For our last couple of miles back to the hotel, we actually drove on the “surface roads,” as city streets are called in Los Angeles, and Rich managed to maneuver through the crowded streets with a skill he learned as a Scuba instructor, called dead reckoning. It worked. We pulled into the garage of the Amleto Hotel, the rental agent came, took us back to the office where they ran my credit card through, then returned us to the hotel, where we said our arrivedercis and grazies and headed for the train station.
It was now hours of travel on trains to the Rome Airport at Fiumicino, where the courtesy bus from the Hotel Roma in Fiumicino would pick us up. The Roma is a small luxury hotel that we found online and though expensive, chose it for our last night in Italy, for its nearness to the airport, and because it was probably the last chance for a good night’s sleep until we got to our respective homes. The accommodations did not disappoint – in fact, they exceeded our expectations. We had requested separate beds, and were they ever separated! The room was a duplex – two floors, with a bedroom and balcony overlooking the town (and the water if you leaned a certain way) on each floor.
I would tell you more about the amenities at the hotel, but there was no information at all in the in-room folder. When Rich asked about it, the clerk dismissed the issue completely. And while the room had internet access for a personal computer, their advertising promised the use of a hotel computer. We were told that “it was broken,” and that was that. This clerk was the polar opposite of the helpful staff at the Amleto in Pompei.
We walked through Fiumicino at around 6:30 in the evening, found an internet point and send our final emails home just before the store closed at 7. Now it was time to find a restaurant where we would have our last Italian meal at ground level. The hotel restaurant prices were exorbitant, and we were already spending 195 euros for the room; so we followed the clerk’s directions to the area that he said had a variety of restaurants. Wrong. We explored further, and made an unusual decision – to have dinner at Miao Peng, Ristorante Cinese. (Maybe meeting Ching Petrunti in Frosolone pre-ordained this.)
And of course, when we walked in, at a few minutes after seven, the staff was eating. We interrupted so many waiters’ dinners at so many restaurants, I almost felt compelled to leave more than the recommended10 per cent tip when “servicio” wasn’t included. Almost.
A lovely Asian waitress seated us in the middle of the empty dining room, and while she probably spoke Chinese, I know she spoke Italian and practically no English. I don’t know what you’d expect to find in a Chinese restaurant in Rome – we imagined a menu in Italian and Chinese. But when we opened it, there was just Italian and English. And it was divided into the typical Italian menu divisions – Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Dolce, and Formaggi.
Everything was fine, until we noticed that there were no chopsticks on any of the tables. We both wanted to use them, so Rich consulted the two dictionaries he had brought with him to help with the few difficult moments he encountered. Of course, the guidebooks did not anticipate that an American tourist in Italy would need to request chopsticks.
I remembered the title of a 1991 Roberto Benigni movie, “Johnny Stecchino,” which translates as Johnny Toothpick. Using that bit of knowledge, Rich, with the international gesture for using the implements, asked for “grande stecchini.” Giant toothpicks. I thought I saw her stifle a laugh, but she maintained her composure and brought chopsticks, but I have a feeling the staff is still telling the story in the kitchen and laughing at us. When asked, she told us they were called bacchette in Italian.
As we ate, the restaurant filled to capacity – it was a Saturday night, and there were extended families with kids sharing huge bottles of Coca-Cola, groups of hyperactive teenagers, beautiful couples on dates, a cross section of the natives of Fiumicino. We had found one of the locals’ favorite weekend restaurants. And they were all using flatware – we were the only ones in the restaurant eating with giant toothpicks.
After a short night’s sleep in our duplex hotel room, we arose at 4 a.m., giving us the time we needed to get to the airport, check in and go through security for a 7 a.m. flight. The rest of the trip was just checking in and connecting with flights and being impatient to get home and share the stories, the pictures, the bread and the scissors with family and friends.
Now, as I write about these experiences, there’s a lingering feeling – even a yearning to return. If you’ve ever been to a special place, one where you merely felt a connection, then you can imagine the effect of being in a really special place where you have actual connections. As I click on the video of Frosolone’s outdoor Festa della Forgiatura, which I do often, I can imagine myself going back up those hills some August – and this time, being greeted by familiar faces with familiar names. I’ll bet I could even convince the same driver to come along. I’ll just have to find a better navigator.
Next: A surprise from Italy