At the time when Alexander the Great had conquered the kingdoms of Egypt, Macedonia, Greece and Persia, cultural diffusion was at a high point. ( I’m telling you this for a reason, really.) In ancient Egypt, it was believed that cats were some kind of demi-gods. They were revered and held an esteemed place in society. The legend is they have never forgotten this status. It explains a lot about their attitudes….perhaps there was some cultural interaction between the cats of Egypt and the cats in Rome, yes?
In Rome, there are cats everywhere. One must make their peace with it because they are staying. There is an old Roman saying that says that those who do not like cats in this life will come back as a mouse in the next.
Consider yourself warned.
Another interesting fact is that the cats in Rome, (especially in the Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum) are protected landmarks. Part of the story is that they are considered the posterity of the cats who would have woven themselves around the legs of perhaps Caesar himself. Can you imagine them perched on the lap of Marcus Aurelius? They. Are. Sacred. It’s against the law to harm them. They are feral cats that pretty much have run of the city, as you’ll see. You can make it into a game to count how many cats you see each day.
One popular souvenir is to purchase the annual calendar, “Il Gatti di Roma.” It includes hilarious, borderline blasphemous pictures of unimpressed cats lounging on the Spanish Steps, licking themselves under the Arch of Constantine, or scratching away on someone’s Vespa. They’re naughty. You can find these calendars in just about any kitschy souvenir shop or book store. Take pictures of all the ones you see and make a montage of them for your home as a remembrance of your trip.
The cats are a huge part of the culture in Rome. I never get tired of spotting one sitting where humans are most definitely not allowed. In the Piazza Torre Argentina, there is actually a Cat Sanctuary. You can sit on the railings with the clear plexi-glass and look down into the sanctuary and see the cats. Some of them will walk right up the steps and demand attention. Others just act like cats and ignore you, as well as your camera. This is one of those cool things that you can only do in Rome. It’s funny to see how this bustling city just accepts these cats. I should say it’s funny how these cats accept this bustling city and the humans it attracts.
There is another Italian proverb about cats….”Happy is the home with at least one cat.” Perhaps this is why Italians live “la dolce vita.”
Summer time treats are appreciated all around the world, especially when it’s hot and sticky out. Rome in July is not just hot, it’s HOT. The closeness of the buildings, the throngs of humanity, the lack of American air-conditioning, the traffic and the smoke are just some of the things that make it Hot in La Citta Eterna. One way to refresh yourself is to go to any one of the little corner cafes and bars that you will see.
Italians don’t drink as much soda as Americans. They prefer their drinks less sweet, (and with less ice cubes.) One such drink is an Italian Iced Tea. Not to be confused with the alcohol laden Long Island Iced Tea, this drink is an entirely different animal.
The Italian Iced Tea is made with two ingredients. Unsweetened homemade iced tea and a scoop of lemon ice. The lemon ice is much like what you would find at a carnival with a snow cone kind of flavor.
The drink is served in a glass. A. Real. Glass. They put a scoop of the lemon ice into the glass and then pour iced tea into the glass until it’s about 2/3 filled. They will serve it to you on a silver tray. (Really. Even in simple local bars.) Usually, it is accompanied with a slightly salty and savory snack. (Nuts, small pieces of focaccia bread, or tiny crackers, for example.) The drink is served with a spoon in case you want to scoop the ice out and eat it first. It won’t be as cold as you would get here in the States, but it is a refreshing drink all the same.
This is one of the best parts of being in Italy. Ordering a drink like this gives you a chance to rest your aching feet and People Watch. There is no where else in the world that is more exciting to sit and Watch the World Go By. The fountains and the people and music and the booths are all there for you to enjoy. The view is like no other you will ever see. Breathe in the heat of Italy and carry it home with you!
While your children may think it’s hilarious that you are bringing them to a bar, ( in the morning no less,) they will soon be dismayed to find that their usual breakfast of choice is unavailable.
My suggestion for parents is this; get them a hot chocolate and a cornetto. The hot chocolate is thick and creamy and more substantial than we make here in the states. (Be prepared for a scalding hot container arriving at the table with your squirmy little ones.) The cornetto will work because there is nothing “weird” in it. It is basically a horn shaped roll. Sometimes they are served with confectionary sugar on them. Most people put Nutella or jam on them. Whatever they choose, kids usually will eat these without a fight. There’s nothing worse than them picking out a pastry only to discover what they thought was chocolate is in fact, figs. The secret is you need to get them to eat some protein and fat. Museums are opening and lunch is a long way off. Forget all normal dietary rules, haven’t you heard that whatever you feed your kids on vacation doesn’t count?
