Although I will return to Rome Thursday for one more night before catching an early morning Alitalia flight to JFK, I felt as if this would be my last chance to linger casually in the city. The original plan was to leave soon after the 11 a.m. Monday checkout time at Hotel Campo de Fiori and make my way to the Metro station, riding the subway to the last stop at Anagnina Stazione.
I changed my mind when Valentina, a beautiful and gregarious hotel clerk, told me the bus station wasn’t like Rome’s main train station, Termini. Termini is full of shops and places to eat and drink; the bus station, she told me, was simply a place to stand and wait for the bus. Better to stay near Campo and take a taxi, she said. I took her advice and decided to splurge on a taxi (20 Euro) to the bus station. The driver was to pick me up at 1:30, getting to the station in plenty of time to catch the bus to Rionero in Vulture. That left a couple of hours to roam Rome again.
My first top was an ATM machine, which was so close to Piazza Navona that I decided to go there one more time. I sat in a café, drinking coffee and watching as men set up for a carnival. I regretted a little that I wouldn’t be there in the evening to see the festival in full swing. Perhaps, it will be there when I return Thursday, giving me another chance to visit my favorite place in Rome.
Walking the few minutes back to Campo, I stopped for lunch. A bottle of water – naturale, without “gas” —and a Panini (sandwich): still-warm bread, fresh mozzarella, spinach and tomatoes. After a stroll through the market and a few more photos, I rounded the corner, entered the hotel and said my goodbyes. A few minutes later, I was in a taxi heading south to Anagnina. Only a few blocks away, my taxi driver pulled up beside another taxi and began speaking loudly and rapidly to the driver. I thought they were in an argument; arguments occur frequently between drivers as they vie for a faster, quicker route to their destinations. But it turns out the first driver’s car was “no working bene,” he said, and I had to change taxis. After putting my luggage in the second taxi and the driver’s profuse apologies, I was on my way again.
I have heard complaints about rude Romans, but I haven’t had that experience. My driver – who smiled as I tried to memorize the lines my cousin Pasquale Libutti wrote out for me -- picked up on my anxiety about finding the right bus to Rionero and offered to help me find it. Once he found the red Moretti bus and helped load my luggage onto it, he was off with a friendly “Ciao!” I found a seat near the back of the bus and settled in. In front of me was a young mother with her son. He chattered and sang and seemed a happy child. It turns out Monday was his fifth birthday, and the pair had been to Rome to see his father. Vania and Daniele Liscio kept me company. Between my beginner’s Italian and her beginner’s English, we were able to have a decent little conversation. An hour into the four-hour ride, they both fell asleep.
Rionero in Vulture was the last stop on the bus route. At 7 p.m., I arrived for the second time in this town from which my grandfather emigrated in 1902. Italian cousins Pasquale (on my grandmother’s side) and Michele Recine (on my grandfather’s side) were at the gas station waiting for me. We went straight to Hotel San Marco, where I was greeted by owner Bettina and her sons, Claudio and Fabrizio. I checked in, and Pasquale lugged my heavy bags up to the room. Italian only, Pasquale said, although he soon changed his mind when I struggled too much to understand. Off we went to a nearby olive oil production business to make arrangements for an interview the next morning. Then it was around the corner to the home of Carmela Recine, who is the matriarch of this Recine family: brothers Michele, Benito and Carmelo. Daughter Angela is a teacher in Veneto, in the north of Italy. Carmelo’s girlfriend, Yolanda, joined us for a meal of ham and bread, cheese, fried peppers, potatoes and rabbit. Yes, I tried rabbit. It wasn’t bad; it tasted a little like chicken (doesn’t almost everything?) but sweeter; it won’t be on my list of favorite foods in Italy! But three glasses of Benito’s Aglianico wine were delicious and helped.
At 11 p.m., Michele offered to take me to the hotel. I think he could see how tired I was, and he knew I had to be up early for the interview with Vincenzo de Lorenzo, grandson of the founder of Passannante Olive Oils. When Michele left, I got online and did a little research on the traditional cold-pressed method of olive oil production, which this business employs. Knowing I now had a little background for the interview, I fell into bed, pulled the covers around me against the chill of a rainy night and quickly fell asleep. It was the closest thing to home I have felt since arriving in Italy two weeks ago.