No matter how I try to avoid Rome, it draws me back inside. Not having to drive in is less stressful. Having a Roman in tow makes it a memorable experience. So it was, at the end of the week, that I found myself with our host, Caterina, whose family has lived in Rome for centuries.
To walk the narrow streets and to come upon a place that one recognizes is always a surprise to me. How many times did I roam the streets during an abandoned August, a chilly Autumn, a hopeful Spring? More times than I care to divulge. But this is a walker’s town, and a town for the young and the dead.
Our day, before we made it to Rome, was crowned with a meal cooked by three women in Basilicata. The cult of the Goddess vibrates with a positive energy in that region. Men make the wine, women provide the context and the sustenance with their roasted vegetables, their pastured cattle and sweet lamb meats, and those incredible pastries made from the bright wheat and the pure water of the region. A shrouded plate of cookies, inspired by Christianity and paganism, were seductively displayed, proud and erect, almonds jutting from the top, dipped in warm vincotto of Aglianico. Female energy dipped into the male force, it was (with food) an erotic experience as I have never had.
Some say Basilicata is unfathomably poor. One could live well in such abject conditions. Povera ma profondamente feconda.
But now we are back in the cities with the streets and the other cattle, the corn fed ones from the land of the giant Hawaiian shirts. And those short pants that show the calves as if to signal to some unseen Observer, checking to see if they are ready for the slaughter house. Not yet, Rome must take their little piece of tribute from all who walk inside the walls.
Thankfully, Caterina knows how to jump into the Roman vortex, where we leave the Americans and the menus in English, proclaiming they serve “Italian Food”, which is a conundrum with profound implications. Maybe that is why it is so difficult to present real Italian wines and real Italian food, in general, to a culture that has been trained in Rome and Venice and Florence to accept a menu turistico of Italian invention. No worries, as the hipsters say in Austin, we press on deeper into our personal passeggiata of time and memory and pleasure.
We are seeking only wine this night. The food was already in apogee, a climax with a cookie coda that will produce offspring on these pages, someday, soon. Now we want to drink Italian wine.
Our first stop we ask for a simple white from Umbria to be told they are out. On a Friday night. I remember the conversation I had with my Italian wine salesmen friends in Rome and how unprepared the roman restaurants are for their weekend clients. The server brings us four bottles. A spoofed Vermentino (barricato) from Sardegna. Pass. A Pinot Grigio from the north. Please, dont. Another oaky imposter. What is she thinking? That we would like these abominations? Finally we point to the 2009 Frascati, light but senza legno.
The next stop, we weren’t so lucky. Past Pizza Farnese we found a Falanghina in the Campo dei Fiori. It was crisp enough, but maybe a little too acidic. It had a metallic finish. Cold enough, it would be fine. But we weren’t batting too well this night.
Finally, we found a quieter wine bar in Piazza S. Egidio that Caterina remembered. We flip flopped between a Grecchetto in purezza and a Pecorino in purezza. We settled on the Pecorino. It was white, it was cold. It wasn’t spoofed. It didn’t have the soul that the Pecorinos had that we'd tried the week before in the Marche and Abruzzo. But it was a lovely night, and we paused to let the eternal procession we call Rome pass by us, and we enjoyed the endless pastime of Romans, watching people, with all their quirky lovely movements.
Ah yes, Roma, we love you, but we can never be yours. There is too much Italy to belong too. But for a night, for a moment under the stars, with friends and wine and the caressing breeze, yes, we can be swept away, one more time.