I scrambled to get to the Chinese embassy today. A stroke of luck led me to a studio on the way where I was able to get the necessary passport photos for the visa application. I showed up and there were about 100 Chinese people crowded in a little room. I made my way to the back following the "Visto" sign. There, a helpful guy who spoke perfect English waved me over to the window. Turns out they wanted to see my plane tickets but I didn't have them. Meanwhile, some Chinese guy starts shouting at the girl returning passports at the next window. The staff doesn't like this and refuses to serve him. The guy shouts even louder, rapping on the windows of the visa counter. He even swipes the receipt of an Italian lady who was there to pick up her documents. Amidst all of that chaos, I found out it was too early to apply for the visa. I had to apply no earlier than 3 months in advance. So it'll be another trek to this crazy little office in two weeks.
The metro in Rome is pretty nice. The trains come every 3-5 minutes. As I sat waiting for the Barberini stop, an old woman sat next to me. I noticed her old woman friend was searching for a seat, too. So I stood up and offered mine. She smiled and said Grazie (which I understood was thank you), followed by a string of Italian. I just smiled politely. She continued to say something else to which I replied by shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders. This guy across the way piped in and said in accented English, "She says you are a gentleman... and you should meet her grand daughter". I laughed and said, "When and where?"
He translated back and forth for us a bit and before you know it, I'm writing down directions to some street in some part of Rome I've never heard of. Seems that I'd been invited to dinner. It was all very amusing to everyone riding the train as I stood, obviously lost in most of the exchange yet willing to plunge myself into some strange situation.
Later in the evening, I put on my new Pompea brand boxer briefs (purchased at the supermarket across from the hostel that sells everything from eggs to car tires), and tried to freshen up the only other shirt I had. (Hello Lufthansa, Yes, where are my bloody clothes!? I have a date!) I jumped on the train and tried to figure out where this old woman's house was. Thank goodness I dropped my 'no maps' kick earlier today while searching for the embassy. I' bought a fold-out from a newsstand that was becoming quite handy.
There I was at the door to an apartment building. Not late and not too early. I was buzzed in by the old woman's voice after a hearty "Ciao!" followed by some more Italian that I did not understand. I climbed three flights of stairs to find a hallway, where the old woman was sticking halfway, out of a doorway. She ushered me in quickly and gestured for me to have a seat. As she rushed back to the kitchen, she called out "Aurelia!" I sat nervously for a minute, looking around the cute little living room. I spotted some fake flowers that reminded me of every home I peeked into in Havana. My Cuban daydream was interrupted by the grand daughter, Aurelia.
Now let me tell you, Italian women are a whole other breed of beautiful. Brilliant dark hair, tinted skin, wonderfully proportioned, and if you know me at all- totally 'my type'. Aurelia was a stunner and a fine representative of Italian beauty.
I rose to shake her hand (And wished I had a rose, a daisy, something! Because of all of my fussing over not having clothes, I hadn't even thought about bringing a gift... wine, flowers, candy... not for the girl, but for the old woman! Some gentleman, I turned out to be) and we both gave each other that look as if to say, hey, this is pretty strange and awkward but we should humor the old woman, and by the way, you're cute. I told her a bit about running into her grandmother, being lost in the translation, and my travels in general. Turns out she had just finished her last college exams not too long ago and was enjoying some time off before she searched for work. Get this, she's been looking at offers in the States. I give myself a mental high-five as my imagination takes this tidbit and runs a marathon. Again, the daydream is interrupted, this time by her grandmother beckoning us into the dining room.
If there could be anything lovelier than an Italian woman, it would be her home cooking. Fresh pasta, herbs, tomato sauce, garlic. The colors, the aromas, the quantities! As I sat down, I apologized for not bringing anything. Aurelia acted as translator. Her grandmother waved her hand and said, "Nonsense, I hope you brought your appetite!"
We ate and drank and talked and listened. I learned about the woman's life, her children, and her grandchildren. Aurelia was the youngest of three and the only one left unmarried I was told, with a wink. Funny how even in adulthood, there are things that make you blush. Blame the wine.
After dinner, we all went for a walk. I'd mentioned how I hadn't tried gelato yet and this caused quite an uproar. So we all decided to walk off some of the filling meal and refill on dessert. We sat in a charming little gelateria nearby and had little dishes of creamy, rich, heaven. When we were finished, the old woman announced that she was going home and that Aurelia should show me some of the sights. I give her grandmother a mental high-five.
As the sun comes down in Rome, monuments light up dramatically around the city. I wish I'd brought my camera... another thing that slipped my mind in my haste. When we reached the Trevi fountain she told me about a tradition where visitors toss coins over their shoulders into the water. One coin means you will return someday. Two coins and you fall in love with an Italian. A third coin means you will marry him or her. I laughed out loud at that one. I told her, "If I know one of these things has already happened, can I reach in and take a coin back?" It confused her for a second but she soon understood and blushed a bit. Blame the wine. Then I reached into my pocket and pulled out three euros (Hey Big Spender!). I closed my eyes and tossed them, one by one, over my shoulder. I looked at her and said it was 'insurance'.
We walked for some more and at one point I held her hand as she walked above me, along the border of some ruins. When she was safely back to sidewalk level, I didn't let go. It was magic. And none of it really happened. I woke up early this morning and got on the Roman metro. I let an old woman have my seat and she said, "Grazie". But then I just daydreamed this story as we passed each stop- Spagna, Flaminio, Lepanto, Ottaviano, and Valle AURELIA.