I walked around Florence and now Rome where streets are lined with marvelous restaurants of all sorts...where people sit outside enjoying some of the world's greatest food, I must order a salad while others order pizzas and pasta that look so beautiful they should be in a museum. It doesn't help that I'm a vegetarian as well.
Of course, I ordered the book Gluten-Free Italy. The title was hopeful. The reality was not. Until today:The Florence choices never panned out. I didn't have high hopes for Rome. However, I had read about this place that has gluten-free pizza. You know me, I love the quest. #33 Giubbonari. It's a short street after the very large and commercially crowded Piazza Campo di Fiori. Sorry, Rick Steves, I don't find it the charming place you claim it to be. Nice fruits and vegetables. But crowds. And wares upon wares loaded with gluten.
So map in hand, I go looking for my last best hope. Probably a fool's errand.
On this short block that starts with #77. No way is there room for #33. Except I remembered the nutty numbering system in Florence. My apartment #66 was next to a store, "25." So I plodded on...#44....#37...ah ha...a Spagettetaria...!!! #33. I walk in. Speranza in my step. The conversation commences in Italian. Not only do they have pizza vegetariana senza glutine...they have an entire gluten-free menu. I was on my way to Trastevere across the Tiber so asked if I had to order ahead...was there some secret to getting this freshly made delight. No just stop back.
Now, this is ridiculous, but I walked down the street with tears in my eyes. Food. Real Italian food in Italy. Pizza. Real Pizza. Sorry, Amy, you try with that frozen stuff...but it's just not pizza. I was so excited I decided to buy myself something to celebrate. I stopped on the bridge to Trastevere and bought a bracelet from a sweet old man from Honduras. I chose the red and black leather, although for 5 euro I'm pretty sure it's vinyl, Red and black, I said to him in Italian, the colors of revolution.
Oh, no, no signora, red is the color of love.
He was very excited that all his bracelets came on and off with lo stesso sistema...the same system. And it is pretty clever the way he's worked it out so you don't have to tie the end, but just slide the twiny stuff at the ends. Bad description. Blame it on the tumbler of wine (story to come below)
So with my red and black braccialetto, the colors of revolution and love...whatever...I was off to check out Trastevere, home of the churches of Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria...I was early for Santa Cecilia...they close mid-day. On my way to Santa Maria, I stopped at Fiori di Luna, Flowers of the Moon for gelato. I don't know why I picked it, but something was in the air...pizza senza glutine...and, there was this very charming young college woman behind the counter, working while her on her semester abroad...we chatted about how we both wished we spoke better italian. So, I asked her as I gazed through the glass at the colorful creamy wonders, what in the world is Zabaglione? (I have since learned it's a well-known Italian dessert.)
Oh, she said, as if delivering enlightenment from one of the archangels, its kind of the flavor of eggnog with Marsala through it...you could actually see tiny wisps of the Marsala.
Oh, I said, why not. Would you like something sopra (on top), she asked.
Well, maybe some of that crema.
I paid a modest sum as gelato goes and went on my way.
But after the first tiny plastic spoonful of Zabaglione with a touch of Crema, I stopped dead on the Via and said aloud: Oh my God.
Now, I've had some pretty fantastic gelato. But eggnog with marsala topped with crema: All I can say is that it's so good, no one should be permitted to eat it in public.
And you don't have to take my word for it. Ask that woman outside the Church of Santa Maria. She was practically dancing.
All who'd tasted of the Flowers of the Moon settled down and went inside Santa Maria of Trastevere.
It's hard to describe churches. This one was exquisite with the giant mosaic above the altar where Jesus had his arm around his mom, introducing her to the world. It was even in its opulence and magnitude very tender. The face of Jesus in this mosaic, like the face of Jesus on the altar was the face of a man you could believe in: More simple than sacred, more real than the stunningly beautiful marble inlaid and undoubtedly highly expensive floors...even as prices went in the 14th century. Oh, yeah, right where the church now stands, someone discovered oil back in 30 B.C. I wonder what Rome would have become if it had been a major gusher and not just a handy reserve for lighting lamps?
On my way back to Santa Cecilia, I bought a purple sweatshirt from Ahman from Bangladesh. He took Italian lessons upon arriving here so we compared schools. He had started out hustling me, offering me 7 euros less than the going price for sweatshirts so after we exchanged names and stories about learning to talk Italian and he convinced me the purple really was better than the blue for me, I gave him the going price.
Then down the road to Santa Cecilia's. Breathtaking, really. Although not only for the simple pale blue beauty of the marble walls and modest but elegant appointments. St. Cecilia's tomb is right up in front of the altar. There is a marble likeness of her carved by the artist who was there when they opened her original tomb and saw her body whole before it turned to dust. On the marble sculpture, there's a gash in the neck. Cecilia was beheaded for her beliefs. I sat in the church soaking in the simple beauty and wondering what I would be willing to give my head to.
Now, you'd think someone working in that church today under that kind of pressure to give it your all would be quite other worldly. Not the jolly nun in the old traditional habit working the book store. She spoke no English, so we kind of made do as I asked if it's really true that il Papa leads a candlelight procession around the Colosseo every Good Friday. It appears that this is true, although she didn't know what time. And so I was off toward...la pizza vegetariana senza glutine.
Oh, but before we leave, how would I describe the section of Rome called Trastevere. Home to these two exquisite churches, yes. But the place itself has an attitude that could be summed up by this sign outside a small, informal ristorante:
I decided to bring my pizza back here, relax after a hard week at language learning and enjoying the heck out of Rome. Well, actually, that's not the real reason. I didn't think I could eat the standard...looks like possibly a 16" to 18" pizza. And I wasn't sure how to ask for un sacco per il canissimo...or if they do doggie bags in Rome.
So anyhow, while waiting, I ordered glass of vino rosso. Now, I thought it would be like most places. A huge glass. A tiny bit of wine. But no. What I received was...well, how to describe it... a short tumbler filled with exceedingly delicious chianti.
Now I had a dilemma. This was enough wine to last me more than an evening, and my pizza, my nice hot senza glutine pizza would be ready presto. What a sin to just leave wine in my glass. In short, I drank the whole thing, finishing up several minutes after the arrival of the steaming hot pizza. The waitress was quite thrilled to here this was my first pizza ever in Italia. She lifted the lid and showed it to me. I thought I was going to cry. It was beautiful, laden with tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, olives.
Not tipsy but elevated, I set out with my treasure box, choosing the quickest, surest route back. A hapless old man got in my way. I almost jammed him with the corner of my box. It was only when crossing near the mobile telephone store that I realized that unlike last Saturday, I now knew to turn right and zip around the corner back to my apartment. Exactly a week before, I had taken this same route but missed the apartment by twenty minutes as I was racing around trying to figure out how to get my phone and internet working. I also had no idea where the grocery was and no point of focus that wasn't clouded by jet lag.
The pizza senza glutine was thrilling. I loved the cardboard box...the whole ritual of opening it, laying out the lid, rolling the roller over the pizza, lifting up a slice dripping with the savory tomato sauce, kind of collecting all the saucy stuff up in that little valley of pizza crust...and yes, the crust...you'd never know it wasn't real gluten crust. It looked, tasted, felt, smelled like real crust. It even sounded like pizza when I sheared off the first bite...crisp but also chewy. I was sublimely happy. Maybe the happiest person in the world. There is one slice left, only because I could not bring myself to eat the whole 17" (let's give me the benefit of the doubt between 16 and 18)....
I think I better go for a walk.
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