To be clear – the Pope and the Date Lady were only together in my day. Not literally.

I spent an October Wednesday morning at the Papal Audience with Papa Francesco. And a couple thousand other souls. It’s a Happening. It took a long bus ride and about 30 minutes – maybe more – to get through security and into the public pens.

And then, you’re in.

It’s very exciting. Everyone is buzzing. It is a cacophony of tongues. Nuns, priests of course. Families. Large groups of Catholic school teens with their banners. Coveys of seniors following the ubiquitous guys with flags on sticks: tours of tourists who I suspect don’t know that the tickets are gratuito!

The veterans know to sit anywhere around the periphery next to the barriers. Picture thousands of people squeezed around the edges, and hundreds of empty chairs in the center.

You look up at the Jumbotrons, and see his white garb. A Popemobile eye’s view as he climbs aboard. The buzzing gets louder. People craning their necks as they see on the screen that Il Papa is moving.

And then. Then. Arriva! Arriva! He’s here! We all rush to our spots, elbowing the aggressive few, backpacks in our faces, banners in front of our lenses. To Get The Shot.

SNAP SNAP SNAP

At that point, major denouement time. Mind you – he hasn’t even started talking yet. It’s not a mass. Francis welcomes us in Italian. The message is repeated in many languages: French, German, Spanish, English (which oddly covered everywhere from the Dominican Republic to Japan), several others.

The day’s Homily played off the scripture on divorce and “let no man tear asunder…” it was more about integrity of love and commitment – than you damn well better stay married.

First delivered by the Pope – then summarized by the foreign speakers.

At the end – (as forecast and promised) he blesses the crowd. Plus, all of the religious objects we carried. My bag was bulging with wooden crosses, medals and one stunning rosary. Gifts for the folks back home.

THE DATE LADY

The Date Lady

She’s a recurring figure in my stories of Rome. For seventeen years, I have been buying big, succulent Medjool dates from the stand where she works at the Campo dei Fiori. She’s got just a few teeth. And, she’s friendly enough. Date, date, signora.

I held my breath this year that she would still be there. She was. What a delight. Until this one moment:

The Date Lady Turns

Some hapless tourist fails to see the sign on her mushrooms that boldly states DO NOT TOUCH. And she turns!

Date Lady goes full-on funghi fierce.

What a moment.

What a day!

I am smitten with the idea of the life of the person or people behind that window across the rear courtyard here in Roma.

It caught my attention because of the candle. Plus, everything else I could see in the space below was inanimate. This promised a story.

The table was simply, but elegantly, set. It didn’t have the quotidian feel of just another dinner.

I first saw a youngish woman setting something down – maybe she had just finished setting the table. Then a man – her partner, roommate, friend? (Probably not just friend – the candlelight after all) – sat a pan down with something sizzling. Maybe it was veal scallopini – but more likely chicken breasts (unlike Jimmy Stewart – I had no binoculars plus hey!! I wasn’t spying or anything).

I had just finished washing my day’s undergarment- and hanging it out to dry on the little clothesline outside my kitchen window – in time to catch them eating their meal together. He seemed rapt with attention, pouring her sake – and I imagined her elusive. Like maybe they were just courting.

That’s it. I walked away from the window. Watched 007 (Sean Connery) in Italian. Then went to bed.

In the early morning hours, I peeked to see what I could see. I saw shutters. In the awake time of the day, a laptop and papers on the table.

Though it struck me that I had invaded their privacy by looking, I also considered that they could be staring at my window. And seeing my Hanky Panky® on the clothesline.

Just one day in Rome – and I managed to pack in two helpings of gelati, cacio e pepe, countful glasses of vino – and a new word.

Grandini. But that comes later.

My flight from JFK to FCO was, as they say, uneventful. It started a little disappointing but quickly sequed into an unexpected treat. I booked Finnair – hadn’t paid that much attention because I did it months ago and on Expedia. One thing I could never figure out how to do was pick my seat. Until the last day when they wanted to charge me about $150 to choose. Which pretty much negates getting a great deal now doesn’t it!?

I ended up in a middle seat in the third row from the back. I reacted with a groan. The flight attendant heard me and pointed out that the entire row in front of me was open. I quickly moved to the aisle seat. And three hours later when it was time to sleep – I stretched out over four seats and entered into the Land of Nod. Made a big difference for this traveler who doesn’t take altering substances to sleep on overnight flight.

We landed 90 minutes early and within an hour I was settling into my Casa Piccola. The woman who rented to me – the lovely Clotilde who has been renting me a place to lie my head for years here in Rome – described her other place as a “small house” on Via Urbana. First, she meant small apartment. Secondly, it is about the size of a medium-sized Manhattan apartment. It is lovely – with the miniature clothes line out the kitchen window, pots and pans stored in the living room, and the sounds and cooking smells of people living all around me.

Oh – and two flights of f’ing treacherous unevenly-spaced stairs.

