#tbt: mille grazie

The Italians got a lot of things right– cacio é pepe, gelato, fashion, architecture, etc.– but most importantly, the concept of (many thousand) thank-yous.

Every year poses new challenges, among which we often tend to dwell. I, for one, am partly to be held accountable: just the other day, I made a list of events that occurred this year that ruffled my feathers a little more than what I was comfortable with. Things I complained about. Things that irritated me. Things I threw many a fit over, both large and small.

However, in the spirit of (one of the best holidays ever!) Thanksgiving, it was more than time to flip my perspective.

The challenges that have surrounded my life this year? Yes, they’ve really sucked. But I’m thankful for each and every one of them because I know they’ve made me that much stronger of a person. 

But as this is a #tbt, and I’ve also mentioned Italy, here’s a brief flashback to Rome accompanied by a brief compilation of the lezioni that have left traces of tricolore in everything I do.

1. Traveling unfolds life in a way that invites you to broaden your horizons.

It’s a thrilling game of lost and found in which you not only lose yourself, but you also find yourself, and you see yourself in a new way when you return home. As Pico Iyer wrote in “Why We Travel”, we indeed travel because the “it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head.” It takes two to tango, and I’ve gotta say, Rome, you were a splendid partner.

It has garnered me an appreciation for both the old and the new, the foreign and the familiar. Quite simply, the culture you experience from traveling adds color to your life. It is something that I will continue to pursue in my life wherever I go– even if it’s not across an ocean. You create your own adventure, and traveling showcases that ability.

2. Slow down and appreciate today.

Ferris Bueller was onto something when he said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once and a while, you could miss it.” Whether it’s running a race, walking to class, or, hell, even finishing a day, there always an impetus of “getting shit done.” If I don’t complete what “needs” to be done, I feel incompetent.

We’re always rushing. We’re always in a hurry to get from point A to point B. We miss the bumps and twists and turns en route because we are too concentrated on getting to the destination, whatever or wherever it may be. And, furthermore, we will let out an audible UGH if there is that one bastard–er, obstacle– shuffling along at a glacial pace in front of us.

Enter Rome. Look forward, there’s the Pantheon. Look down, there’s an intricate network of cobblestones that would snag the heel of any Louboutin. Look left, there’s an immigrant trying to heckle you into buying a ticket to the Vatican museum. Look right, there’s a sunbaked cathedral inside of which the most wondrous ceiling awaits your eyes. Look behind you, and there’s a red vespa ready to zoom past you in 3…2… You get the picture.

The people in Rome aren’t sprinting to get to their destination. They welcome lateness, rather, as a customary old friend. Taking the time to invigorate yourself with the life around you is a lesson I learned every day. It teaches you to appreciate life with the same vim and vigor you get when the going is at its peak.

3. Whatever it is you do, put your heart & soul into it.

The classic comparison can be made between the American waiter and his Italian counterpart. If you’re in New York City, odds are he’s an aspiring actor trying to make it big on Broadway who’s part-time serving you a medium-rare filet mignon with a cabernet-fig demi-glacé. In Rome, however, it is his full-time passion and profession.

In my trip to the slaughterhouse district Testaccio, I chatted with many a chef, butcher and waiter, too, and each of them shared one commonality: they pour their hearts into their craft. The butcher selects only the most succulent cuts of meat and refuses to sell his customers any less than that. His customer in the stall two slots down buys from him to serve the finest form of cucina Romana to his hungry clientele on their way to work. And the waiters at the restaurant a few blocks over? Same deal.

Whether it’s the finest of fine dining or a neighborhood marble top pizzeria, the Italians are immensely proud of their heritage and customs cultivated from over 2000 years of tradition. Their passion is renowned, as is the quality of their work. They’re happy with what they do, and it’s also something to be said that they are even happier to share their joie de vivre with others.

It’s taught me to find my passion(s) and pursue them to the fullest.

4. Dress the part, dammit. 

Although I pride myself in going to a university known for having fashionable students, it doesn’t even pale in comparison to Rome.

Rare is the Roman woman you will find navigating the streets dressed in Nike shorts, a spirit jersey emblazoned with her sorority’s letters, and gym shoes. Women in Italy have much respect for themselves, and it shows in the way they dress because they always carry themselves with effortless grace and poise.

