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All Roads Lead to Rome

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.”

anthony bourdain

Italy is known for busy streets full of tourism, their beloved cuisines, and incredible scenery. It is one of the most famous countries in the world. In more recent news it is also known to be the first Western country to be hit by the Pandemic. Italy was the epicenter for the coronavirus.

In celebration of my 10-year marriage to Husband Face, once restrictions lifted we felt Rome was the place to go. Initially, this trip was just about feeding our little history buff souls, walking in ancient footsteps, and checking the box of eating REAL PIZZA. But this trip turned out to be so much more. Looking back now, it was the best trip for our milestone celebration. It forced us to appreciate things within our lives and in our marriage on a much deeper level.

A great relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It is a journey of good and bad. Of breaking down certain areas in order to strengthen other areas. It is about accepting and understanding that even though we made commitments to each other we are still humans. We make mistakes. Nothing is perfect and hidden wounds of our pasts cannot be ignored for they will surface anyways.

From a much higher perspective, Rome modeled how a happy life should and can be lived.  To focus on things that matter. To release things that don’t. Teaching us that self-respect and self-love is not found in skipping over the crisis and traumas of the world, but having admiration instead because that’s what helps us to grow.

 Below are three experiences from Rome that challenged my soul and sent me home with an even better version of myself and today I want to share them with you.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”

saint ambrose

#1 Eating

It is a celebration. Eating in Italy is a multi-hour affair. Whether you like it or not, you might as well make that time count.

The Italians believe that sharing a meal, even if it is with yourself, should be an experience. A time to enjoy your food. To taste your food. Digest your food. Allowing you the time you deserve to nourish yourself.

Not like here in the States. The fast-food culture is the American way of life. Here we do fast food, and it is everywhere! It allows us to multitask. It offers you the convenience to drive and have a conference on your speaker phone while stuffing your face. As you stop at the red light, you reach into an empty bag only to be surprised that there is nothing left to eat. We are soooo mentally busy that we don’t enjoy our food. And don’t get me started on our American-sized portions. We eat so fast, so unconsciously, we don’t allow our bodies a chance to know if it is full or not.

Rumor has it (I mean not really its kinda true) other countries talk about how obese Americans are. And after visiting Spain last year and now Italy, I can see why. While out and about Id whisper to my husband—”psst, honey, you know how I know how they know we are Americans? Because we’re faaaaaaat.”

I was feeling shameful on this trip when it came to dining, but not because of my appearance (I have accepted my American muffin top and just pretend it’s a unique accent that goes with my outfit) but because of the look of impatience that was written all over my face. THAT is how they actually picked up that we were Americans. Picture it now: all four of us standing at the hostess stand (all sweaty and out of breath from our lack of endurance) with a tablet and headphones for our child, reading a menu, ready to place our order before we are seated.

My husband’s and my mastery to be able to get in and out of a restaurant within 45 minutes – 55 minutes top – is a skill that we have perfected. But we impress no one. Not here! We weren’t even given the chance to show our level of sickness with the quickness. After we were seated – we were stuck there FOOOOOR-EEEEEEEEE-VER.

We were brought a bottle of water that we downed within two seconds. Then, approximately 45 minutes later they returned to take our very simple, short order – pizza and a bottle of wine. Another 45 minutes passed, and right before we collapsed our heads on the table with our hungry bellies and sunk-in faces from dehydration, our food arrived. After we were all finished and you could clearly see that our plates, glasses, and our bottle of wine were empty – they never came back. All the while our 5-year-old had a meltdown because he was bored of his blue tablet, and he had a low battery on his orange tablet plus we ran out of internet because we only gave ourselves so much data every day. Uhm, scuse me Flo????

 After taking some time to look up why meals are a 2-hour or more ordeal and what is the etiquette of this strange slow meal movement, I realized I have forgotten my manners when being a guest at someone else’s table. (Ugh, I can’t take all this shame!!!)

I came to really appreciate the culture and traditions of Italian dining. I also very smartly started planning our days around our large, gapped mealtimes. I learned the wait staff is not purposely ignoring you, they only come to your table when you make it known to them that you need them. They believe in giving their customers privacy. Time to enjoy each other and to enjoy their food.

