Well after yesterday’s gushing about Rome I figure I can give a more realistic and less holy or sanctified view of La Città Eterna. First of all, and perhaps worst of all for me, the city is overrun with tourists. Again I am technically one of those damned people, but I promote myself a bit over their level because I at least try to speak the language. Roving tour groups, with their flags and microphones are the worst for me. They take up entire vias, spreading out like locuts across the narrow streets. Come on people, at least try to respect those who have no desire to be stuck behind a mass of people listening to some tour guide babble about what semi-famous person once lived or stayed in such and such building. It’s Rome for God’s sake! How many people of ancient or even relatively recent importance in the European world has not been to Rome?
But even worse than the tourists themselves is how they’ve transformed the culinary world. I wandered the city in vain of finding a restaurant that could offer me authentic Roman cooking. As much as I love modern Italian food, which certainly has retained some ancient aspects, I had the craving for some rank organ meat such as brains, a Roman specialty. Every restaurant that makes itself visible, and without the internet or a reliable guidebook to guide me I needed to see a restaurant and its menu, has turned touristy. The menus are all basically the same with the same pastas, antipasti, secondi and desserts. Thank God I also wanted pizza last nigh or I might have gone nuts trying to find authentic Roman food late at night! Damn the economics of the world and the American fear of any strange sounding dish! The restaurants need to make money and they do so by providing that which the Americans desire: namely safe, eaten-before dishes that any American can recognize in the American vernacular.
Where did our collective culinary spine go? Has an abundance of cheap meat jaded us to the value of the less tender, the harder to cook pieces of meat? These “undesirables” in America often hold secret flavors and amazing textures that cannot be found in a filet mignon. Ask me whether I want an extremely tender, but relatively flavorless filet mignon, or a stew made with the neck of a lamb, I will almost always take the lamb. These pieces with bone and collective tissue will take your palate to the heights of umani: that indescribable fifth taste. Be adventurous and try something new.
Past the flocks of tourists Rome is unfortunately a fairly dirty city. Vandalism is rampant, covering almost any open surface in some places. Buildings are old and not very well kept. Even the monuments, such as the Pantheon and Coliseum, still show the wounds of WWII with massive bullet holes. Buildings are falling down in places and merely ignored in others. It’s as if the Romans never want to rebuild or do much renovating until absolutely necessary. They like the way things are: it works and it hasn’t changed much in years.
In the same note, driving in Rome is a mess of chaos. Lane lines are absolutely ignored and massive intersections exist without traffic lights. Pedestrians cross whenever they desire knowing that cars will stop, however abruptly. Scooters, lots of them, dart through the cars and people in what would seem a suicidal manner to most American drivers. If you’ve ever been to Boston, it is a million times worse.
On the train to Florence now. I love Italy.