Spending a month in Rome has taught me that even if I’m a disaster to pull myself together and slap on some red lipstick. If the confidence isn’t quite there, make it there.

5. Treat everyone like family.

Hospitality is not something only found in the South. The doors of each little patisserie and shoe store are always open, and you’re likely to find the owners outside chatting over a cigarette. Every stranger I passed en route always greeted me with “Buona sera”. 

Mealtime was a sacred ritual that lasted a minimum of two hours because the restaurant’s staff were as flavorful as the piping hot food they served. They invited you into the embrace of their restaurant to laugh and converse and learn. They weren’t afraid to speak about the most controversial of topics and were genuinely interested in your take as well. It was as though they were a mother yearning to hear the details of her son’s first day of school.

Treat every day like Christmas (or Thanksgiving!), treat everyone like family. Share your passions every day, and learn with interest about others’ passions.

6. Embrace challenges and embrace change.

Even when everything in the world is going wrong, embrace it. If you don’t like it, change what you can change, even if “it” is your perspective.

It’s hard to find reasons to complain, especially when given an opportunity to gallivant around Rome for a month, yet, as with human nature, we do complain. Feet hurting too much from walking? Sweating? Politicians getting a little too rambunctious?

Sit down and order a cappuccino. Laugh at the sun and grab a gelato. Go for a run. Write. Have a conversation about it!

Rome taught me to be a relentless optimist–to strive to find la bella vita even when the going is not so bella. Every day, even in the most trying of times, there are always things to be thankful for, though they all tend to surface on the last Thursday of November. If you can’t find one event out of any given that brings you joy, dust off that magnifying glass and look harder.

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36 Hours in Rome

Juxtaposing the old with the new, the Eternal City is one that never ceases to excite. Whether you are inside a café invigorating your senses with the stimulating rush of espresso or at a local outdoor market flocked by natives whose workers fold ribbons of pink prosciutto into a succulent sandwich, each day in Rome provides a unique experience that will consume and enchant you. Characterized by two millennia of vibrant culture and passion for la bella vita, Rome is abuzz from the moment the sun peeks through the trees shading the Tiber River. From the mesmerizing fresco walls and elaborate domes of a cathedral tucked in a piazza to zipping mopeds you dodge as you weave your way around the cobblestone streets that lead to ancient ruins, Rome is a heart pulsating with spectacular endeavors that invites you to explore its chambers.

FRIDAY

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When the sun hovers over Rome in the late afternoon, Piazza Navona and its treasures of Sant’Agnese church and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers become radiant. The pale sunflower Sant’Agnese is almost transparent in the cerulean sky, and there is a golden glow about the cupola. The Egyptian obelisk atop Bernini’s masterpiece has hieroglyphic carvings along its sides that are visible without squinting in the sun. The square has a diminished crowd, making it a perfect opportunity to see Piazza Navona during a less congested time.

Piazza Navona 56-84 | Open Daily, 24/7

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Rome is renowned for its beautiful sunsets, and it is best viewed from the Ponte Garibaldi. This presents the Eternal City in a calmer state and is a wonderful time to reflect on all of the hustle and bustle. The salmon pink sky and the shadows of the surrounding city reflect on the surface of the water. The dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica is illuminated with its night-lights that project over the immensity of Rome. It is a stunning transition into the nighttime when its vibrant culture is alive in full force.

Ponte Garibaldi | Lungotevere degli Anguillara

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Tantalize your tastebuds with cucina Romana at Testaccio’s trattoria Flavio al Velavevodetto. Tucked behind greenery on Via di Monte, chef Flavio de Maio’s tavern is a favorite of food-savvy locals. The lively staff zips in and out of the low-set vaulted ceilings and mazelike cocci walls as they endow guests with hearty portions of traditional Roman delicacies. Not to be missed are the trippa alla romana—simmered animal stomach in a rich tomato sauce—or their cacio e pepe—pasta in a pepper and cheese sauce. Also not to be missed is their highly acclaimed tiramisu, which is a creamy coffee wonderland encased in a martini glass.

