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February 20, 2008

Yes, I went to Rome and now they are all out of wine.

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Parking is an art form.

So yes, I went to the place where people do as the Romans do... because they are Romans. To be honest I wasn't planning on going there but I didn't really pick Rome as my destination, it kind of picked me. I was looking for really cheap airfare to somewhere, anywhere Not Business Professional and there it was, a really shamefully inexpensive roundtrip ticket to Rome ... $600 (!!!). After I bought the ticket and made my hotel reservation, which took something like a grand total of thirty-four seconds, I thought about what I had just done and gasped a little.

Then I started researching my trip, you know ... after I bought it. And it seems like every guidebook and travel forum tells you that you arrive in Rome and get immediately pickpocketed and ripped off and scammed and oh yeah, there's graffiti everywhere and people are rude. In fact, if you do enough lunchtime or late-night web surfing to get information about Rome you may even begin to think you have made a mistake and you are flying off alone to a traffic-congested pickpocket paradise with nothing more than expensive tourist trap rip-offs and crime and congestion.

And gelato. Thank God for that.

But all those naysayers were wrong! I LOVED Rome. And I am throwing away my Rick Steves guidebook because he scared the beejesuz out of me (here is a direct quote from his book, "beware of thieving gangs of children..." and "Rome is rife with con artists, thieves and rip-offs, conceal all your valuables") but dude... there were women walking the streets in full-length mink coats carrying handbags that far exceed my monthly rent payment:

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Adorable in-love couple sitting on the Spanish Steps, and that is a full-length fur. And she was rocking at least four carats on her left hand....

The scariest part was all my pre-worrying ahead of time, especially since I couldn't tell anyone I was scared since I was being Brave And All. Saving face you know. But once I was there I felt completely fine, it's way safer than anywhere in Los Angeles. Just like anywhere, don't sit your big purse out on the table and walk away, but I saw nary a thieving gang of children. And yes it was loud and busy and it was also vibrant and exciting and unbelievably beautiful. I guess I have lived in Los Angeles for so long (and worked in downtown, alas) that traffic and grime and graffiti and panhandlers just round out the scenery. There's this crazy juxtaposition of ancient things (built in 27 AD!) (built 100 years after Christ died!) with brand new Ducati motorbikes parked out front, or plazas with amazing Bernini-sculpted fountains surrounded by girls in leather jackets and spike-heel knee boots. There's the Pantheon ... and the McDonald's directly outside it. I couldn't believe that you could just walk around and right next to a busy city street ... OH MY GOD IT's THE FORUM.

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It was delicious. I mean I LOVED Rome.

Cities and towns and even whole countries have a vibe to them, and whenever I land somewhere new I always try to tune into it, feel it out. I can definitely see why some folks prefer one destination over another -- there are people who really only feel centered near the water, or near mountains, or those who prefer New York to anywhere else, or Key West -- and isn't that the point of traveling anyway? You see new things and develop new preferences and learn about the world and yourself. Don't you travel to see, learn, smell, taste, taste again, taste some more, and expand your life?

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I let the waiter order for me. He scored points with this pasta, molto deliciosa!

Rome was definitely an expansion for me. I can barely fit in any of my pants. The city was pulsing like a heart, loud like Los Angeles, older than anything I have ever seen or imagined, holy, tacky, beautiful, tasty.

AND EVERYONE THERE IS GORGEOUS. The men are gorgeous, the women are gorgeous, the people sweeping the streets are gorgeous, the guys taking out the trash at the hotel are gorgeous.

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I imagine the guy on the phone is saying, "Where are you? I am on the Spanish Steps. I'm wearing... oh nevermind, you will see me... I am fabulous as usual..."

A few weeks before my trip to Rome, I told a girlfriend about it and she immediately asked if I had read Elizabeth Gilbert's book, "Eat, Pray, Love." And indeed I have read it -- in fact, I read it last year on the bus before I became addicted to audiobooks. I'd somehow forgotten a third of her memoir happened in Rome. (I do remember once telling a reporter that sure, I would have loved to pull an Elizabeth Gilbert during my divorce and travel the world and find food and God and sex but I was broke and living in a rental in the valley and the closest thing I had to a religious experience was finding a liquor store that delivered.)

It had nothing to do with me traveling there, I just couldn't resist a $600 airfare. I never had a burning desire to visit Italy (I don't know why, I was clearly crazy. Italy is delicious. But I had wanted to go to Croatia at the time ... where the cheapest flight I found had me shelling out a cool two grand. Bleh.) But if you mention Rome to fellow Oprah fans, it's the first thing they ask. "Are you going there on the beginning of your own Eat, Pray, Love experience?" my friend asked.

"Um, well... that wasn't my plan," I told her. "But leave it to me to only fulfill the EAT portion of the itinerary."

And eat I did:

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Spaghetti with bacon and romano cheese.

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Penne with vodka cream sauce.

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Amazing fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese and herbs.

Believe it or not, in between meals I even had time to see Vatican City and attend a blessing by the Pope which was for me a highlight that ... well, I guess can only be described as a religious experience! Even better than a liquor store that delivers.

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Also: hello, easy hand-knit beret in Lion Brand Wool Ease chunky heathered grey! El papa le piace.


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At first I was painfully shy about asking people to take my picture but after the first few times it ended up being great because I'd try to pick people that were also tourists, usually couples, and I'd ask the woman half of the couple to take my picture and then afterward I'd offer to use their camera to get a picture of them both together for their own memories (that was something I learned all those years vacationing with Le Ex-Hubby, you get very few pics of you together on vacation) and it ended up everyone was happy and I liked it a lot. In some incredibly dorky way, I felt like I was part of someone else's good vacation memories, too. And it was easier especially if I heard a tourist couple speaking Spanish or French or English, so I knew I could communicate. My Italian turns out to be limited to "Wine, please" which surprisingly worked very well for me in restaurants but is not so descriptive in picture-taking. (Almost everyone in Rome that I met spoke perfect fluent English, it is incredibly tourist-friendly. More so than just about any foreign city I have visited. I did know how to order things in Italian and how to say please and thank you, but for the most part they speak to everyone who does not appear to be instantly Italian in English.)

Traveling alone was scary, awesome, exhilarating, exhausting, relaxing, and most of all made me feel like I could conquer the world. I didn't think I could really do this, travel all by myself to a strange place and navigate it all by myself ... but I did. It had its lonely moments and it's surprising moments and most of all it was just my little tiny adventure that I always secretly wanted to do.

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There's always the self-portrait, too!

I still cannot believe I did that!

Posted by laurie at February 20, 2008 6:32 AM