Via Urbana is in Monti — known as Suburra in Ancient Rome. It was the red-light district – and home to both the lower class workers, and Julius Caesar. Never really spent that much time here. Lots to explore. It’s a pretty happening strada. Where I got my first helping of cacio e pepe. And gelato at a place that trumpeted some gorgeous macarons (follow nyproducer on Instagram for some of this). And hours later some celestial gelato next to a charming little piazza. I had “avocado, lime and vino bianco” and “apple, almonds and cinnamon”. Uh-maze-ing. think I shall return and try pumpkins with its seeds and cranberry. And call it Thanksgiving in Rome.

Grandini is the Italian word for hail. Not as in “Hail, Caesar” but as in holy shit who knew it was going to storm tonight!?! While finishing my second glass of Primitivo and my little bowl of cheese and salami, a dramatic boom of thunder cracked the night. And the downpour began. First pelting rain. Then grandini. I, of course, had no choice but to order another glass of vino and switched to misto verdure. A dish of caponata, dried tomatoes perfectly softened in olive oil and some treatment of zucchini I am going to have to figure out before I leave.

I made it home, had the veg with my eggs the next morning. And must simply meet who was playing Volare at 4 this morning.

My first 24 hours in Roma.

It is my tradition to share my list of foods from the Fair: what I ate and at the very least: my favorite “new” Fair Food. From the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

Without further ado:

Favorite: The First Kiss®. The most delicious, juicy, and unforgettable APPLE. Yes – a fruit.

Then – what else?

  • Frozen key lime pie on a stick
  • Pronto Pup
  • Smoked ice cream with bourbon cherries
  • Sausage medley
  • Wood-grilled elote (Mexican corn on the cob)
  • Mojito beergarita
  • Flight of dark beer
  • Apple!!!
  • Blueberry rhubarb cobbler with corn meal polenta and yogurt
  • Minneapple pie with vanilla ice cream
  • Minnepumpkin pie with cinnamon ice cream
  • Walleye Cakes
  • Turducken sausage on a bun

Fair Husband and I at the Fair

The annual event of pigs, crop art and food-on-a-stick calls me once again.  It was a remarkable day of endless walking, sights and sounds as only a fair delivers (particularly redolent as experienced from the Sky Ride overhead), and two highlights in particular (food to come in a moment).

Raptor Show: a little bit of environmental awareness, falconry and, yes, even patriotism.  An hour at the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) building watching up close, owls, hawks, falcons and the grand finale: the American Bald Eagle (nice way to stir up the emotions and get the crowd to donate to the predator bird demonstration).  Which I gladly did.  It was wonderful.

Miracle 0f Birth Center: as it sounds.  A building dedicated to the actual births of farm animals: from rabbits to pigs to cows, goats, and other ruminants.  Pretty much every year, by the time my fair buddy Steve (see above: Paul Bunyan) arrive at the pavilion, we have missed the LIVE births, left to just watch the videotape version of the ‘miracle of birth.’  I thought there would be a repeat of that this year, when I spotted 30-minute old piglets (‘oh, you just missed it!).  Until we saw the crowds gathering five deep around the cow pen.

We watched a calf born.  Cow in labor (and eating while doing it, btw) – baby dropped to the hay.  While little children and families and young couples and urban folks, too – all gathered around to watch this Miracle of Birth.  It was — don’t use this word lightly — awesome.

After that, we wandered to take in the rest of the fair and check off some items from the “new foods” list.

So — drum roll please: here is what we ate on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair (not necessarily in order – the carbs killed some brain cells along the way, methinks).

FOODS I ATE AT THE FAIR

  • Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale
  • Ear of roasted corn
  • Bowl O’ Dough
  • Chicago mix of popcorn: kettle, cheese, caramel
  • Pronto Pup ®
  • Honey Vanilla Bean Swirl Ice Cream
  • Beer
  • Vanilla Milkshake
  • Land o’ Lakes Cheese sample
  • Brown Ale and Onion-Gouda Tipsy Pie
  • Walleye Cakes
  • Duck Bacon Wontons

My goodness, I must be slipping — is that really ALL we ate at the fair?  There could be some updates to come, once the carbohydrate hangover passes.

 

Now this is a rare experience. I shall travel in the height of summer heat: to two nations I’ve not visited: Hungary (Budapest) and Austria (Vienna – and its Woods). 

Even rarer, I have no clue what I will be eating. Other than paprika, coffee, and a Sacher Torte. 

Let us go on this journey of culinary discovery together, shall we?

Now, I guess I should pack. 

You would have expected the Romans to spend their Buona Pasqua at home, eating chocolate and Easter bread, and roasting lamb for dinner. After attending morning mass at one of the 900+ churches in la bella città. 

Well –

Certainly that is a bit of a cliche, but I did think I would find few establishments open – and rather empty streets.  Not so.  It was a stunning sunny day – in the 70’s – and thousands of people, Italians – not just tourists – were out and about. In the historic center anyway. 

But I thought this scene on a small side street of the Monti neighborhood was rather touching.  A family held their Easter dinner outside on a wooden table – here just a few members of their group were wrapping up their meal. 

Carina. Sweet.