The best thing about Thanksgiving in Rome is walking off the turkey. No city does walks home like Rome.
I left my hometown of Eugene, Ore., at 22 and haven’t had Thanksgiving with a family member since 1979. I spent my Thanksgivings in Las Vegas doing bachelor potlucks. All the single men on my newspaper would bring one dish to a friend’s house and we’d eat, drink, watch football and bitch about said newspaper. Inevitably, the guy assigned to the gravy would turn it into coagulated mud and he’d have to run to the supermarket for the powdered stuff. In Denver, a staff member’s wife was kind enough to invite staff strays like myself. When they divorced I found November was the perfect time to date someone, especially if she could cook. Otherwise, I’d sit at home with my little cornish game hen, Stove Top dressing and little slice of pecan pie and Cool Whip, on my couch watching the Texas-Texas A&M game. Yeah, it was kinda pathetic.
In my previous stint in Rome in 2002, my then-girlfriend and I tried introducing our Italian friends to Thanksgiving. It was an absolute disaster. The turkey took three more hours to cook than we expected (our starving guests started gnawing on the furniture) and our oven could only handle one dish at a time. And have you ever seen chicory that’s been on a kitchen floor overnight? It looks like a snarl of black snakes.
Last night I got invited to the Blooms, my dear retired friends from the Food & Agricultural Organization who have lived in Rome 17 years. They’ve done Thanksgiving dinner for the last 10. The people you meet in Rome is one of the most underrated aspects of living here and last night’s Thanksgiving was a smorgasbord of fascinating people. I met:
* A film-maker who made an award-winning documentary about Hebron, Israel, called “This is My Land”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUH9vPg724E.
* An English wine maker who brought this absolutely brilliant Syrah he made in South Africa where he studied winemaking.
* A former Italian pro volleyball player.
* Two little girls who were featured in a recent film shot in Tuscany.
* An artist who makes gorgeous lampshades with hand-painted silk (www.giorgiopugliese.it).
* An American woman who has lived here 30 years and works with expats and their adjustments to Italy.
This doesn’t include the Blooms, Peter and Gretchen, who have been to more than 100 countries each and lived in about a dozen of them. Living in Rome teaches you not to judge someone by their occupation but good Lordy this was an interesting crowd I never would’ve found in Denver, Las Vegas or godforsaken Eugene, Ore.
The turkeys were terrific. Everyone loved my torta cioccolata (chocolate cake) which I slaved over for five minutes, the time it took to walk to Linari, my prized neighborhood pasticceria around the corner, to buy it.
But the walk back was fabulous. It was in the mid-50s and the tourists were nowhere to be seen. The city has closed traffic on famed Via dei Fori Imperiali, which connects the massive palace of Vittorio Emanuele with the eternal Colosseum.
I walked through the Blooms’ Monti neighborhood where one of my favorite enotecas, Fafiuche’, had laid out candles on all its outdoor tables. I thought it had an electrical outage but looking at the happy couples’ faces illuminated by candlelight it may be permanent. I walked down a nearly empty street to the Colosseum, walked back down Fori Imperiali and saluted the statue of Julius Caesar in front of the Trajan Forum. I walked past Vittorio Emanuele to Teatro di Marcello, built in 11 B.C., 90 years before the Colosseum of which it holds a remarkable resemblance. I then took the bus back to my Testaccio neighborhood where my Chiesa di Santa Maria Liberatrice glowed in the blue Christmas lights strung across the street.
So stimulated by the walk, I didn’t fall into a turkey coma until two hours after I got home. What am I thankful for?
Being retired in Rome.