Flavio al Velavevodetto | Via di Monte Testaccio 97 | http://www.flavioalvelavevodetto.it+39 06 5744194 | Casual; Reservations Recommended | Open Daily, 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

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Jumpstart the day with an early morning run along the Tiber River, when the city is just waking up and the air is cool and light. Start with Ponte Palatino on your right, on the Trastevere side. As you run along Lungotevere towards the Vatican, take a right to cross Ponte Sant’Angelo and let Bernini’s angelic statues cheer you on. Another right and down Lungotevere, head back to the opposite side of Ponte Palatino and stop to behold the oldest Roman stone bridge, Ponte Rotto. The broken, ivy-covered bridge is like a lost city in the shadow of the Tiber Island. Kudos to you, as you’ve also tucked five miles under your belt.

Ponte Palatino | Lungotevere delgi Alberteschi | Open Daily, 24/7

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Il Nuovo Mercato is a gastronome’s paradise. It’s not a tourist market, but rather an honest, working-class market with a selection that will amaze you if you’re used to more limited assortment of products found in American markets. In addition to the fresh, colorful meat and produce packed into many of its 103 stalls, there are critically acclaimed street food stalls such as Mordi e Vai, which is famous for its sandwiches filled with cucina Romana. Il Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio is a place where culture fuses with the lives of the locals.

Il Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio | Via Beniamino Franklin 12 | Open Monday-Saturday, 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

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Afternoon siestas aren’t just reserved for Spaniards. Head to the Borghese gardens for a little rest and relaxation beneath a canopy of greenery and ancient Roman ruins. It is an ambience perfect for escaping the business of the city as well as the hoards of tourists. Spread a blanket on one of the grassy knolls and share panini and a bottle of Chianti. Walk along the pebbly pathways and discover the charming secret gardens dotted throughout, or delight your inner art junkie in the “villa of delights” as you behold the various pieces of artwork. Villa Borghese is an invigorating breath of fresh air and a free pass to beat the heat and unwind.

Villa Borghese Gardens | Viale dell’Aranciera 11

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Among the kebab stands and ancient obelisks dispersed throughout the piazzas, Middle-Eastern influence further extends to Sciam. Ranked one of the best hookah bars in Europe, it’s an eclectic hookah lounge that transports its clientele into an Arabian utopia. Rustic jeweled Turkish lamps hang from the ceiling, and seductive sounds from Syria are the backdrop for conversation over a glass of chilled lemon and mint tea. The sweet aroma of Jordanian hookah tobacco lingers in the air through the various nooks lined by woven pillows and intricate Persian tapestries, further immersing its hip clientele in a souk of secrets and shisha. 

Sciam | Via del Pellegrino 56 | Dietro Campo de’Fiori | +39 06 68308957 | Open Daily 3:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.

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If you’re thirsty for a unique aperitivo, head to Trastevere’s 8millimetri bar. As colorful as the neighborhood in which it resides, the walls of 8millimetri are covered in artsy doodles and bottles of syrup and liquor. Its Super8 menu poses eight special drinks that are as flavorful as the bartenders who mix them. Tequila poured over Tabasco and sugar in a glass lined with absinthe is garnished with a sundried chili pepper, and is sure to spice up the evening. Also not to be missed is the Rum Rhapsody, which is garnished with a grapefruit wedge that is set on fire before served.

8millimetri | Via del Moro 8 | +39 06 64562508 | Open Daily, 6:30 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.

SUNDAY

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One of the most characteristic aspects of Roman culture is the heart and soul artisans pour into their craft. At Oriani on Via Torre Argentina, Rosario De Simone puts his into making a custom-fitted sandal. De Simone embraces his customers into his cozy 20-foot-long by 3-foot-wide shop and within fifteen minutes, patiently whittles colorful bands of leather into a sole that can bear the strain of the cobblestone streets. At just around 70 euros a pair and a plethora of styles and colors to choose from, women can take home a keepsake made classic by the legendary style icon Jackie Onassis Kennedy.

 Oriani Gioielli | Via Torre Argentina 43A | http://www.orianigioielli.itInfo: email info@orianigioielli.it | Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., tentatively | Sunday, dependent on weather

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Gelato is a renowned favorite for its smooth, creamy texture and decadent flavor. There is a gelateria in each piazza, but the challenge is to separate the fake from the real deal. At Gelateria del Teatro, there are neither gimmicks nor puffy foot-tall mounds of artificial neon imposters. Visitors can watch as artisanal flavors like lavender and white peach or ricotta, almond, and fig are crafted by hand with local, fresh ingredients. The coronary artery is vital to the heart’s function, and on Via dei Coronari, gelato at Gelateria del Teatro is the heart of authenticity.

