Sundays are my only full day off. In order to feel like I get my full day’s worth, I have established a rule that I’ve been very good about obeying: I must spend the entire day without seeing the kids, family, or flat. Things have gotten so much better with them, but having a day without seeing their faces is still key to my sanity. Last Sunday, as I hopped into my friend Bruno’s car on Viale di Trastevere with an umbrella, two enormous bags full of the day’s essentials, and a plan to go with him to a wedding expo on the outskirts of Rome in the rain, I realized that my Sundays have always left me acting like a total vagabond…or in the words of my dear Mumford boys- a hopeless wanderer. When you make it your mission to stay out all day, no matter what the circumstances may be, you set yourself up for encounters of all kinds, whether they be getting drenched in Roman street water, playing cards in a hotel room with a bunch of British men you met at an Irish bar, attending a bible study comprised of girls and guys all under the age of 21, visiting every sanctuary that crosses your path over the course of 12 hours, drinking a little too much wine with a guy you barely know at his apartment (under the name of ‘language exchange’), becoming a regular haggler at the vintage bag stand at Porta Portese flea market, or something like attending a wedding expo and pretenting to be engaged with your friend Bruno while planning your reception, band, caterer, dress, champagne flutes, and honeymoon.
Inevitably, my Sundays are comprised of new people, new terrain, new food, and always a new story. There are very few things I enjoy more than being involved in a good story, and so it seems that Sundays- the day I become a wandering vagabond from sun up to sun down- have become my very favorite day of the week by far. As I said, I try to wake up early…I dress with the assumption that it could rain, sleet, hail, be freezing, burning hot, or beautifully sunny and perfect. I pack a Mary Poppins bag full of anything the day might require: a book, my bible, my ipod, my map, my umbrella, my scarf, my journal, a clementine or 3, and sometimes even my laptop. I make a quiet escape out of the flat and consider myself a free woman for the next 15 – 18 hours. Sometimes, when it rains, I walk and walk, with my earbuds in, umbrella up, and make random stops at any place that tempts me in – be it for a coffee, pizza, gelato, time of prayer, prosecco, etc. etc. For a while there, these days were often spent alone, or with various strangers I’d meet along my way; or of course, with any friends who happened to be in town or available for an hour here and there. I’m telling you, the energy a lonely traveller puts off is magnetic. People just smell it on you- they know you’re a interesting soul- and interesing souls just find each other. Lately, though, I’ve become quite popular. I can say this without conceit since all I’ve talked about thus far has been how I’m alone all the time. I have quite a few friends now, and so many fun Sunday options. Still, I find myself making sure to reserve part of my day for serendipity. And without fail, I’m never disappointed. I’ve gotten so comfortable going into a cafe or bar and acting like I’m someone special- like or a world renowed American writer or something. I pull out my journal (or, as I’m doing right at this moment….writing on a paper napkin) and begin writing with intention…as if I’m actually writing something very important. And then, I just wait. Someone begins a conversation, and before I know it, I am no longer alone. And, if I’m especially lucky, I end up sharing a lunch, coffee, or even a card game with the person. It’s a fun challenge. Yesterday was Sunday, and per the norm, I escaped early and went to grab a caffe at my local spot. Then, I went to church. I’ve finally found a protestant church here to attend. It’s a funny little church, but it’s a community of Christians who have welcomed me, and so I’ve decided that it will be my church home while I’m here. Finding a protestant church at all was a feat unto itself and has often occupied the first several hours of Sundays past. This Sunday, I sat with a Dutch guy and Asian lady. After church, I saw a girl I met last Sunday who’s from LA. She’s doing an internship at the US embassy and she’s super fun and cute. She had a friend visiting from London, so we decided to make trek back to Trastevere to give him his first, and oh so important, ‘Pizza in Italy’ experience. On the way, we met a random guy on the street from Portland, Oregon. Naturally, we invited him to join us for his first ‘Pizza in Italy’ experience. We all ordered our own at Dar Poeta and shared our slices and stories. He’s a musician trying to make it big. He’d been in Israel for the past two weeks, will be in Rome for a week, and has no plan after that except to explore more of Europe. He was such a Portlandia character. It was awesome. I left the group after lunch and decided to walk for a bit since it was so stunningly gorgeous out. I ended up back at Piazza Santa Maria and decided to go into