Janice Nigro

It is difficult to justify taxi rides in general, but especially when you are taking a year off from work. It is really difficult to justify a taxi ride when it costs 48 euro and public transportation is convenient. Occasionally though I do take a taxi to/from the airport when I am traveling in Italia. My Italian is good enough to engage taxi drivers to speak to me in Italian, so that one good reason to take a taxi is that it can turn into a lesson in Italian along with the ride to your destination. Italians love to talk and especially taxi drivers in any language that they are pretty good at. But if you show them that you can understand more in Italian than the average tourist, suddenly it is as if you become part of their family after a 50-minute taxi ride. You only have to ask a couple of short questions or make some relevant statements like, “I really love chocolate and gelato”. Gelato for those who do not know is very roughly translated as ice cream. You have to be sure to say at the very least “Italian” ice cream because it is more like a special type of chilled, soft, milk based dessert that is served at -14.3 degrees Celsius (I did not read this temperature in a book; it was displayed in a gelato case in Roma) for the full flavor effect.

I was on a family trip to Italia last week, which always includes a spectacular finish in Roma. I have been to Roma so many times that I can never imagine that there will be something new that I could discover here, but it seems that it is always possible. In my case, because I am always trying to become fluent in the language, just spending a day asking simple questions in Italian at the grocery store, the museums, the restaurants, a trip to the post office, and especially the gelaterie (poor translation: ice cream shop) leads to new words or expressions. Of course, it is at the gelaterie that I excel in Italian. A job in Italia that I might actually be qualified for where I would be required to speak Italian all day, would be in a gelateria because these words I know well. And you do not have to make intelligent sentences. Even though it is beautiful to say anything in Italian (even Sicilians screaming that they have anchovies for sale sound lyrical), learning Italian, like any language as an adult, is sometimes a painful process. You might want to be able to express a sophisticated idea, but instead you can only come up with a primitive sounding noun-verb-object type sentence for some perhaps mundane daily activity like taking a shower. Fortunately, there is no language hierarchy in a gelateria. All customers are equal. Anyone from a two year old to an adult trying to learn Italian is equally capable of ordering what they want and get it.

I was with my mother and brother in Roma this time so in fact a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel did seem like the most economical decision for once. Arriving at Roma Termini (the central train station) by the Leonardo Express and then taking a taxi to a hotel would have cost more or about the same for three. Our taxi driver was Marcello; I don’t know what his last name is (this is a shame as Italian last names often have interesting translations), but he was from Palermo so technically, as he pointed out, he was not Italian but Sicilian. He spoke excellent English, but I persevered in Italian so that in the end our conversation was a mixture of English and Italian, partly because he would politely explain topics of our conversation to my family. I can not remember how far we were into our ride when it was a natural point to interject my love of chocolate and gelato (ok probably within the first 10 minutes or less) when he declared that he knew the absolute best gelateria in all of Roma. He said that because he was from Palermo he could tell me when something was really good (in Italian, buonisimo!), and he would be right. Another man with a high opinion of himself I thought, but he was a rather interesting person. He had lived in other countries, among them Lebanon and Japan. But he spoke most devotedly about Roma. In fact, what he spoke most devotedly about was gelato. This was a man I could relate to. I thought at times that he was going to drive us into the wall along the freeway because not only did he need to speak to describe his love of gelato, but he had to use his hands, sometimes both at the same time. It is always easy to listen to someone talk about a pleasant experience but any experience let alone a pleasant experience spoken in Italian sounds especially like something you just have to do and immediately.

I somehow managed to understand approximately where his favorite gelateria was, and the name of it, and that he would have one first thing in the morning and then last thing at night. He could have this ritual eating of the gelato twice daily, he said, because it only cost 2 euro and anyway what better way to start the day and end it. He went on to reveal his favorite flavors, in Italian, and then told me, they even drop liquid chocolate into the bottom of the cone before they add the gelato. I honestly can not remember what else we discussed except that he would take me to the airport on the return for 8 euro less than the fixed price and buy me a gelato beforehand. “Just send me a message,” he kept saying in Italian, which I got confused with, “me a massage” (mi un messaggio).

