I liked to think of what I was getting myself into by going to Rome this past Easter Monday in a poetic way. What I mean is, I couldn’t help thinking about the crowds milling on the streets between the enormously spectacular buildings that define Rome for me, as a scene for Milton’s Paradise Lost (book 1).
This 17th century poet described the buildings of the “high capitol of Satan and his peers” essentially, the seat of hell, and coined it Pandemonium, which roughly translates as “All-Demon Place” He then goes into truly beautiful detail of what Pandemonium looks like, with “ever-burning sulphur unconsumed” and so crowded it was, “Thick swarm’d, both on the ground and in the air, Brusht with the hiss of russling wings” It is juicy stuff, and the idea of Rome having a little of that flavor on Easter Monday was frightening and enticing at the same time.
Rome is the perfect setting for a place like Pandemonium. The sheer size and quantity of buildings, public statues and monuments, create a powerful backdrop for it’s seething inhabitants. I could just imagine the throngs of people who would be visiting for the holiday weekend, and decided it might be okay to get swept up in the chaos (another word Milton used to describe the place where God hurled Satan; into a kind of nothingness) of Rome, and not let the disciples of hell bother us!
Yes, this is a very dramatic description of what ran through my head when Mario asked if we could have a crazy Roman monday, but, I have to admit to having fleeting thoughts of that nature is not uncommon for me. Of course in the same instant, I said “yes!”
I met my friend to have coffee before getting on the bus that would take us down the hill from Cortona to the train station. We stopped at a cafe closest to the bus stop, a place I had been passing for months but had never ventured inside. The man who served us our much-needed shots of caffeine was a delightful character, and chatted away (mainly to Mario, as speaking Italian is not my strong suit, yet) on how learning english verbs was so difficult, and how it is so much easier for him to understand french!
He shook our hands as we left and I marvelled yet again at how everybody who works in the service industry in Italy is genuinely friendly and helpful. This opinion was very much validated when we discovered that buses were not running on Easter Monday, and Mario went back to the cafe to ask our amiable barkeep if he knew of another way down the mountain. He said it was too late to call a taxi, and so we left wondering what to do next. As we stood on the street we heard the slam of the cafe door, a jingle of keys following by Guglielmo (our new friend) running by us, telling us to wait and he would be back in a minute. Back he sped in his new powder blue Fiat Cinquecento, and beckoned us to jump in. He took us to the train station in what seemed like 3 minutes, exactly 1 minute before our train departed. Guglielmo now has two customers for life!
On our way to lunch we swung by the Capitoline Museum as I had some specific things I wanted to see (or rather, was instructed to see by my enthusiastic art historian friends), not least among them two Caravaggio paintings.
Mario was determined that we eat at this place; Cul De Sac. He told me that their big boast is that there is no kitchen. This was hard to believe as we stood in line watching frantic (but cool of course, this is Italy) hot pasta dishes, and succulent meat dishes being served to the diners who choose to eat outside.
Speaking of which, I never eat outside when given the choice. The only time I will do this is if the view is breathtaking, or I am in a very specific mood (don’t ask!). I go to restaurants for two things; the food (of course), and to melt into a room full of strangers, allowing their energy in, while the kitchen bustle stimulates all of my senses. This is powerful stuff, and if you eat outside you miss all of this magic that is going on just for your entertainment.
Cul De Sac had all the things I enjoy about eating out. I love crowded restaurants, and this one was packed to the gills with all sorts of interesting looking people. The room was like an alleyway, with tables on each side. This narrow path was the only way in or out, and was being heavily trod by a highly efficient wait staff. The host was the most charming of gentlemen, made sure we got seated as soon as possible, and then ran around doing whatever else needed to be done. Bravo Marco!
I was ultra-curious about the kitchen situation. I cook, and therefore knew for sure that having a place to cook is essential. Marco gave me permission to walk around with my camera, and so I decided to take a closer look at the preparation area. I think when they say they have no kitchen that is a bit of a technicality. There was a very narrow galley area where food was being prepared, but it certainly was not reflective of the amazing food that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
This whole place was all about how to maximize every inch of precious real estate. Bread was sliced in a cupboard that opened up on the aisle (and closed when not in use). It was truly genius and I couldn’t stop watching when they swiftly opened the door, cut bread at a frantic pace, dumped it into a basket and slammed the whole thing shut as they walked away!
Another very clever use of space was how they rigged a place to put coats so as not to jam up the already crowed and tight dining space. Above our heads, and just below the rows and rows of wine bottles was a net where you could plop your coat or bag. This was another argument for eating inside rather than out. I would have missed all of these cool features.
I haven’t even mentioned how great the food was. We started with three different types of pate, and it was a great way to start our lunch. It helped us ease into the moment and really enjoy the action of eating. I hadn’t had pate in years and the strong flavors were exactly what my taste buds wanted, not to mention how great it was with the red wine.
We followed the pate with bowls of spaghetti laced heavily with black pepper. Next came our greek salads which were fresh and zesty with a lovely crumbly feta crowing the lot. I was so full already, but I did manage to eat more than half of it before deciding that it was best not to risk exploding in public.
Two hours later we asked our waiter for the bill, and it was brought to us by the lovely Marco who had given us special treatment ever since I kindly asked if I could take pictures.
We did some more exploring after lunch and we both came to the conclusion that while Rome was exceedingly overrun with people this past Easter Monday (I’m aware we added to the madness), it was not really like being in Pandemonium, as appealing an image that was to me.
It was more like being at a big party here on earth, where the order of the day was to have fun, not to create hellfire and damnation. Less romantic, but probably a good thing.