Sunday: day of rest, relaxation, and oftentimes in Italy, religion. Dial in to a beautiful residential neighborhood below the Circus Maximus, Circa 2014, to a parking lot up against an ancient wall. Fiats honking, limbs gesticulating, and carts rolling. Domenica (e Sabato) is the organic Mercato di Campagna Amica, literally Country Friends, and there is no time for rest. Vai, vai!
It is a warm, sunny morning in early November. I enter the circular mercato with my father, a graduate of the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park. We do one loop around the rotunda, eyeing olive oils, herbs, nuts, autumn verdure, prosciutto, formaggi, and bread. We split up. He goes cheese and bread, I go arugula (rucola) and pomodori. I push through the nonni at what is clearly the favorite produce man. I take a number, but it is meaningless, as there is little to no order at the mercato, or at any venue in Italy where a line is usually the norm. Lines are moot. Instead, I make eye contact with the Romans around me, letting them know I am neither shy nor intimidated. I then make eye contact with the vendor, letting him know I am ready to pay. After about 10 minutes of chaos, I beg for the young man’s attention and finally direct him towards my chosen greens.
My dad waits for me at the exit. He is overwhelmed by the energy and the ‘Italian ways.’ He was successful with the bread but not the reggiano. Eh. We carry on towards the Aventino, one of Rome’s famous hills, where we will picnic in the Giardini degli Aranci. We walk through a quiet neighborhood behind Campagna Amica, where the buildings are pastel-colored and pristine, some with verdant growth outside their windows, others with ancient patinas and contrasting shutters. We stop at a water fountain in a small piazza, where we rinse the tomatoes and the rucola. A small dog is curious, but quickly loses interest when he realizes we nixed the soppressata.
When the hill finally levels off, we veer off into the Parco Savello, a peaceful, nearly symmetrical park made all the more haven-like with sporadic priest appearances and bobbing oranges. A bench in the shade calls our name, and we settle in for our light picnic. Bambini are playing tag in a circle around us, and I wonder how the gentleman just a few feet beyond can concentrate on his newspaper. He seems unperturbed, and I decide to channel calm spirits from the nearby Basilica of Santa Sabina. We navigate through the Giardini degli Aranci and exit the park, where three Autumnally-hued vintage Fiats are parked outside as if placed for a photoshoot. This November Sunday is most definitely una bella giornata.
If you continue on this road, you will find the secret keyhole, through which you have a straight shot of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is an uncanny vantage point, so perfectly positioned and so clear. I remember wandering up Aventino a few years ago in January, and I had the keyhole to myself for hours. On this particular day, there was actually a line. People were waiting in it, single file, so I can only assume that none of these people were Italian.