Ever go out to breakfast or dinner here in the States and be asked “how does everything tastes”? Like 3.5 minutes after they dropped it off to you? To which you lie reply, “so good”, yet you haven’t even cut into your food yet or eaten anything off your plate?

I heard a story about a restaurant here in the States that told their wait staff in training that they must make contact with their table around 20 times from the time they sit down until they leave. And can I just say I notice it more THAN EVER being back home and it just makes me laugh because I don’t even know how I feel about it anymore.

Another new little experience for us that was probably another tell-tell sign that we were Americans was I don’t think we saw other children with headphones and tablets. That’s because the Italians LOVE children. They don’t believe children must be seen and not heard. In fact, they encourage those little boogers!

I feel as though here in America children in restaurants annoy the shit out of people and if we are trying to have a conversation with our little one no one wants to hear their screaming or do or say any of the NORMAL things that little people say while out in public. Honestly people, true fact: did you know that a child’s job is not only to be a kid and play but also to fucking challenge you in public and other adults around them too? It’s their little side hustle.  Whoever loses their shit first is the overtime pay children long for!  

We had numerous people tell us that Italy is one of the BEST countries to visit if you are traveling with small children. And let me tell you, we were NOT disappointed.

“Love and understand the Italians, for the people are more marvelous than the land.”

e.m. forster

#2 That Baby Love

Still jet lag, we were too tired to research a new restaurant one evening, and having enjoyed every bit of our bites at the first hotel we stayed at, The Regency Rome – A Tribute Portfolio Hotel, we decided since it was so close to our 2nd hotel, we should make the short walk there.

Along with my son’s tablet, I typically try to bring some sort of craft or colors or paper for us to play with while we wait for our food. The Little and I were on a kick that week making jewelry out of the fuzzy pipe cleaners. My son made a fuzzy green and red bracelet for our waiter. Our waiter was so happy to receive this gift you’d think he was just given a real piece of jewelry from a catalog. Before we closed the check, he then came outside with a few different origami animals that he made while he was allowing us to enjoy our LOOOOOONNNNGGG ASSSSSS dinner. He also made a paper airplane.

My son was so happy that while we waited for the waiter to come back an hour later (not really just keeping to the theme) to drop off our receipt, my son started playing on the sidewalk next to our table throwing the plane everywhere. Just then a man started to walk by. With the sidewalks being so narrow, my American culture switch triggered and I hollered at my son to get out of the way and allow the gentleman to get by. The gentleman then started playing with my son and his paper plane just laughing as much as my child. He seemed to know our waiter as they chatted for a bit so perhaps, he was another part of the staff. It was different. It was awkward. But it melted our hearts.

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel, The Westin Excelsior – Rome, and we weren’t quite ready to go up to our room just yet. So, we floated in the direction of the mellow sounds of a live piano being played. It brought us to the bar in the hotel.

With a large area for seating on the outside of the bar, I decided to sit down as my husband entered the bar to grab two glasses of wine. It was later in the evening and there was no traffic to be seen in the hotel, so I allowed my son to fly his paper plane up and down the halls, all around the couches, setting fire to the fancy ground with his road runner feet. Burn that energy boy!

Husband Face and I just sat there enjoying the tunes and admiring the imagination of our baby. From where we were sitting, we could see far down on the other side of the galley the front desk where customers are greeted. There, a little man poked his head around the corner calling to our son “psst, psst, come see”. Obviously, the child still does not take our warnings very seriously about adults calling him over to them but in this situation, we just let him.

After about five minutes and a little worry started to set in that he was breaking all the things at their desk, our son came running all the way back to us with a second paper plane. This one… was high-tech. With staples in the folds, and holes cut out perfectly and purposely in the wings for better flight, the staff made a more efficient paper plane for our son to play with. We were at a loss for words. Do you mean you want him to play more, run more, and keep being loud…at this time of night?

