“Yes, this is very typical, “my host in Rome tells me. “Service in restaurants here is very … efficient.”I felt somewhat better learning this. My first night in a restaurant was a brusque, fast-paced very “efficient” affair with food tossed down and waitresses rushing to turn tables. I’m not needy in restaurants or demand much attention. I have a lot of empathy for servers and staff. But I was really taken aback by the callousness and impersonal interactions – it felt like a contempt for guests that radiated from standing outside in the cold to being handled through the meal. I had asked my host for some insight because I had just had this experience at a restaurant where the guests being treated this callously were also gushing about how “authentic” this restaurant was of a typical Roman meal. I wasn’t sure if this was just the restaurant, or if this was Rome.This restaurant was recommended in a guidebook. Sometimes the guidebooks and Tripadvisor and similar services completely change a place. There is a travel saying that nothing ruins an establishment faster or raises the prices higher than a Lonely Planet recommendation. This restaurant, my host tells me, was once very popular with the locals and was run by a grumpy, growly old man named Augustino. He was renowned for his surliness and gruff treatment of guests. And surliness is apparently the mark of an “authentic” Roman dining experience. She says it’s not the same now since he died … and she doesn’t go back anymore. Many locals find it so overwhelmed with tourists they avoid it.Now that Augustino’s has been “found” in the guidebooks, a line of tourists stretches out the door every night at 8pm to be let in when the doors opened. As I waited in line that
These women were part of a procession for Good Friday. Twelve straining men carried an image of the Virgin, while eight more carried a prone wooden Jesus. The women walked backwards facing the virgin singing. The priests led hymns and call and response prayer. Good Friday Procession Pasqua is everywhere in Rome, and the city is packed with pilgrims who have come to celebrate Easter and the new Pope.Pasqua Street Performances have been my favorite part of the last few days of roaming the city. I've seen magic, classical musicians, grey headed garage rockers covering Pink Floyd, illusionists and clever performance art meant to inspire the imagination. This performer is taking a break - possibly pushed out of a lucrative area where thousands of visitors are crossing the bridge to the Vatican.Street performer on a breakThe fun goes on, regardless of the somber Good Friday procession that just passed. A street performer plays and entertains.Too Much fun in the Piazza in Testeverde Narrow streets, bright colored buildings and the ever-present motorbikes mark urban living in Rome.Street View in TesteverdeAn Angel guards the bridge to the Vatican. There is art at every turn, and the fun of roaming the city is coming across surprises.
"Are you a teacher?"My cab driver had already covered politics (do you like Obama or Republicans?) and religion (Are you Catholic or Protestant?) in our short cab ride from the central train station to my room in Trestevere, a neighborhood on the opposite side of the Tiber river from Central Rome. I had learned in-between outbursts and emphatic hand gestures at traffic (this seems standard procedure in Roman driving) that he was Pagano (pagan)."No", I answer, "but I work with teachers and education."He nods ... "there are many teachers who visit here. It is because they are more ... cultured?." He searches for the right word in English.I say, "Well of course! Rome is an ancient center of culture, so of course the educated are curious want to come visit.". I can tell this answer pleases him.And it's true. Rome today still has a gritty, rough feel to it that I can imagine being the same as in ancient times ... a surliness that must have sprung from when its residents wore togas and Rome was the center of a global empire of trade and slaves and competing gods and power-struggles between wealthy families. Wandering around the city and ancient columns and remnants of temples hide between modern buildings and medieval church towers. They all share the same sky. Sometimes they share the same footprint ... the Christian church has always built over previous religion's monuments ... literally co-opting the sacred ground and grandeur for themselves. I was again struck by this today looking at Trajan's ornately carved column from topped by a bronze statue of St. Peter. I've also been struck by the dirt and trash and graffiti everywhere ... clearly the economic downturn has hit Rome - and Italy - hard. There are people who look poor and