Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hibernation Time

It’s such a luxury to be awakened by the sun and not an alarm, knowing that there’s absolutely nothing we must do that day. After 33 years of an alarm clock, a baby’s cry or a child jumping in our bed to start our mornings, it’s taken us some time to get used to the freedom of being reprobates with loose agendas. But we’ve taken our languid days to a new level in our relaxing apartment in Rome. We’ve decided to follow nature by hibernating for the heart of the winter, moving slowly in the Eternal City where we’re perpetually resting up and taking it easy for adventures yet to come.

It’s been nice to set aside the rigors of travel for a while and we’ve spent many a day simply rising late; having a leisurely breakfast in our cozy studio; listening at noon to what we’ve started calling “Afternoon Edition” on NPR (our television broadcasts the audio); catching up on emails, blogging and our journals; finishing those classic novels we promised we’d read while abroad; and then enjoying warm cups of afternoon tea. Many hours of these lazy days have been spent planning our itinerary and reserving trains and hotels for the peripatetic weeks in southern Italy that will follow our stay in Rome. We’re just so pleased for now to be in one place for a month with no planes, trains, automobiles or baggage dragging to worry about. When we imagined our year away, we more or less brushed over the winter months, knowing we would be in Italy but not really focusing on the potential reality of the cold. But now that we’re here, in the company of a reluctant sun and an unusual cold snap for this part of Italy, we’ve decided to simply hunker down for the winter with our most difficult decision each day being whether to eat in or go out. Interspersed with our warm days inside are those where we’ve forced ourselves to don our hats, scarves and gloves and braved the chill to discover the nooks and crannies of Rome often overlooked by those with limited time in this sprawling city. It truly is a glorious insalata mista of a metropolis since it’s been here for so very long and offers sights from almost every century of the past three millennia.

Our rental is on Via Flavia, not far from the American Embassy on Via Veneto and just inside the city walls near the gardens of the Villa Borghese. It’s a spacious studio on the top floor of a five-story building with a red-tiled terrace that provides plenty of natural light and a place to hang our laundry. In an unusual twist, we reach our apartment through the lobby of the Hotel Medici and take the elevator to the privately owned 5th floor residences. Different, yes, but it’s awfully nice to have 24-hour security guarding the building’s entrance and someone at the front desk to greet us with buon giorno and ciao as we pass by. Somewhat off the tourist track, our neighborhood is quiet and safe since embassies and Italian government buildings surround us. It’s also filled with homey restaurants and we've been diligently working our way through them. Thank goodness we’ve also been conscientious about our marathon training because we’ve consumed a hefty amount of hearty pasta of all shapes and sizes, some of which we’d never had before: spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghettoni, gnocchi, bucatini, bavette, capellini, cavatappi, tortellini, tortelloni, tagliatelle, pappardelle, penne, lasagne, linguini and my all-time favorite, strozzapreti. Just listing them broadens my hips but at least I’ve managed to satisfy any sweet cravings with Limoncello nightcaps -- not quite as creamy and luscious as tiramisu but with a whole lot fewer calories. Having the beautifully shaded and classy Villa Borghese nearby for our runs has been a godsend for burning off the extra carbs.

Our Roman pied-à-terre is indeed convenient, comfortably cozy and the Internet is rock solid, but what we actually love best about the place is Stefano, our amusingly charming landlord. Without him, the apartment would be just another worn-around-the-edges place to stay, but with him it’s been a memorable, and continually comic, experience. Stefano is a 50-something composer of movie scores (he did Tea with Mussolini), teaches at the university in Perugia once a week and although he lives nearby, spends most of his time with his girlfriend who lives in another of the 5th floor apartments. He’s tall and handsome in a rumpled, absent-minded professor kind of way, speaks quirky English with a lovely Italian accent and apologizes repeatedly that he’s a musician and not a very good businessman. Our initial taste of what renting from Stefano would be like came before we even checked in. He readily and graciously agreed to store our large duffels for five days while we traveled with our small bags to Florence with Jeff and Stacey, but he needed to “request a favor.” He had lost his wallet the day before and asked if it would be possible for us to pay the balance of our rent in cash when we dropped off our luggage. “No problem,” we agreed, “happy to help.” (Little did we know that in the ensuing weeks, Stefano would lose not only his wallet but also his phone, TV remote, computer power cord and keys!)

When we arrived on the first day of our month’s stay, Stefano apologized for the less-than-stellar condition of the television (we saw no problem), clothes washer (he claimed it leaked) and refrigerator (definitely on its last legs and barely staying cool) and promised to replace them all within the week. Ten days passed and while we heard all about Stefano’s lost items (he had to borrow the portable phone from our apartment when he lost his cell), there was no mention of any new appliances. When we finally broke the sad news to him that the old fridge really was on the verge of collapse, he apologized profusely and came right over to take some measurements for a replacement. We headed out for the day and when we returned, found the freezer open and defrosting and a note that our food was in a fridge in a closet across the hall. He added that he hoped we didn’t mind that he’d put a load of clothes in the leaking washer and had borrowed some of our laundry soap. What could we do but laugh? Stefano stopped by the next morning to pick up his wash and inform us that the new fridge had indeed been ordered. “I have chosen the quickest delivery -- 48 hours -- but do not forget that we are in Italy, so we really do hope for 48 hours!” Two more days passed with no new appliances. Every morning Stefano knocked on our door to express how embarrassed and discouraged he was about the appliance merchant he’d selected. When I attempted to ease his frustration by asking him not to worry, he responded by cooing, “Marianne, you are so gentle; thank you for being so gentle to me,” (the English false friend of the Italian gentile, meaning kind). With each morning visit came a piccolo request. First, he asked to borrow one of our Mac power cords because, of course, he had lost his. His computer was out of juice and he needed to check on the progress of the delivery online. The next morning when we greeted Stefano, he asked to rifle through the bottom drawer of the apartment’s sideboard to try to find an extra TV remote control; his girlfriend had misplaced hers (or perhaps it was he?). “You rented my apartment for your holiday in Rome and all you see is my face,” he lamented. On the third morning Stefano declared, “Definitely tomorrow – the new machines will definitely arrive on Friday.” But then it snowed and all of Rome came to a standstill including the delivery truck with our shiny new appliances. After yet a few more days, we had a knock at our door late in the afternoon and there stood an ebullient Stefano with a new fridge, TV and washing machine in the hallway. We set aside our plan to eat in and decided to leave Stefano and the long-awaited machinery by themselves while we set out to find ourselves dinner. When we returned later that evening, two of the three appliances were in order: the new television hung on the wall and the new refrigerator hummed away snug in its place but the new washer was noisily dancing across the bathroom’s white tile floor and just as we arrived, banged against the far wall as yet another load of Stefano’s laundry steadily spun in the machine.

Ah, Stefano – you are a delight to deal with and thanks to you, Italy continues to be a funny place that always manages to make us laugh. What will your knock on our door tomorrow morning bring?

Pictures of our adventures:

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