Retired in Rome Journal: NFL Night in Rome unlike any other

Palazzo Vittorio Emanuele seen on my walk to an Irish pub. So what did you do between NFL games Sunday night?
Palazzo Vittorio Emanuele seen on my walk to an Irish pub. So what did you do between NFL games Sunday night?
Fifth century BC Temple of Castore and Polluce
Fifth century BC Temple of Castore and Polluce

My eyes feel as if they’re being held up by thumbtacks. They’re fighting to close as my fingers flop across the keyboard like half-dead flounders. I pulled an all-nighter in Rome last night. I didn’t get to bed until 5 a.m. That doesn’t happen often here. Rome isn’t a bar town. It’s a restaurant town. But last night I made an exception.

I have slowly cut ties with my American sports past. Like the snake I’ve been called many times, I’m shedding an old skin and living in another. I didn’t know the Broncos beat the Chargers until the next night. I didn’t know Colorado star basketball player Spencer Dinwiddie blew out his knee until a friend told me on Facebook two days later. The only reason I look up is to check soccer game times. Even with the Internet, I try to make sure I feel an ocean away.

But I make an exception on the day of the NFL conference championships.

Rome bars don’t start carrying the NFL until that round. You can get an Irish B league rugby match from a cow pasture in County Kerry but not the Chargers-Broncos playoff game. I also wanted to expand my social network. The Blooms invited me to their friends’, a former helicopter pilot in Iraq named Tom and his lawyer wife, Sabrina. I thought I lived in a prime neighborhood. They live right across the street from the Colosseum. Two thousand years ago, the screams of Christians burning at the stake and women mauled by wild animals (yes, that happened) would sound like it’s coming from their kitchen.

Along with his old West Point roommate and his Georgian wife (the one in the Caucuses, not Dixie), visiting for two days, and Sabrina’s boss, we ate chips and breadsticks and olives and killer guacamole. Except for the Czech beer, we could’ve been in Cherry Creek or Oklahoma or Cape Cod. But there we were in Rome listening to Jim Nantz and Phil Simms describe the Broncos holding off the Patriots on Tom’s streaming video.

Sabrina worked some magic on my laptop. Tom talked more enthusiastically about his Vikings’ desperate need for a decent coach than his Iraq exploits. It was a great evening, ending all too soon even though it was well past midnight. As I walked back to my neighborhood with Peter, we chatted about some of the conversations we heard. Expats love to complain about where they live. It’s not just Rome. Rio. Tokyo. London. Something’s usually wrong.

Yes, Rome is dirty. The exits of some subway stops could pass for the entrances into Dante’s third circle of hell. Yes, it takes a while to get things done. I was real lucky, but Internet can take up to two months to get installed. Yes, getting Italians together in one place at one time is like herding cats. My self-gratifying, self-organized Welcome Back, John party (Have I talked about the American ego?) fizzled when no one could commit.

But Peter and I agree. These are all things we adore about Rome. When I lived here from 2001-03, I enjoyed standing in line for an hour at the post office to pay my gas bill. I like the chaos and confusion of getting the city to solve simple tasks. I don’t even mind the graffiti. Half of it’s soccer related. Hell, you could read how Rome’s two teams are doing just by reading two office buildings and a train.

It’s what makes living in Rome different. We’re all here for more than just the wine and food and scenery. We’re here for adventure. Who wants to live in place we know what’s going to happen every day? Life needs diversity. It needs understanding. It needs patience. Expats would say it also needs a work ethic, but that’s another story.

As Peter and I spoke, it dawned on us that the reason we put up with it all was right upon us. We parted ways at the wide boulevard, Via dei Fori Imperiali. We looked to our right and there was the Roman Forum, back lit in all its ancient glory. Right above my head stood the three towering Ionian columns of the Temple of Castore and Polluce, dedicated to the twins who led the Romans to victory over the Etruscans.

It was built in the fifth century B.C. Sixteen hundred years of history was right over my head as I walked home.

Strolling down the street, so curiously deserted at 1 a.m., I came to Palazzo Vittorio Emanuele. A major renovation project has made this giant mountain of white marble sparkle as if it was just built yesterday instead of 1885. I stood in the middle of the empty piazza and took some pictures with a fresh breeze flying through my hair.

So what did you do between games?

I bookended my evening at one of Rome’s many Irish and British pubs. Abbey Theatre is on a quiet, narrow side street off the teeming Corso Vittio Emanuele. Three rooms, all with big screens, make it ideal for watching sports events. Its off-the-beaten-path location makes it ideal to get away from the massive hordes of screaming college students I must weave through to get past The Drunken Ship in Campo dei Fiori.

I took a bar stool and sipped a larcenously priced 6-euro pint of Nastro Azzuro the young American bartender seemed almost embarrassed to price for me. Watching football in foreign countries is foreign in more ways than one. You get the curious, not the fanatic. Rome is filled with American exchange students. One salivating male art student explained to a ditzy blonde in tight, TIGHT leather pants the rules of American football. She was not Italian. I think she was Californian.

I chatted with a South African and spoke some Italian with three young Romans who wandered in wondering what a bar was doing open at 4 in the morning. The Seahawks won, setting up a great Super Bowl that will surely bring me back to Abbey Theatre in two weeks.

Being from Denver, maybe I should write some graffiti.

Palazzo Vittorio Emanuele seen on my walk to an Irish pub. So what did you do between NFL games Sunday night?
Palazzo Vittorio Emanuele seen on my walk to an Irish pub. So what did you do between NFL games Sunday night?