We piled into the car and headed for the city, Sean and I knowing nothing of our agenda other than the promises of some great chocolate place.
We rode through the city, Davide and Kathy pointing out the significant sites around us. It’s incredibly heartening to hear the pride in a Roman’s voice as he talks about his city–the people here truly adore this place, and there’s no mystery as to why. We came to a stop outside Giardino deli Aranci (Garden of the Oranges), and were immediately greeted by sweet citrus wafting through the chilly night air. Still, I was not prepared for what lay within the decrepit walls before me. Passing the fountain of a grumpy Oceanus, we entered through an old steel gate to find a whole grove of trees–orange, pine, and cypress–the waxing moon’s light peeking through the top branches as if to mimic the Pantheon’s oculus. As if this wasn’t beautiful enough, we followed the walkway to the raised terrace, and what a view that afforded! The remains of the old fortress beside us, the flowing Tiber beneath us, and St. Peter’s and Giancolo in the distance made for a breathtaking moment that I won’t soon forget. We stood in silence for a while, just taking in the skyline before us, feeling on top of the world.
Once we pried ourselves away, we were ushered up the road a bit for a serious moment on Aventine Hill. Davide explained that he was about to take us to an important place that would show them the true nature of our character, and determine if we could continue through the city together. We were to stand in front of a massive steel door, and peek through the keyhole.
“If you are good people with pure hearts,” he told us, “you will see the most beautiful image of God. But, if you are evil people, you will see the most terrifying, horrific image of the devil.”
I nervously stepped up to the keyhole and looked through. What I saw was a perfectly framed St. Peter’s Basilica, lit in the night like a beacon. Davide and Kathy immediately started laughing at my sigh of relief…gotcha. Good joke, great view. I wish I’d been able to get a photo through the hole, but if you’re interested in seeing it here’s a good description. Fortunately, Sean saw the same thing, and we were good to go.
Back into the car we went, winding down the hill to another important historical site–the Jewish ghetto. In the interest of brevity, I urge you to read this explanation of the history of this area, and then imagine the significance of standing on that same ground. It was the most harrowing portion of our evening, yet uplifting to see the revamped apartments still inhabited by the same lineages of those who lived there hundreds of years ago. Again, the pride Romans take in their history is astounding.
On to our final stop, the Trastevere neighborhood. Narrow cobbled streets lined with restaurants, bars, and apartments, teeming with young adults and the occasional street performer, and we knew we were in for a good time. Kathy and Davide led us through the winding roads to a place called Cioccolata e Vino…chocolate and wine are fine by me! As per usual, we had no idea what we were in for. Everything on the menu is a shot of sweet mixed liquors, served in little chocolate cups and topped with whipped cream. Giggling, Kathy asked Davide to translate the names of the drinks on the menu for us. Each is the Italian name for *ahem* um, something really raunchy. If you care to look up translations, be our guest, but be forewarned that they’ll make you blush!
All in all, we had a wonderful night with our new friends, tasting, seeing, laughing and learning.