Rome Is Burning

The second instalment of an ongoing European adventure

By Apurba Jahangir

Rome was hot that day. The sun directly went after my oversized black t shirt as if it was personal. There were peanuts being roasted on my left, paintings being sold on my right and even in this scorching heat, a group of red cap wearing, flag hoisting north eastern tourists brought out their Leicas, came directly towards me and in the most polite way asked me to move so that they can get a clear picture of the famous crying location from Two Women. I didn’t mind at all; I turned around and joined them.

Steps are situated in the heart of the city, connecting the Piazza di Spagna at the base to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top consisting of 135 individual steps. Go up and down twice and you’re good for your daily cardio. Right opposite sits the elegant Barcaccia Fountain, designed by Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It’s not every day you get to see a piece of art that was a collaboration between a father and a son. Shaped like a half-sunken ship, it features water overflowing from the vessel and into a large basin, said to be inspired by a legend of a boat that was carried to this spot by the flooding of the Tiber River.

Rome is as good as it gets for history buffs. Every corner offered some element that is over a few hundred years old. Imagine the tales these fountains or those steps have seen. The meetings, the break ups, the families, that have left their mark on this city. The last time I came here was with my father. And it was the last holiday we ever took together. I still remember him sitting on those steps. He was tired from cancer. It was the day before our flight back. I remember he told me to take a walk on my own around the block as he wanted to rest for a bit. That usually meant: “you can have a smoke break now if you want”. My dad never smoked. So, as I went down the corner to light up, I saw him just looking at all those people that were coming in and out of his frame. I knew he wasn’t really looking at something specific, but just the presence of people, the structures, the city. He came to this city a few more times before. But I think he knew this was going to be his last, or maybe it was just me, his over-dramatic son. But that’s another story for another time. Or maybe not. The weird thing is even when I don’t want to, he kind of always sneaks into my stories. I guess we will find out if he does that even now. For now, let’s come back to the present.

I saw M from a far away. I knew of M for a long time. I was a fan actually. I still am to some extent. I thought she was great. And I thought she was gorgeous.

I saw that she saw me. After knowing each other for all this time, this was the first time we were hanging out together, in Rome. We exchanged our hi and hellos and we went off. I do my trips like this very randomly, somewhat unprepared. When I was coming here there was no plan. M on the other hand gotten her trip organized to the minute. She knew exactly when she would meet me and exactly where to go. So, I followed her.

Her steps were now leading away from the tourist traps of Rome. We were navigating through alleyways of what I call a hippy neighborhood. Back brushed black hair had given over to shiva shirts and dreadlocks. I could smell the “spirituality” in the air. There were now guitar players on the street singing Grateful Dead songs. There were painters on the street not to sell but to paint the yellow brick roads. We came at halt at the end of an alleyway. I realized I couldn’t hear any English words at this point. And the Italian they were speaking had – how do I put it – a punch in them. There were tables around the street. According to M this place served the best pasta this city has to offer. I did not buy it. I was in Rome, and to me this city served the best pasta on every corner. I had tried out a few places and to me they were mostly the same and they were all amazing. But man was I wrong!

M ordered for the both of us. All I knew is I wanted my regular “out of the country, nobody is looking” drink. I guess I also have ‘Bangali Musolman’ traits. Huh who knew.

M and I were still a bit uncomfortable maybe. Or maybe it was I. She was a few good years older than I was, and again like I said, I was a fan. My childhood radio listening included of her voice. One of my most favourite songs from that era included her voice. So I was a bit, definitely not starstruck but let’s say shy. Shy is a good word. We traded the “how is he” and “how was she’ and your no-brainer “what are you up to” but it was interrupted. What came to our table is I think the most delicious pasta ever made in history, anywhere. Now you have to realize, for someone who grew up thinking Swarma House pastas were amazing, this was nirvana. My first bite taught me how I was wrong, my second taught me that there is always something better. What finally took me to the heavens were not the pasta, but the two slices of pizza that came afterwards.

Till then that was the best meal of my life, outside my house. Till then I thought I was done for the day. But that wasn’t the case.

To be continued

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