Gelateria del Teatro | Via dei Coronari 65 | +39 06 45474880 |Open Daily 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 a.m.

Trippa and Tribulations

There it was, nestled under a list of typical Roman entrées. Fully embracing “doing as the Romans do,” I pointed to trippa alla romana and said, “Questo.” 

“You do know that that is animal stomach, don’t you?” the waiter asked, smirking.

I ignored his qualms and insisted on being adventurous. I’m in Rome. Isn’t Italy known for its food?

Upon first impressions, I understood why my server had been unconvincing about my selection. The sauce was blood red and the slivers of tripe looked like a cross between newly hatched albino snakes and shriveled squid tentacles. A few bites in, and all I could say was that the sauce was, at the very least, palatable.

After learning of this, famed food and travel blogger Gina Tringali smiled and said, “Wow, you really will try just about anything.”

Regardless of the freshman experience, I was determined to undertake the challenge of finding the best strips of simmered stomach with which to fill my own.

Not-So-Fit for Kings

Little did I know that the cultivation of the recipes for tripe and other classic Roman dishes had much history behind them.

In ancient times, nobility feasted on the best cuts of meat while the working class was paid with the butcher’s rejects. They then gathered this offal to craft a satisfying meal using fresh seasonal ingredients.

Roman-style tripe was one of the many inventions of the working-class, created from the fruit of a slaughterhouse wasteland. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

Roman-style tripe was created from the fruit of a slaughterhouse wasteland. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

Some dishes were even reserved for certain days of the week. Trippa was the Saturday Night Special, while gnocchi tantalized taste buds on Thursdays.

Although originally intended for peasants, the flavors of trippa alla romana are anything but humble, and every step of preparation is precise.

Notes of onion and garlic, traces of carrots and celery, the warmth of cloves, and the hint of mint intensify the body and complexity of the slowly simmered tomato sauce that settles in the honeycombed pockets of the strips of stomach. Pecorino or Parmesan cheeses pack a flavorful punch, and the final texture is much like that of grilled octopus or extremely al dente pasta.

The passion for culture and tradition erupts from every building and cobblestone alleyway of Rome today, particularly through cuisine. As recipes for trippa alla romana passed through generations of family, tradition was preserved by inventing modern takes on the classic dish.

Traipsing through Testaccio

Both Tringali and distinguished Rome-based food blogger Katie Parla pointed me to Testaccio for the best trippa to try, tourist traps not included.

Testaccio has been the cornerstone of trade and Rome’s slaughterhouse district for two millennia. Trademarked by a mountain of ancient broken amphorae, it was the birthplace of trippa alla romana and other traditional recipes. Testaccio is called Cuore di Roma— the heart of Rome— yet is often overlooked despite its dense history.

For those who venture south of Aventine Hill, it offers an invigorating gastronomic experience that rhythmically beats with the passion for life and quality ingredients. It has a thriving culinary scene and serves authenticity aficionados the most innovative and traditional foods.

Just beyond the Jewish Ghetto district, Testaccio is both a hip and historical mecca for those seeking flavorful meals and conversations. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

After multiple tasting trials in other districts, Testaccio reigns sovereign due to the pedigree and proximity of its slaughterhouses, such as Macelleria Sartor Daniele in the Nuovo Mercato. These restaurants and street vendors have garnered a loyal entourage that return weekly to get their hands on genuine cucina Romana.

For those on the go, chefs at Trapizzino and Mordi e Vai craft the perfect portable panini. If a full-course Roman dinner is more up to speed, locals flock to Flavio al Velavevodetto.Through conversations with the masterminds about their heirloom recipes for tripe, I found that each chef’s versions were inherently different despite presentation under the same moniker. Visits to Testaccio thus ensure unique experiences.

Tripe Trifecta

At Trapizzino, strict attention to detail is key in preparation. Using the freshest cuts of tripe from the nearby macelleria, strips are soaked for hours in pecorino cheese and Roman mint. Various genera of tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil are then added to the mixture and simmered as a unit.

Owner Stefano Callegari opened Trapizzino in 2008 after extensive experience of running pizzerias and studying street food. A worker behind the counter explains that the name “Trapizzino” is a play on words, as she gestures to the triangular slice of pizza bread she transforms into an Italian pita pocket by stuffing it with fresh-from-the-pot trippa alla romana.