one of the restaurants, for the first time ever, that lines the piazza. These are always tourist traps and charge far too much for an espresso, but I was feeling it and decided to indulge. Plus, the thing I’m adoring most about Rome right now is the emptiness of it. The tourists are gone for the most part, and places that are typically packed with fanny packs are now free for real Italians. And though I’m still light years away from being a real Italian, I don’t wear a fanny pack and have gotten good enough at ordering my coffee to make myself blend in just enough to be accepted as one. I sat for a while. When my iphone died, I stepped inside to find an outlet, and found instead an older Italian man who struck up a conversation with me. He was an interesting soul indeed and one who, within five minutes, had somehow dissected my entire life and drawn many accurate conclusions about the kind of woman I am. When I almost began crying over how spot on some of his speculations were, I shifted the conversation to him. He’d recently fallen madly in love for the first time in his 55+ years. He’s a film director, artist, musician and a million other things- including the owner of the restuarant we were sitting in and two other famous places in Trastevere. He’s from Napoli, which means he’s likely in the mob, and he’s as Italian as they come. I had to leave our conversation to walk 30 feet to the fountain to meet up with some friends for an impromptu coffee date I’d made thirty seconds before my phone died, so we exchanged facebook friend info and I left. My friends arrived at the fountain soon thereafter and we walked around the corner to have yet another coffee. These friends were all Italian and I really only knew one of them (language exchange partner I drank the wine with that time). We were all introduced and proceeded to have a 10 minute conversation before I had to leave to go meet Bruno at Piazza San Cosimato. Too many details about piazzas and coffees in this post, I realize, but I’m just trying to paint a picture of how random these days are for me. I walked a block or two over to meet him and we proceeded to walk around town looking for a place to sit in the sun. We found one in Campo dei Fiori. After lingering for just long enough, we meandered back over to Trastevere in search of a place we’d heard about – a book store that is known for having a little bar off to the side where they make wonderfully delicious shots- usually involving chocolate. Too intriguing to neglect, we each had a shot of Bailey’s in a chocolate cup. You take the whole thing in one fail schwoop, and as you would probably imagine, it’s quite tasty. After our little dessert drink, I caught a glance of someone playing in the tiny room next to the room with the ‘bar’. The music was just incredible and as I walked over to get a better look, I realized that the man playing was the Napolitano man from earlier- the man from the other cafe in Trastevere. This was one of his other places. He must have sensed someone was watching him, because he looked up and caught my eye while continuing to play this magical music. Bruno and I waited for him to finish. He stepped away from his piano bench and gave Bruno the once over, trying desperately to sum up our situation, before telling us that Trastevere was a village…and that he wasn’t at all suprised to be seeing me again just hours later. After that encounter, Bruno and I took our time walking around the village. He was leaving to meet someone for dinner, so we parted ways at Piazza Trilussa. I’d remembered my friend from church saying that she and her friend would be having an appertivo at a place close by, so I sent her a quick text asking where they’d be and then forged on to find a place to drop my bags for an hour. I found a perfect spot, perched myself in the corner of a bar with some olives, and started writing this blog entry on a napkin. Since I’m certainly boring everyone to tears with the play by play of my Sunday, I’ll do my best to summarize the evening that continued to be all over the place: met up with Gili, who’s Irsraeli but lives in San Fran (the one I met in the cab ride home from the airport this last time) for an appertivo at a place, and also an Italian guy I’d been on several dates with who I hadn’t seen in a while. The appertivo bar was hosting an International night, so we were bombarded by all sorts of type A expats wanting to get our information so we could get connected in Rome and find jobs for each other etc. etc. Very nice, but a bit overwhelming. After escaping, Gili and I went for a hot tea and anitpasto platter (not a very typical combo, I realize, but I was done with alcohol for the night) so we could talk about her date from the night before with the guy from the cafe she’s been frequenting. We laughed, as usual. I was home at midnight. The kids had gone to sleep, and I had another successful Sunday of freedom under my belt. I’m finding myself loving almost all moments. The happiness has continued, and I’m reminded in almost each of these moments how glad I am to be doing this.