One corner of the American Embassy

We just finished a terrific, eclectic weekend that really left us feeling like we lived here.

Our weekend began with an invitation by a new friend to see the opening of her art exhibition. This was particularly fun because Kiki’s show was at the American Embassy. The embassy is quite remarkable. It’s huge and consists of several enormous palazzos. Security was impressive. One of our fellow visitors, who’s a journalist, says that it’s probably the most dangerous location in Rome because of the threat of terrorism. We had to show our passports three times just to get in, and we had to be on a list of people who were cleared to enter the embassy a few days earlier.  Once we were through, though, it all felt very American (other than the architecture, which was really astonishingly lovely and very Italian). At the reception afterwards, bad coffee was served from Styrofoam cups. . . We’ve not seen Styrofoam in 3 months! And they served Swiss Miss hot cocoa to go with the Italian pastries. The American Ambassador stopped by to say hello, which was very cool. His conversation focused on 4th of July fireworks—which he introduced to the community at a party he held last summer. It was a very safe and desultory conversation topic. While it was an extremely fun and quirky way to spend a morning, afterwards we went with some of the other guests to get better coffee!

That night, we finally had a chance to try a neighborhood pizzeria that we’ve been eyeing for a while. It is always packed with a line of locals waiting to get in. Going early, we were seated right away. Super thin crust, and cheap. . .and on the same block as our favorite gelato place! The kids were overjoyed and the pizza was fantastic.

At the Ara Pacis.

On Saturday morning, we visited another neighborhood spot, the Ara Pacis museum, which is at the children’s morning bus stop. It’s an altar to peace, commissioned by the Roman senate in 13 BC.  It languished for centuries, literally sunk into the ground, and was rediscovered in the 16th Century, but not fully excavated until the 1930s. Mussolini had a protective structure built for it as part of his scheme to glorify Fascist Italy. In 2006, a new modern structure was designed by Richard Meier to house the Ara Pacis, which is surprisingly intact. Many Romans despise Meier’s building because they find it insensitive to the historical context around the structure. But we all love the expansive glass that reflects the ancient buildings around the museum – the juxtaposition of modern and ancient is really compelling to us.

After the museum, we walked to da Gino, the trattoria where we went for our anniversary in July. It was the first time we’ve gotten into a decent restaurant without a reservation because our waiter remembered us – a milestone! Mario gets a kick out of Eli and Nell, and ushered us to a table in the busy lunchtime crowd. A Roman family, who are clearly regulars, introduced us to the eponymous Gino, chatted with the kids in Italian, and the dad kept tugging on Nell’s pig tail. Jenny had their cacio e pepe, which is a Roman specialty. It’s sort of their version of Mac n’ cheese, except that the pasta is homemade and the cheese is a sheep Pecorino Romano.

That evening, we got a babysitter and schlepped across the city to the kids’ school for a cocktail party for new parents. We are not in the Madison Public Schools any more! It was an elegant affair, held on the school playground but with catering tents, nice wines, beautifully presented food, and well-dressed servers. We enjoyed chatting with the other new parents. The highlight was that the teachers were there as well, and we enjoyed talking with many of them – they are a very interesting and well-traveled group, as one might expect from the staff at an international school! We even met a teacher from Northern Wisconsin who was very entertained to see Eli’s Packers jersey at school! (They had a ceremony where all of the new children introduced themselves to the other children at the school, and the former Wisconsinite thought “That kid can’t possibly be wearing a Packers’ jersey”). Her husband used to work for University of Wisconsin – Extension. Nell’s choir director also grew up in Green Bay. Small world!

Next, we headed back to our neighborhood for an event we’d been eagerly anticipating: a fundraiser party at our favorite gelato place, organized by our favorite local food blogger! The theme was savory gelato apperativi – the gelato flavors were red pepper, salty peanut, and pistachio – served with celery, chips, and prosecco! The gelato was great. But even better was having a chance to finally learn the name of the gentleman who serves our kids gelato almost every day (Rocco), and meeting blogger Katie Parla and several other food bloggers in town.

Lunch, in view of ancient garbage!

On Sunday, we decided, with some trepidation, to check out Rome’s largest flea market, at Porta Portense. We’ve been curious about it, but we’ve also read that it’s very crowded, is frequented by pickpocketers, etc. We are glad we went, only so we don’t ever have to go again! It was super hot, the merchandise was shoddy at best, and the crowds were intense. Eli tried to practice bargaining (without success, but he picked up a few ideas for next time). We were relieved to escape to a café across the river to Testacchio, a very hip area that was once the meatpacking center of the city. We had lunch at a fantastic little restaurant that backs onto the ancient garbage mounds of the city (with windows onto the hill where we could see layers of broken crockery dating from who knows when). Nell had her standard cacio e pepe—it was a little on the spicier side (they didn’t hold back for her) and she found she liked it a lot. Eli had a gorgeous plate of fried squid and anchovies that he said were the best he’d had so far. Seth had a beautifully prepared and perfectly seasoned dish of cod and fresh spinach ravioli—and we topped it all off with super sweet fresh pineapple. We voted to go back to Flavio al Velavevodetto (via di Monte Testaccio) even though we’ll never go back to the flea market. While we were in the neighborhood we picked up fantastic pizza a taglio for dinner at 00100, and made our way home via Metro.

Later that afternoon, we indulged the need to go see a movie on a hot afternoon. The kids didn’t want to see a movie that was entirely in Italian. So we compromised with  Glee: The Concert Movie in 3D. Sitting in a movie theater filled with Italian teenagers watching this bit of Americana was a total blast. The parts of the movie that consisted of fan commentary were all in Italian, so we couldn’t really follow them, which was probably just as well.  But we all loved hearing the familiar songs – it was great to experience something so familiar after weeks where everything feels so new. We sang all the way home on the Metro.

–       Jenny and Seth

PS The highlight of the Glee movie was the cameo by the little boy who is obsessed with Blaine the Warbler; if you watch Glee, and even if you don’t, this kid is amazing (though I wonder about his parents)