At Trapizzino, those in line watch as their fresh cucina Romana is prepared in front of them with local ingredients. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

Those in line at Trapizzino watch as their fresh cucina Romana is prepared in front of them with local ingredients. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

She describes Callegari’s biggest success as juxtaposing old and new by making a classic accessible any time of day. It is taking bite out of history with a modern reminder of tradition.

Down the road in Testaccio’s Nuovo Mercato is Mordi e Vai, nestled into box 15 among other street food stalls.

Just like at Trapizzino, queues of native Italians wrap around the corner, each waiting to grab a warm panino filled with chef and owner Sergio Esposito’s trippa. It has a chicken-like texture and each bite is consecutively more satisfying.

Esposito’s take is as enticing and portable as Callegari’s. Situated behind his stall, Esposito doles out hearty portions of his critically acclaimed street tripe.

Chef Sergio Esposito serves up an innovative way to carry a delectable part of Roman culture on the go at Morde e Vai. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

“This is a very old family recipe of many years. It is close to my heart,” he says, pointing to a pot of tomato sauce.

Esposito incorporates a special type of mint that gives each bite a crisp zing, distinguishing its flavor. The final touch is sprinkled Parmesan and pecorino cheeses before folding the stomach tissue into a delicious and portable sandwich.

In the evening, a flavorful dinner awaits at Testaccio osteria Flavio al Velavevodetto. Cool summer breezes drifting through dual-level outdoor terraces create an ambience that embraces gastronomes into its organ-like chambers.

The outdoor terraces at Flavio al Velavevodetto create an intimate atmosphere that complements the Italian custom of quality dining with good company. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

The outdoor terraces at Flavio al Velavevodetto create an intimate atmosphere that complements the Italian custom of quality dining with good company. Photo by Ashley Hamati.

Tucked behind greenery on Via di Monte, chef Flavio de Maio’s tavern oozes authenticity. The lively staff zips in and out under the low-set vaulted ceilings and between mazelike cocci walls as they endow guests with hearty portions of traditional Roman delicacies.

Their trippa is as flavorful as it is fairly priced and aesthetically appealing. The sweet, savory tomato sauce was filled with the fresh-picked flavor of pomodori from the vine with carrots and celery enhancing to the colorful visual display. More importantly, the gently curved slivers did not appear the least bit intimidating.

It was also clear that meticulous measures were taken to ensure the consistency. At Flavio, the spongy strips are so tender that they can be sliced with the side of a fork, while at the first touristy trattoria I found myself sawing with the vigor of a woodsman to hack off a bite-size sliver with a knife.

A friend of mine was even pleasantly surprised. “It tastes just like grilled calamari!” she said.

The presentation is also beautifully executed. One look around the room and my qualms of appearing as a kooky food blogger were quieted in seeing other food-savvy Romans snapping shots of their suppers. Atmospheric lighting and lively Italian conversation set the soundtrack to my organ meat odyssey as a whole.

Curious Epicurean

While the household names of pasta and pizza are commonplace in any American-in-Italy’s vocabulary, classic dishes remain unsung heroes of cultivating a more worldly palate. The allure of the traditional trippa alla romana di Testaccio lies within the creativity and passion of transforming the unwanted offal into a satisfying meal.

Tripe is likely the last choice in mind when it’s nestled on a menu between cacio e pepe and carbonara, whose relationship with “Italian food” is analogous with that of Roman Holiday and cult classic films about Italy. However, its unparalleled history has an enticing quality that reels in those hungry for the real deal.

Although Hepburn famously samples gelato on the base of the Spanish Steps, I found I prefer to walk down the path less traveled by tourists to Testaccio to send my senses on a new Roman holiday and culinary escapade that evolved out of survival and passion for la bella vita.

WHERE TO GO

Flavio al Velavevodetto|Via di Monte, Testaccio 97, 00153 Roma|Tel. +39 06 574 6841|http://flavioalvelavevodetto.it

Trapizzino Testaccio|Via Giovanni Branca, Testaccio 88, 00153 Roma|Tel. +39 06 4341 9624|http://trapizzino.it

Mordi e Vai|Via B. Franklin, 12 E (Nuovo Mercato Testaccio), Box 15, 00153 Roma|Tel. 3391343344|http://mordievai.it

chianti and cold cuts, chiesas e calore

Benvenuto!