We hand gestured over to the man and thanked him for the gift. We were having such a nice time listening to the music that we decided on another glass of wine. The child was fine, and it was clear that he didn’t seem to bother the staff. As my husband went inside the bar, (the way it plays in my head looking back now) I swear each front desk staff member came out 1 at a time with another paper plane, with more flair than the next. My son now had 5 or 6 paper planes made for him as if we were in the show Shark Tank: Kids. The staff – the contestants presenting the best and most pioneering paper planes. My son – the investor, the paper plane tycoon.

One of the men, oh my gosh he had to be 60ish give or take ran back and forth with my son for like three minutes flying his own plane, throwing it in the air laughing and jumping like a child. I’m pretty fucking sure I saw him click his heels in midair.

Seriously.  I mean, I tried to hurry up and grab my phone to catch the video and I caught a tiny glimpse but, at that moment, tears started to fill my eyes and I felt like I was in the euphoric presence of God. Of life. Of spirit. Watching humanity, watching an adult, have just as much fun if not more than my five-year-old. Playing with him as if he were an uncle or a grandfather. Not telling him to pipe down. Not making him feel bad for running around. In that time frame, my child was seen. We as a family were seen.

I felt so much love already for this wonderful city having only been there for two full days. I just knew we were in the right place. Everywhere we went as a family with our little Tasmanian devil, we felt more than welcomed, we felt wanted. Italians feel that children should be a part of society. To engage in society. They are a big deal and a big part of this world. And as they were swooned by our son, lemme just tell you I was swooned by them. Especially… da ladies!

“I thought I knew everything when I came to Rome, but I soon found I had everything to learn.”

edmonia lewis

#3 Wise Words of the Roman Woman

We met some incredible women in Rome. Most of them were the tour guides that took us all over the place. Just about all our tours lasted around two hours but that was just enough time for my baby to fall in love with them. Or for them to fall for him.

Believe you me, my child used every tool from the book “The Ladies Man: Children’s Edition, milking these women in getting them to speak every term of endearment from their vocabulary. Every time – EVERY TIME, we had to say goodbye to our guides, he would flash his Puss in Boots-like eyes, and pop out a little tear. “Amore, caro, tesoro, stellina, caramellino”.  I about asked Husband Face to push me down so I could scrap my knee on the cobblestone paths just so these ladies would cradle me against their bosoms speaking the sweetest words you ever heard. Dammit, I too wanted to be their loves, their dear treasure, their little star, their little caramel butterscotch.

When we weren’t being swooned by these angel-voiced historians, we gained a TRUE sense of what Rome was all about. What the culture and the people are all about. How their identities were shaped by the good and the bad. A few of the guides had talked to us a bit about the violence that came from the Colosseum. Because I booked all companies that were geared more toward children, they were very gentle in how they shared a few stories but you could see it in their eyes, the pain in their hearts to this day still. The Colosseum was not just a graveyard of souls of men, but of animals too. Echoes of crowds cheering, men AND women dying, and animals crying.  

I asked one of our guides whom I felt comfortable with after seeing the sadness in her eyes in speaking about the violent acts that took place how she felt personally about the Colosseum still standing today and would she rather it be torn down. I did not expect the answer she gave me, and it hit home so hard because in America we are evaluating our own historical landmarks. She said to me, “Why would I want for it to be torn down? Landmarks in Italy are a mix of statues and venues that represent heroes and safe spaces along with great tyrants and venues that were used for much violence, but it is our story. To evolve, to grow, you need both the light and the dark”.

Her words have sat with me, giving me strength through several circumstances since then, actually.

From Day 1, Rome greeted us with love, with her vulnerability and we quickly fell under her spell. We witnessed first-hand so intimately, so intensely, why this majestic place is called the Eternal City.

Rome has been through thousands of storylines. The impressions of people who lived here and who died here pulsate through the energy of this sublime city.  Rome is mother to the people who watched empires rise, she is the arms that also cradled people as empires fell. She has scars, holes, and cracks. The pandemic is just another bruise upon her skin but yet again, she still stands, and you can feel her power, especially through the culture, traditions, and joy practiced by the amazing people who still live in this resilient land. 

If you should ever visit, after you visit, you too will never be the same again.

“Rome will exist as long as the Colosseum does;

when the Colosseum falls, so will Rome;

when Rome falls, so will the world.”

saint venerable bede

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