The Incidental Roman Affair, Part II: Dinner Date?
I guess you could say it started with a kiss – a Perugina Bacio, that is.
Shortly after introducing me to delectable hazelnut chocolates with love notes, Nicolò goes off to work, and I proceed to meander through i Musei Vaticani, the Vatican museums.
It’s now dusk in Rome, and I’m lost in one of the many chocolate shops of Prati when my friend calls to say he’s down the street and headed my way. I make my purchase, exit the shop, and walk in what I hope is the right direction. The street isn’t horribly crowded, but there are enough people walking about to require cautious agility. I stop at a corner, awaiting the crosswalk signal, and look down at my phone as compact cars putter by.
When I look up, it feels like a movie moment when the countless Fiats and Volkswagens clear, crowds from opposite sides of the street intermingle, and the two leading actors see each other. The cacophony is muffled, time slows, and everything else blurs. She smiles. He smiles. He hesitates. He waves. She waves back. She crosses the street, and, when she reaches him, time resumes its normal speed and the bustling sidewalk recoups its chaos. Not to kill the cinematography here, but that’s all that happens because, of course, the boy and the girl are just friends. And just like that, the movie moment is over.
We amble down Via Cola di Rienzo, commenting on the beautiful displays we pass, joking about the exorbitant shops we’d buy out if we were to win the lottery. The crowds on the avenue thin as locals duck into chic bars and boisterous restaurants, and I’m reluctant to head home just yet. As if sensing my thoughts, Nicolò turns to me abruptly and says in the baritone of his native Italian: “Senti, listen, it’s a beautiful evening. I have a proposition for you. What if, instead of heading back now, we do a little passeggiata (evening stroll), have dinner, and then catch a late train home?”
Is it just me, or is he speaking more softly…tentatively? Nah, it’s probably just because he’s suddenly switched to straight Italian after speaking mostly English this evening, and I’m adjusting to the lilting sounds.
I readily agree to dinner in the city and, after tiring of window shopping around quaint boutiques, we wend our way to Piazza San Pietro. Nicolò is determined to find the spot where, if you look at all the columns lining the borders of Vatican City, the multiple rows of columns visually converge into a single one. We hop around different markers laid into the ground; he grows amusingly frustrated and I laugh the entire time.
Unsuccessful, we exit the borders of Il Vaticano and walk down the deserted boulevard for a nighttime shot of the city-state’s facade – without the cars and throngs of people that line the street during the day. Eventually, we find ourselves in a little restaurant called Scilla e Cariddi. It’s cozy inside. I settle into a seat, overly aware that our table is spaced just a few inches apart from the table to my right. The table to my left, already in the center of the room (it’s a really, really small place…that seems to expand during dinner service) belongs to a group of men with guitars and a few small percussion instruments. Without preamble, they pick up their instruments and begin strumming a lively Sicilian folksong. A scruffy man dressed in layers of jewel tones stands up to serenade the humble establishment, providing the soundtrack to a symphony of colorful, savory antipasti that seem to arrive in an endless stream of increasing deliciousness. Olives, bruschette, prosciutto, mortadella, speck, caprese, alici, octopus, sausage…. I think I’m about to burst out of my clothes. And the main course hasn’t even arrived yet.
After what feels like 20 courses of food, we sit contentedly, guessing at what dessert might be. It’s at this point that Nicolò and I realize the time: 11:08pm. The last train out of Roma Termini departs in just 22 minutes. We have a mere 22 minutes to pay our bill and make a mad dash for the train station. After briefly debating if this is even possible, we decide to try anyway.
Keep in mind that 1) this is a small husband-and-wife-run restaurant (he cooks, she serves), so service isn’t exactly expeditious, and 2) the station isn’t exactly across the street. Would you believe me if I say we catch the train? Because we don’t.
Not wanting to inconvenience friends and family, we weigh our options: hire a cab willing to venture beyond the city’s southern borders, book a hotel for the night, find a friend willing to let us sleep over unexpectedly, or stay up and explore the city.
We opt to explore the city. Why not live a little? Carpe diem, la vita è bella, and all that. It’s now 11:32pm; the first morning train doesn’t run for another six hours. It’ll be a piece of cake (or in this instance, tiramisu) to find six hours’ worth of amusement in The Eternal City, right? We set off into the lamplit streets.
Stay tuned for part 3: Rome at Night