For two days, my classmates and I took a hike through the narrow cobblestone pathways in the hills of Tuscany. We visited wine cellars in Montepulciano, took a trip to medieval times in Pienza, wined and dined at the monastery S. Anna in Camprena, and dropped our jaws at the Duomo of the Orvieto cathedral. Even though the sun was at war with the rain, it was a surreal sidetrack of relaxation.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/120662855@N05/sets/72157645255164175/

gettin’ saucy with it

You’d be lying if “pasta” wasn’t one of the first things to pop into your mind when thinking of Italy.

A few nights ago, our group convened in the gardens of the Pantheon Institute for a potluck dinner. Some of my friends brought decadent desserts from artisan sweetshops while others provided pizza from a marble-top oven pizzeria in Trastevere. Then there were some, myself included, who opted to channel our inner Giada De Laurentiis’.

While I’ve perused the pages of her personality-filled Everyday Italian cookbook, I used one of my all-time favorite references: my mother. Before I embarked on the nine hour flight to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, she left the pages of my little blue Book of Brilliant Ideas filled with a few recipes to try my hand at if I took a trip to the markets (Ed. note: among emergency contact lists and endless copies of my boarding passes and passport).

After class, my friend Molly and I noshed on the idea of cooking pasta with homemade sauces. A walk to the Conad in Trastevere, 30 euros, and 45 minutes later, we strolled back to the Pantheon Institute with flimsy grocery bags towering over our heads stuffed with the freshest ingredients.

My tomato sauce á la Mama Hamati was a huge hit, as the sides of the pan were licked clean in the aftermath of our dinner. In addition to being incredibly simple to make, it doubles as a dip for fresh bread toasted with an olive oil drizzle and is quite healthy. The sawwce is the souwwce of life, so without further ado, here’s the recipe: (Ed. Notes & Cautions — spicy and made for a party of 16. Many tomatoes were harmed in the making of this sauce.)

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INGREDIENTS:
> A variety of tomatoes — (I used four or five different types, including both cherry and regular. It’s entirely up to you)
> Olive oil — (I guesstimate; you need enough to cover the large flat pan but I also added a little more here and there to give it body)
> 1 can of tomato paste
> Fresh parsley, chopped
> Fresh basil, chopped
> Chili oil, ~2 tbsp
> Oregano, to taste
> Salt, to taste
> Black pepper, to taste
> Crushed red pepper, to taste
> Paprika, to taste
> Rosemary, to taste
> 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed — (I used a travel-sized mini garlic press from Sur La Table, which you can get here)

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PRET A MANGER:
> Wash and chop the tomatoes into a variety of sizes. It really depends on how chunky you want your sauce, which aids to the simplicity of this. I halved the smallest tomatoes, and for the larger ones (of which I only used two), I thinly sliced them, quartered them, and halved them until I had smaller-than-bite-sized cubes. Set aside.
> In a large frying pan, pour olive oil to coat the base and turn a stove to medium or low heat, stirring. (Ed Note: I played around with the heat levels in creating this– fluctuating between medium and low as needed. Whenever the garlic was ready, I turned off the heat completely. I only ever turned it back on to low/lowest setting when I added the tomatoes/paste just to make sure all was well mixed.)
> Finely chop garlic.
> Add garlic, being careful not to singe it; you want it lightly sautéed. Keep stirring lightly.
> Add the tomatoes, continuing to stir with a spatula or wooden spoon.
> Drizzle a little more olive oil and ~2 tbsp chili oil, and add a couple pinches of salt to taste, stirring.
> Add the contents of 1 can tomato paste and mix well with the tomatoes. (Ed. Note: at this point, I’d turned off the heat completely)
> Add the peppers, paprika, dry rosemary, a little more salt to taste, and any excess garlic as necessary, stirring.
> Garnish with basil and parsley, let cool. A bottle of vini bianchi, a side of pane e insalate Caprese, some good company, and you’re in business. Buon appetito!

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bridging the gap

From strolls on the sidewalks beneath the shade or runs that snake along the bends at the banks to photo ops en route to the Castel Sant’Angelo, millions encounter the beautiful bridges that safety pin the seam that is the Tiber River.

