Today is a national holiday and I was quickly reminded of this when I took my morning stroll and was intending to pick up a few grocery items for breakfast and lunch. Every little shop was closed with the exception of one bar.
Let me explain what a bar is in Italy: it is not a tavern, or American pub, or otherwise a place that serves alcoholic drinks accompanied by bowls of stale peanuts or pretzels. An Italian “bar” does in fact serve mixed drinks, but it should be more thought of as a café (I wonder if it is okay to mix French with Italian?)
At least around our neighborhood these bars are mostly used for espresso, cappuccino, baked goods and some grocery items. Furthermore Italian bars are everywhere. Our neighborhood, which is nearly exclusively apartment buildings with small stores on the first level have them on practically every corner. During our first few days I pondered how competitive these stores must be with one another since there were so many, but then I realized that there probably were not enough of these small shops to service all of the people living here.
Anyway, now I can go on with my story of hanging out in bars every morning while in Italy. This solitary bar was open and while I was enjoying my daily cappuccino and cornet (Italian for croissant) I spied the grocery items I most needed – eggs and milk. I needed bread for sandwiches so I asked the indulgent owner about “pane” at which he disappeared into a back room and soon returned with this huge loaf of what had to be 8×8 inches, sliced to about ½ inch. He sold it by the slice, so I asked for six, forgetting how to say six in Italian. Fortunately I have six fingers so all was good. His wife then wrapped my bread into gift wrapping paper. For just over 6 euros (8 dollars) I walked out of the bar having consumed a cappuccino, a cornet, 6 extra large slices of bread, a half dozen eggs, a pint of milk and two new Italian friends who happened to keep their bar open on a holiday!
“Sights and Sounds You May Not Get in the Museums”
We have now covered almost every region of Rome, with the exception of the Borghese area (which we will visit in a few days). In the center of Rome, not the residential areas, but where everyone goes to visit or work, beggars or pan-handlers are everywhere. This is true in most any urban area in the world, and Rome is no exception.
Some are clearly destitute with obvious deformities or ailments and others could very well be just trying to make an easy buck (or Euro). Many appeared to be Romas (gypsies) and some are drifters and some are deranged. Several of the crippled Romas seemed to have the same “deformity” – ankles broken to where the feet are twisted grotesquely inward, which made me suspicious of intentional crippling by another. This is not an uncommon practice throughout the world where children are victimized early and grow up begging for money only to have to give it up to their “keeper.”
After a few days of stepping around them in order to enter the churches (please not the obvious irony) it is easy to stop seeing them. I don’t suppose it is practical or even possible to give to every one who asks, although that is what Jesus says to do in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:42). What bothers me most is when I stop seeing, or refuse to see. “Let me have eyes, O Lord to see; ears to hear.”
The street musicians are nearly always a welcome site and they too come in abundance. Some are just young men pounding out chords on beat up guitars. Two or three times we have encountered saxophonists improvising some jazz tunes. We have heard drums, clarinets, accordions and an upright bass. Their music is a gift to the overall atmosphere and as with giving to those in need it is important to give to those who offer their unsolicited gifts of music.
All over Rome there is graffiti. This is not any more unusual than other European cities I have visited; still it is something I wish did not exist. Some of it is protest, others are well wishes (like “Happy Birthday – I just marked up the door to your apartment”) and some if it is just vandalism. The guidebooks do not bother to even mention it. Still, it is part of the larger fabric of this place and as with other sites and sounds one gets a bit use to it.
Our afternoon touring churches was a full and good one. We visited San Carlo alla Quattro Fontane, San Andrea al Quiranale, Santa Maria della Vitoria and several other stops along the way. I have decided that there is just too much to even say about these great sites and in light of this rather lengthy earlier reflection I will just share with you some pictures. Let me simply say that the art and architecture was as impressive as ever. Everywhere one turns there is beauty and inspiration.
I remain grateful for the opportunity,