After passing the masses at the Palatine entrance on busy Via di San Gregorio, I turned right onto Via del Cerchi where I passed a sunglasses entrepreneur with his little cart and meandered onto Circo Massimo.
(Circus Maximus – begun approximately 326 BC and modified in AD 549 under Totila the Ostrogoth. That last bit of information isn’t the least bit relevant to me at this point in my history studies, but I really wanted to type, “Totila the Ostrogoth” and then say it out loud. Now you say it…Come on. You’re tempted, I can tell!) This broad grassy field reminiscent of a racing track and capable of once seating 300,000 (!), was where the chariot races took place.
In fact, as I research, I see that it is the prototype for all racecourses henceforth. Hmmm, imagine that. Totila the Ostrogoth would have been so proud! Uh oh, though. My guidebook says to avoid Circo Massimo after dark: Totila the Ostrogoth should have done something about security around here…
Ah, another right turn onto Via San Teodoro to follow the outline of the Palatine and what should I come upon? A farmer’s market! Ah, veggies and fruit! Cheese? Olive oil? What a delight to walk amongst the citizens of Rome as they went about their shopping. I don’t remember seeing another tourist. It was an ordinary weekend day for these Roman shoppers, collecting their artichokes and fennel and cheese and sausages and fresh flowers for the week. But it was extraordinary for me: a glimpse into a world that tourists rarely, I’m sure, seek out and one which I just happened upon. If I had been insistent on waiting in line and entering the Palatine, I would never have discovered this wonderful place where I spent well over an hour. With a pure sense of joy and curiosity, I wandered. I bought some lavender soap, some biscotti (which turned out to be chocolate with almonds and just a touch of cinnamon – heavenly), and some black olive tapenade with the intent to give these as presents. I was given two carrots and an orange. (I tried to buy them but because they were in such small quantities, the purveyors gave them to me outright.) I tasted some magnificent olio d’oliva with a bite of bread. There was a wine seller in the far corner with a tall table and inviting stools and I asked the young man who appeared to be in charge if he might sell by the bicchiere (glass) and he enthusiastically welcomed me to sit down and yes, have a glass. I asked him to choose a red for me and he gave me a generous sampling of a Ciliegiolo (chee-lee-oh-JOH-loh), a red out of Tuscany usually used to cut other wines but this time running solo and doing a nice job of it. Deliciozo! And then he offered a taste of a Groppone Morellino di Scansano di Toscana. A morellino (more-ay-LEE-no). Perfetto! I sat long enough to buy and leisurely sip a bicchiere of each. And while I rested, the young man kindly gave me a short Italian lesson with a smile:
Che ora? (kay OH-da) – What time is it?
Dodeci (doh-day-CHEE) – 12 o’clock
Dodeci meno cinque (may-no CHINK-way) – 11:55 am
Posso comprare un bicchiere di vino rosso? – May I buy a glass of red wine? (I have to admit, I knew how to ask this. It is one of those crucial first phrases one has to learn immediately when visiting Italy. I did misconjugate comprare, however, so it was still a valuable lesson.)
I remember thinking, “If I buy any bottles of wine it will be hell to take home with me and my back already hurts and it probably won’t be the last bottle of wine I buy and I’m still walking and my trip really just started and I don’t plan to head back to my convent for a while so I’ll have to tote them along with me. And…perhaps I’ll buy two and give one to my hosts in Fornovolasco…Oh, I’ll deal with my back later.” Ciliegiolo di Toscana. 2010. I did buy two bottles.
(And they both leaked and dribbled all over their plastic bags and had to be tossed when I discovered them later on at my convent. Thank God for plastic bags – sometimes they are not the evil that San Francisco and Marin Counties make them out to be. I do not regret the folly of buying these bottles even though they proved a pain in more ways than one. The experience of learning about and purchasing wine that is new to me, and especially if it is sold in a Roman market unknown to most tourists, was almost…ALMOST…as pleasant as actually drinking it!)
Feeling those two glasses of wine, I set out in the hot midday sun and completed ¾ of the circuit around the Palatine, taking the photos of the ruins visible to me through the iron fences.