In Rome, I stayed in a hostel. I slept in a room with five bunk beds and not much space in between them. If everyone’s luggage took up as much space as my duffle bag, then there would have been no room to walk. Attached, a bathroom oozed sweat and urine.
A small window looked over a constantly congested Roman street. The window was left open to alleviate the hot damp of the room and the sounds of traffic floated in at all hours.
Every bed had a traveler. Two Peruvian physicists were in the corner opposite mine. They were on a break from school and happy to chat about the pressures of academia. There was a girl from England and a girl from Maine. They wore nice dresses that danced with their cheerful dispositions, spent lots of time putting on makeup, and were English scholars and teachers soon to begin working together in Italy. The one from Maine had hair so golden that when she left the room it seemed like the sun had set. The bed under mine was occupied by a French fellow who spoke only French. He was good looking and sprayed cologne into his underpants just in case there was any doubt. When he heard I was going to Naples, he went to great pains to try to tell me where I should stay and where to get good cheap wine. Next to him slept the Spaniard. The Spaniard was a dark petite girl with long flowing black wavy hair. She spoke only Spanish and kept offering me cookies, a gesture that needed no translation. She was very persistent.
The Spaniard went out to meet her friend at the airport. About twenty minutes later, the Spaniard’s friend showed up. She wondered “Is this where The Spaniard is staying?”
“Yes, I think she went to the airport to meet you.”
“I don’t have a phone.”
Eventually, The Spaniard came back and was glad to see her friend despite the wild goose chase. The excited back-and-forth catching up made Spanish sound like a language full of joy and warmth.
The Brazilian wore short shorts with aplomb. She had dark skin and dark eyes that seemed to stretch towards the sides of her face like a purring cat. Also not a great English speaker, but she worked hard at friendly conversation and big smiles. She waved her beer can about while communicating with her hands.
The Blonde came back up the stairs with a bottle of wine and a Czech guy who decided she was worth following. The wine was opened and the Czech brought out his phone to let the jazz loose. The sounds of an upbeat throaty woman’s voice and a tenor sax blended with those from the street below as the wine was passed around. Different languages and different conversations melded in a surreal celebration of youth and life. Who was going to follow whom to which bar tonight? Some cool people knew about fun secret places. Phone numbers were exchanged. Stories were told and travels were reminisced while a joint was shared. Then some were off to here and others to there and the magic left the room. I try to go to sleep early so that I’ll have a good sleep cycle ready for my expedition. I don’t think I was ever very much fun.
The festival of Sukkot is time of celebration and so I celebrated with the Jewish community of Rome. Without any prompting I was invited into people's homes and the ritual huts for meals and good company.
I sat in a sukkah, ritual hut, on a terrace that looked over rome and mountains to the south. I was at a table with the four most recent generations of a Jewish Roman family. The great grandfather had drawn the colorful sketches of fruit and scenery that covered the walls. I worked a little on my Italian but the hospitable family went to great lengths to try to understand my English.
The light filtered through the thatch roof to create a relaxed meld of sun and shade. Lazy bees tried to get at the buffet, and were thwarted by the screen that had been laid over it.
The mother went out and one of her sons instructed me to ask for a particular Italian dish in Italian as part of some family joke. Ha ha ha, everybody laughed. Apparently I had asked for a Roman meat dish that cooked under the heat of the sun and is everybody’s favorite, but only available in the summer.
The food was exceptional. Everything was traditional Roman cuisine which apparently is best in the Jewish community. The Jews came to Rome over two thousand years ago and adopted the local foods within the guidelines of our own dietary regulations. In more recent times, as Rome took up foods from other parts of Italy and the world, the Jews have stuck to the old ways. Traditional Roman food is yummy, unfortunately not knowing very much else about it I am unable to describe it; so I asked my hostess for the recipes and hopefully they will soon be posted here, possibly in Italian.
As all good things, the time came when the happy conversation ended, I pushed one last cookie into my puffed out stomach, and the table was cleared. I was sorry to leave their kind hospitality. The Roman Jewish community was the most welcoming of all those I have visited in Europe. I look forward to the day when my travels bring me back there.