Everyone has a poop story.
I was reminded of this the other day when I saw my fellow grape picker, Alice, from a distance. On her back was a small, gooey looking splat of liquid. “Alice!” I hollered, running to catch up to her. “I think you have bird poop on your back,” I said. She stopped abruptly. I took a closer look. It was green. “Oh nevermind. That’s just a smooshed grape.”
Being pooped on reminded me of the first time I ever went to Rome. I was twenty. I was so excited and I’d never even seen Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. My then-boyfriend, later-to-be Italian husband took me. Like a loyal Perugino, he hates Rome with a passion. He hates the chaos, the traffic, he hates the locals… In short, everything I’ve ever loved about that city, he hates. Still, he took me anyway. (That’s love.)
We got off the train and descended directly into the city’s bowels, hopping on the Metro, riding it all the way to Piazza Spagna, the famous Spanish Steps. The grimy metro did nothing for me but build suspense. I couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss over Rome was about. I especially couldn’t wait to see two-thousand year old relics of a more ancient Rome lying hap-hazardly in the middle of everything.
The flower-covered Spanish steps was my first lungful of Roman air. It held that much-anticipated touristy yet oh-so-typical Italian buzz I had anticipated of the most famous piazza in the country. Everything that ever was or will be Italian, that place has it. Cobblestones, pizza by the slice, designer shops, colorful stucco buildings lined with balconies, windows laden with wooden shutters, Italians yelling, gypsies pick-pocketing, fleshy dorky tourists wearing hats gawking, Asians taking pictures–it’s a fabulous mess of the best kind. A real, near-tangible testament to Italian hospitality. A glorious reflection of how Italians are: stoic and elegant while hectic and unbelievably glamorous in that way only they can be.
Enchanted, I walked over to the dazzling, impeccable designer shop windows. This place, with all its soul and texture made the Shops in the Galleria in Dallas look boring, bland. Almost corporate. Gucci, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, they were all there, the best of the best. Together they sparkled, making tourists feel welcome with their open doors and also as if they don’t belong. That’s the thing with Italy–they make you feel special, as if you’re meant to be there and yet you know, and so do they, deep down, that you have no business being there. Italians do a phenomenal job of selling it, but it’s a myth. That kind of posh pizzazz is not something that can be acquired. It’s something Italians are born with. And, it exists no where outside of the Mediterranean. No where I’ve found yet, anyway.
As I was gathering my wits about me, trying not to seem too affected by Rome or the incredibly handsome male model at the door of Gucci, I felt something like a big rain drop go glop onto the top of my head. Please let there be a woman watering her plants above me. I looked up and yes, there was. Then I reached up and felt my head which was when, unfortunately, I realized it was not water that was beginning to seep through my hair and touch my scalp. It was too warm, too thick.
Seriously, come on.
Lorenzo confirmed it for me. It was definitely cacca. “In Eee-taly, this is good luck,” he said.
I thanked him for trying to make me feel better.
“It’s TRUE!” he said. “It’s a sign of good luck here!”
Leave it to the Italians to turn bad things into good omens.
In the States if this happened I would have probably been standing in front of Wal-mart or Target or Home Depot — the antithesis of high-fashion shops. I would have just gone inside and walked straight into the bathrooms. Or I would have hopped in the car and gone home. But no. Not here. What was I going to do, run in Gucci covered in poop and ask to use their toilet? Right. Not unless I wanted to get spit on as well as get crapped on. I searched desperately for a public restroom or somewhere to go and hide and maybe die a tiny little bit. I had just arrived in Rome for a full day-trip and within the first five minutes I get dooked on. I was sure it wasn’t good luck. It was just my luck.
Down the street I spotted an American Express shop where you could exchange your dollars for lire. Next to that, there it was. The good ol’ standard of my childhood, the place with the best, cleanest bathrooms in small towns across America: McDonald’s. It might as well have been the dad-gum American embassy for me in that moment. Or a kind, old relative with outstretched arms.
Going into any McDonald’s, anywhere in the world, I always feel as though I cross a threshold the moment I walk in. The combination of elements like the line of people, all the beeping sounds of the timers, the menu plus the smell. It all instantly transports me–not home–but to a place just as familiar. I immediately relaxed. But by the time I got to the bathroom, the poop had hardened into my hair like gel. There was nothing I could do except pull my hair back into a ponytail, try not to think about it and go get to know Rome.
That was my introduction and my induction to Rome and life in Italy. Over the years I’ve accumulated, through trial and error and poop, a nice little list of places I love in Rome (and in Perugia and Florence). Because people so often ask me, well, here you go. This list is the result of years of trips to Rome with the likes of Mark, Lindsey and Rachel, which means these recs aren’t just endorsed by lil’ ol’ me but my best expat pals as well. They are our tried and true, non-touristy favorite restaurants and hotels. That is, if you ever find yourself in Rome, getting crapped on.
…eh Viva l’Italia!
Best location ever: http://www.hotelportoghesiroma.it/
Still a good location, a bit less expensive: http://www.solealbiscione.it/en/hotel-rome-old-town-centre-city-italy/hotel
If you need to be near the train station (Termini) and you want a night of luxury (and you probably will if you have to stay near the station!): http://www.unahotels.it/it/una_hotel_roma/hotel_roma.htm
For a buffet of antipasti like nothing you’ve ever seen in your wildest dreams, pop by this place after seeing the Roman Forum/Colosseo. Great if you like dining al fresco in the warmer weather: http://www.ristorantevecchiaroma.com/