are better. It’s also why I think the restaurants are in such huge proximity, it’s all a strategy from the tourism board. Who has time to be overwhelmed when you’re stuffing your fourth baba rum into your gullet in two hours? Who can be underwhelmed when you’re drinking good wine and eating a light loaf of bread the size of a football?

On Saturday evening, I mollify a day’s worth of Rome sightseeing with a carbonara, two gelatos, a bowl of pasta fagioli, three chocolate ricotta rolls, antipasto, two beers, and a Campari and soda. It was a hard night, but it had to be done. In the end, this is the story about how I am blaming Rome for gaining 8 pounds over a weekend.                

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