Fill them up at breakfast as much as you can because most restaurants will not open for lunch until later in the day. It’s unlike our American culture that you can run in and out and grab something quick to eat. While they do have McDonald’s, it’s not the same.
Traveling with children can be a challenge on a good day. Couple it with jet lag and not eating well and you are sure to have it all…Screaming. Tantrums. Feet stomping. Tears.
…and I’m just talking about the parents.
Choose a bar that offers a sit down service. While it is more expensive, it may be easier for you to manage the children, the food and the check all at once. This is the time when pick pockets will swoop in. There is nothing like a frustrated, distracted parent to rob. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.
So remember. “Vorrei cioccolata caldo e cornetti per tutti.”
I would like hot chocolate and cornettos for everyone.
Get one for yourself too. There really is nothing like their hot chocolate. It’s more like drinking warm pudding with cream in it. Delicioso!
Savor the moment. You’re having breakfast in Italy with your children. It’s a memory you will all carry forever.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that a woman could own some piece of jewelry that became a part of her. I think there is something so sentimental and personal about wearing the same piece of jewelry each day. I always notice the jewelry other women are wearing. I wonder who gave it to them, why they chose it, what it means. I think it’s important to have something with meaning. I’ve never been able to just go into a store and buy a piece of jewelry. I need to think. What will it reflect about me? Does it send a message at all? What kinds of feelings do I have when I wear it? What does it represent?
I think now there is a special intimacy in wearing handmade gold or silver. A handmade piece holds such a warmth to it. I like to choose things that represent what I love…my husband, my daughters, my God. My faith is central to my being. I am drawn to any kind of symbol or icon that will identify me as a Christian. That narrows the scope a bit.
I love the idea of wearing something that can become so connected to you that it transfers energy somehow. When I travel, I am always drawn to the local artisan jewelry. Handmade rings or bracelets that tell a story about a culture are palpable memories. Each time I wear a piece, I will remember the sensuous parts of the moments It Became Mine. The heat. The smells. The sounds. The touch. The music. All of this becomes a sentimental part of wearing your history (and your heart) on your sleeve. Do you have a piece you wear all the time? What do you think it says? I’d love to hear about it.
…So in my post The Italian Breakfast, I was telling you about Il Bar. Not an establishment of ill repute or a public house, a bar in Italy is where coffee and treats are served. THIS is where the locals go to eat. In fact, if you see a sign that says “American Breakfast” you can be sure no locals will be there.
“American Breakfast” as it is called on the sign is designed to lure you in with promises of what they think Americans eat each morning. Eggs. Bacon. Toast. Cafe Americano. (Italians think this coffee is watered down and silly. Why drink all that liquid when you can have an espresso for the same caffeine hit?) The problem with this breakfast is that, for me at least, I don’t eat that. Cereal and milk is difficult to find.
This is where you have to open your culinary horizons. You are better off going to one of the said “bars” and watching for a moment what the locals do. They already know by your bone structure that you are American, so don’t get worried. They will make you feel welcome, and they will love that you are honoring their local customs. You can point and smile and they are so helpful!
There are lots of famous ones throughout La Citta Eterna, but there are a couple you might want to go to just to steep yourself in history, culture and coffee. One is Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’, just off via Monetrone near the Piazza Rotondo. The other one is the oldest caffe in Rome, Antico Caffe’ Greco on the world famous via Condotti. The photographs alone are worth the trip.
You order your espresso then point to what you would like in the displays. They put it all on a plate, much like a cafeteria with “il conto” (the bill.) You pay and then stand and eat it at the bar like the locals. Espresso is literally a shot. Add sugar and gulp. It’s over. While Americans may nurse the same foam cup of coffee all day long, Italians finish it all in a sip. (They do go back and have them all day, so don’t think they have taken any kind of higher ground….no coffee pun intended.)
If you sit down, there are additional charges, much like a tip. It is called “coperto” which is an umbrella term for bread, use of forks, table services, etc. If you want to appear really in the know, watch someone order ahead of you. Smile at the counter worker, nod your head to the said person ahead of you and say, “lo stesso.” This means, loosely translated, “I’ll have the same thing.” Just hope they didn’t order something you’re allergic to…. 🙂