Many of these bridges are absolute masterpieces and are still standing tall since ancient times. Ponte Fabricio, for example, links Campus Martius to Tiber Island and was built in 62 B.C., while Ponte Sant’Angelo of 134 A.D. features travertine marble masterpieces á la Bernini.

Statuesque and majestic are the works at the hands of Bernini that speckle the Ponte Sant'Angelo.

Statuesque and majestic are the works at the hands of Bernini that speckle the Ponte Sant’Angelo.

Though the bridges house the feet and wheels of travelers daily, they also unknowingly host another set of guests: the homeless community.

Caught in between the hustle and bustle and the incredible sights, I hadn’t really been able to steadily investigate the foundations of the bridges. However, a morning tour with Tom Rankin immediately exposed that harsh reality in an unexpected way.

There are hidden stories that lie beneath the shadow of the ancient arch work.

There are hidden stories that lie beneath the shadow of the ancient arch work.

Amidst being amazed by the very history of the bridges and their craftsmanship and learning of Rankin and his colleagues’ plans to cultivate a contemporary art scene down by the murky water, I was flabbergasted upon seeing one man’s refuge from the elements.

Piles of litter and an inexplicable stench were not overshadowed by the fig trees that provided the fruits of survival. Seeing his fishing equipment made my stomach churn after being told that the fruits de la mer were anything but the créme de la créme. Complete with a heap of blankets upon a dusty mattress and rusty metal lawn chairs, the man had created a home shaded by a pathway that leads to the ancient sewage system.

An otherworldly experience comes to those who pause to explore the banks.

An otherworldly experience comes to those who pause to explore the banks.

Rankin reassured us of the idea in saying that there would be much work invested in cleaning up the grime lining the walls that protect the city from flooding disasters. He even noted that there are she-wolf inscriptions carved in those walls that would be uncovered by a good power cleaning. It is true, thus, that there is great potential.

However, while a contemporary art scene would showcase many a talent and form more traffic and character at the base, the first step towards this refurbishment may be better off taken in working to improve the lives of those surviving on the brink.

bartenders and brews and brains, oh my

Whoever said that all good stories start with someone walking into a pub was an absolute genius.

Trying to beat the scorching 94-degree hellfire weather seemingly blasting from ancient times, two of my friends and I found refuge in the air-conditioned Trinity College pub. We immediately ordered ourselves a pint of either Smithwicks and Carlsberg and sighed with relief.

Trinity College pub proved to be more than a healthy selection of brews.

Trinity College pub proved to be more than a healthy selection of brews.

Ciao, beautiful girls,” greeted the young bartender, who then seemed to display complete shock upon discovering we were American.

“There’s no way you’re American…you’re not fat, ugly, or obnoxious,” he said, “but I know you Americans will want the wi-fi password, so here, I write it down for you.”

He continued to chat with us and joke around with us but I couldn’t help but think, Is that really what Europeans think of Americans? I didn’t want that to be the main impression, but thankfully he delved into the topic a little more without me even having to ask.

Our bartender, who had lived in San Diego for a few years, said that his main problem with Americans is that we are ignorant of our rights, especially when it comes to the government.

“You know, you have [GMO] food that your government puts out for you in the store, and you don’t know what you are eating,” he said. “Especially here [in Italy], we know our food hasn’t been tampered with.”

A signature smirk from our charismatic philosopher of a bartender.

A signature smirk from our charismatic philosopher of a bartender.

Upon discovering we were here in Rome studying journalism and travel writing, he said, “You see, in Italy, at least we know that we are…controlled by government with journalism. You think you have freedom of speech but you don’t.”

It was interesting to me mostly because he was able to verbalize his thoughts, but when he asked us if we had any concrete negative impressions of Italy, we couldn’t pinpoint one that rivaled the educated notions he had. Lack of air conditioning and iced coffee seemed very trivial to mention in comparison to a general lack of awareness about our authoritative rights.

He then told us about two documentaries about journalists and politics that he said would further stimulate our brains on this topic.

After about an hour of deeply intriguing conversation, the beer bubble that surrounded the four of us popped and we continued on with our day. I’ve come to realize a trend in Roma: walk into the most unassuming building and exit reborn with a new perspective (and a loose wallet, as we tipped him heavily).