NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Sunday, November 2, 2014

31—OMG, It’s La Donna del Menu and L’Uomo del Sostegno Technico

What a difference a day makes. Wifi in the neighborhood is working, and Orlando came yesterday to fix the problem resulting from the outage. Turns out the outage affected the modem. The other good news is that Romaine still appears to have a sweet leafy interior. It is not helpful to begin a spiritual with murder by paranoia on one’s hands.

With that I decided to walk up to Piazza del Popolo (Piazza of the People) as a kind of time check be Tuesday’s meeting of the tour group to Pompeii. 
Selfie with Orlando 

Typed while Orlando was fixing the modem. After communicating previously with the cable company, the agreement was he would call them if he couldn’t get it fixed. He could not. And called. As the phrase “calling the cable company” numbs my soul with terror, I decided to record the event. Here is how it went down in real time, although coming face to face with the Charter Communications of Italia was surreal:

Orlando is not having luck. The company called TIM told him to call. He has on his speaker phone and is speaking with Charter’s version of Menu Woman. I love everything Italian. Except Menu Woman. La Donna del Menu? Well, first off, after you chose the correct number option, Italian Menu Woman sings. Something that sounds like what you might hear at Il Ristorante Napolitano in Branson, MIssouri. No kidding. And as she sings, her twin L’Altra Donna del Menu says periodically: “Hold on, please.” Ah, we’re through now to Tech Support Man. “L’Uomo del Sostegno Technico? I am not advanced enough to know what is happening, except for the words “non funziona.” It’s not working. Now we need a pin. No pin. Where did I put my travel sewing kit? The pressure is on…where’s a damned pin. Oh, but wait the little toothpick with the British flag that came in the pizza. (I have no idea why. But to still your curiosity will find out.) Still, even with the toothpick, non funziona. L’Uomo del Sostengo Technico is speaking now to several o women, everyone talking at once. It sounds like Christmas dinner with la famiglia italiana. 

Meanwhile, things could be worse. At the piazza this afternoon, I checked out the church called Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Mary of the ——fill in. were you paying attention above?). A bronze tablet on the church tells how a walnut tree sprang up from the ashes of Nero and was infested with devils disguised as crows. So the church was built by Pope Pasqual in 1099 to exorcise these devils and in honor of the liberation of Jerusalem at the end of the first crusade. Well actually, the pope didn’t build the thing in that Il Popolo paid for it. 

What’s that? Could it be…“Funziona.” 
Orlando is borrowing my phone to see if it works. We check the iPad. The laptop. Sì sì, funziona!” Orlando, a serenely affable man is now cheering with his arms raised. Wherever Menu Woman and Tech Support Man exist, we all know the feeling.

Grazie Mille, Orlando.

Orlando is a writer. In fact, he is one of the five finalists in a competition, the winner to be announced while I’m here. He’s written a novel set in Venice. I am, of course, hoping to be present at his vittoria. 

He read my blog from last year that mentioned the ubiquitous presence of scarves in Italia. “It’s fashion,” he said. “Here fashion is everything.” So then I noted that it baffled me as to why the entire country has not been crippled by the pointy-toed leather shoes. I say this while catching a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror looking like a refugee from Oregon in my blue acrylic thrift-store crew neck and waterproof hiking shoes. No scarf.

And then the great truths are revealed. “Fashion here,” Orlando repeats, “is everything. We like it.” Well, that’s no secret. I see shopkeepers standing in their doors looking at me, not in disdain exactly but perhaps with the same alarm ancient Romans beheld that walnut tree infested with devils. 

So then—and may I say this shocking confidence I am about to receive reveals the integrity of Orlando’s character: He bends over and with his finger draws an imaginary line across across the front of his very snappy brown leather shoes polished to smartness of the most high (il più alto), the line a good two inches back from the serious point. “I must buy the shoes large,” he says. “It is fashion. But I also like them.”

On another subject, everyone here is reporting that it is going to rain. Rain. La pioggia. The words are spoken as if the bubonic plague were about to descend again. 

Perhaps, I have been infected and don't know it. All I can say is something strange has happened. The rain means no climb up Mt. Vesuvius on Tuesday. Total bummer. I emailed the company. It's supposed to be sunny on Wednesday. Could I change? I could with a phone call and a small fee. But then I thought, the hell with it. My friend Asta suggested a book called Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. Which I have not read except to contemplate the title. Last night I felt a break. Instead of my frugal routine of cooking for myself and thinking important (ha) thoughts, I took a walk to look at the half moon over the old forum then had a 10 p.m. dinner outside where I ordered grilled vegetable antipasto, pizza with tuna, and of course wine. 

While sitting there, I was joined by Ali, a street vendor from Kenya. We talked about our lives, where we came from and why we're here. He left Kenya because there was no opportunity. He first went to Paris but didn't like it and came here. "It doesn't matter where I go. There is no work." In addition to his native language, he speaks English, French, and Italian, all very well. However, he cannot read and has no skills. When I look at his picture, it seems he is alive, not an image. 

t wanted him to share my pizza, as I could eat no more than one large slice, but he declined and instead gave me a gift, which I will show you and tell you about next time. On my way home, I tossed a euro in the cup of an old beggar woman, then stopped, looked at my pizza-to-go box, went back, leaned over, and asked, "Hai fame?" Are you hungry? The old woman was asleep, leaning up against the wall, sitting on the cobbled pavement, no shoes, only blue and white striped socks. Her coat was gray. It reminded me of my father's overcoat. I touched her hand. She opened her eyes. I asked again. She nodded. "Vorresti della pizza?" Would you like some pizza? She nodded, and I set the box beside her. She reached for it with old slow hands. I wanted to sit down and talk with her. Looking into her face, I saw the human embodiment of my own hunger—something I can't describe but have felt for as long as I can remember. 

This was not an act of charity. I need to give things away, for I am here only because the gifts others have and are giving me the opportunity. I need to find my hunger. Know it. Let it speak to me of the emptiness for which there is no food. Only angels.

Odd, I think:. To feed hunger would only make it stronger. 

I will tell you more about Ali and other adventures next time. And more about my dungeon, which, I think, is also becoming a gift to my purpose in being here. Is there such a thing as purpose? The observer determines the outcome of the experiment.

1 comment:

  1. I love these last few paragraphs. Somewhat of a kindred Spirit hungering to know and understand more deeply....