Monday, May 29, 2006

All roads lead to...

Rome has been a blast. We've been here almost three whole days, and this is the first chance I've had to sit down and write about it.

We arrived on the train Saturday morning. The first thing we did after checking in and getting lunch was to take a bus tour of the city. It was one of those double-decker tourist buses, where everyone rides on top to get a good view. This took us to (well, past) almost all the major tourist attractions of Rome, including:

The Piazza Venezia, home of the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II:


The Colosseum (pictured below) and the Roman Forum (lots more on these later):


The Castel Sant'Angelo, along the Tiber:


And St. Peter's Square and Basilica (tons more on this later):


Having taken in all of Rome in about two hours, we were all a little tired:


So rather than do any of the major attractions, we took a little walk to the Trevi Fountain, of Three Coins in the Fountain fame:


You can't tell from this picture, but the place was swarming with people. Still, we enjoyed visiting, especially Mom and Dad, who know the movie:


We walked back from the Trevi along Via Nazionale, which is a major shopping area, so I decided to stop and buy a pair of shoes. I got a nice, very comfy pair of loafers I'll be able to wear to work for only about 70 Euros. I was able to talk to the saleswoman and the cashier half in Italian. Being able to speak a little of the language is really turning out to be useful. It's true that almost everyone speaks at least some English, but many people speak only a little. For instance, in a hotel, the reception clerks will basically speak English, but the bellhops might only know a little bit. I've had a lot of half-English, half-Italian conversations by now, and the Italian half really helps.

In the evening, Mom and Dad were tired, so Dave and I decided to get dinner by ourselves and then go out dancing. This turned out to be an authentic Italian experience.

It was hard trying to find a place to swing dance in Rome, even on a Saturday night. We had a guidebook that my Mom had gotten out of the library dated 1998, and the Internet and phone. A Google search like "swing dance rome" was only moderately helpful. I found my way to an Italian version of Citysearch, although of course, it was in Italian. I ended up searching for places with "jazz" in the name, and calling them. It was odd to call a place like "The Jazz Cafe" and have a conversation like this:

Jazz Cafe: Buona sera, Jazz Cafe, prego. (Hello, Jazz Cafe, can I help you?)
Me: Buona sera. Sono americano, in vacanza. Stasera, avete la musica jazz? (Hi, I'm an American on vacation. Do you have jazz tonight?)
Jazz Cafe: No.

We found one or two places that did have jazz that evening; at least one place even had it live, but they didn't have dancing. ("Posso ballare?" "Oh, no.") Finally we found a place called La Palma that was having a live concert and dancing afterward. Great! Concert is at 10:30, dancing afterwards, around midnight. Perfect.

So after dinner we went to the train station, figuring it was the easiest place to get a taxi. As we're waiting in line, some guy approaches me from behind and asks if we need a taxi. I say yes and show him the address (Si, Via Giuseppe Miri, 35). He frowns and shakes his head and says something like "Quale zona?" (what zone?) but I don't know what he's talking about. OK, I figure, it's some illegal cab and there's something funny going on I don't know about. No problem, we'll wait for the official cabs. So we get to the front of the line and go up to the next cab and show him the address. He also frowns and says something like he doesn't know where this is and what zone is it in, and I have no idea. Then some people behind us start shouting to us in Italian about where are you going and what's the address and oh you can't go in that taxi, and I'm confused, mostly because all of this is going on in Italian and I can only follow about a third of it, and then some other taxi drives up and some people shout something like that we should get in that one, and we show that address to the driver and he says sure, "La Palma, right?" and we hop in. Wheh.

So we make it to La Palma, which appears to be a restaurant, bar, and jazz club, and we hear a great concert by Testaccio Art of Jazz, an Italian big band. They basically played American standards; the between-song patter, to us, went like this: "something-something-in-Italian Sammy Nestico something-something Count Basie something-something: 'Shiny Stockings.'" They also played "Fly Me to the Moon," "Don't Get around Much Anymore," "Here's That Rainy Day," and "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me." For several songs they had a vocalist, whom I enjoyed very much. Her English diction was not quite crisp, but for an Italian singing English she was pretty good, and her vocal quality was beautiful. In addition, the band had several good soloists, including a tenor sax with a very melodic line and a lead trumpet with a great sound.

After the concert—which isn't until maybe 12:45, especially since they didn't start until almost 11—we try to dance, but there's basically no one dancing, and the two girls I asked (balliamo!) weren't up for it. So we went out and talked to people instead. We had heard that one of the trombonists was an American expat, so we introduced ourselves to her and chatted for a while. We told her about the fiasco with the taxis, and she said yeah, "that's like in New York when you get in a cab and they say they don't go to Brooklyn." She also told us that there's never any real dancing at La Palma, but that they'll say anything on the phone to get people to come. Oh, well.

While we're standing around staring at the crowd, barely able to talk to anyone, some girl comes up and starts speaking to me in rapid, enthusiastic Italian. I can't figure out what she's saying, but David, who's standing nearby, tells me half-jokingly that she's asking for my number and wants to go out. After a few moments we realize that is what she wants. Whoah, I say, first things first. I got her to introduce herself, and told her my name. Does she speak English? "Leetle, leetle," she says, holding her thumb and forefinger close together. "Parlo italiano un poco," I said ("I speak Italian a little"). So the rest of the conversation is in fractured Itanglish. "So you want my number?" She nods enthusiastically. "Um...." I take out my rented international cell phone. She grabs it, keys in her number, and calls her phone from mine; now we have each other's numbers. She says she will call me tomorrow (domani) and we will go out (uschiamo!) I say OK, whatever, and ask her to dance. Not now, she says, her ragazzo (boyfriend) is here. (!) She runs off. I tell our new American friend what happened, just to make sure I'm not being played or scammed, but she says probably not. "That was a come-on. Welcome to Italy." Indeed. (Incidentally, she never called.)

So we didn't get to dance in the end, but all in all, our first day and night in Rome is a success.


Blogger CocoaDream said...

Ciao! I finally caught up with your Italian adventure blog. The pictures and descriptions were great. I loved the sunset pics from Flourence. The entry on David (17 feet tall) made me laugh. You ARE religious about it. The pictures from Rome reminded me of the places that Audrey Hepture and Gregory Peck went to in Roman Holiday. Absolutely romantic.

11:07 AM  

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