My first mission then in Roma was to find that gelateria rather than visit Il Colosseo or Il Foro Romano, some of the most important archeological sites within the city. I did a quick search on the Internet. In fact all three of us did some investigating, and my mother succeeded first by finding the Facebook page for Gelateria La Romana in Roma. I could see that recommendations for flavors were posted on the page daily. My brother and I made a first attempt to find it one Saturday night. It was late, but we at least remembered that the gelateria was open until 1AM. We went in the right direction first and then turned ourselves around because we thought that we had gone too far. We went in the other direction, which we should have immediately realized was a mistake because the street name changed after one of the intersections. We kicked ourselves when we got home and found out how we messed up.

So the next morning I headed out with my mother. My brother was on his way to France (for the purchase of a dog), so he missed his chance. Yes, this situation reminded us that it is best to do your homework or at least to use your smart phone when it is something important. So the following morning I made sure I had the address, Via Venti Settembre 60. We walked in the correct direction, the only way to go actually. As we were walking along, my mother remarked that the numbers did not seem to be going towards 60 very quickly and that we might be in for a long walk. Finally, we got a clue that La Romana really existed, and we were at least headed in the right direction. Two men were walking towards us with large packages that had the La Romana logo plastered on them.

It was hard to imagine how one gelateria could offer something different from something that I can find about three times on every block in Roma, until I got there. First of all, it was in a location that seemed to me to be a bit off the beaten path. The street was pretty empty the night before which was a Saturday and not so many people were on Via Venti Settembre on Sunday morning either. It was also close to the train station, which is in a direction opposite of where the main attractions in Roma are located. The distance then might select for truly dedicated gelato enthusiasts (or just locals). Secondly, while it was new to Roma, the gelateria had actually immigrated from another city in Italia, Rimini. Rimini is a coastal town, which maybe is best known as a kind of party beach area in the north on the other side of the country. A gelato import? Thirdly, there were only a few flavors to choose from. The menu did not even include sorbetto. Like some of the best restaurants, a limited menu, but focused efforts produce a good quality product. And finally, in front of me, were two fountains of running chocolate, both white and a sort of hazelnut milk chocolate. These were primarily for filling the cone before adding the gelato.

When it is the first time to a gelateria, I choose my standard favorite flavors in order to compare to all other gelaterias, which in fact seemed to intersect significantly with the flavors that Marcello poetically described. Since it was Sunday morning before noon, I was one of about three customers in La Romana. In no time, I had a cone with liquid chocolate resting in the bottom topped with cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), bacio di dama con mandorla tostata (literal translation is a woman’s kiss with toasted almond-Ben and Jerry’s is the closest I can think of where the ice creams are given descriptive names, but Chunky Monkey can not be considered in the same category) and crema di pistachio di Bronte (pistachio from a town in Sicily called Bronte). There seems to be some order to the way the flavors are added to the cone because the server waited until I gave her the complete list of flavors. With the first taste, I think I experienced “buonisimo”. The gelato was perfectly soft and flavorful, and in the back of your mind, is the liquid chocolate that is resting on the bottom of the cone. So in fact every bite was something to look forward to including the last. My mother initially prepared herself to abstain from this forage (it was before noon afterall), but even she gave in.

The gelateria itself is very simple in design so that your attention is drawn only to the gelato and the “cakes” made completely of gelato in the glass-doored freezer. I also noticed that the area dedicated to the making of the gelato is actually called the Laboratorio. Sorry, but I finally could imagine a laboratory with my last name on it.

I was compelled to go back the next day for one more try. I waited over 24 hours, and I limited myself to breakfast that day in an attempt to manage caloric intake although the gelateria was a decent hike from our hotel. About 2889 steps from the Spanish Steps, so there and back is about half of the daily recommended number of steps to take to keep your heart healthy. I tried to test three additional flavors but only managed two new ones, cioccolato al latte (milk chocolate) and crema di nocciola (hazelnut) in addition to bacio di dama con mandorla testate.

Buonisimo is one of those single Italian words that perfectly express the speaker’s thought or intent. Spanish maybe has nearly the same word, and I believe that in Spanish you are allowed to add additional syllables of “isi” to even further emphasize the adjective. Buonisimo is such a fun word to say that you could start to use it indiscriminately. Italians (or maybe just Sicilians) use it strictly for extraordinary experiences, but I am sure I could apply buonisimo to some of my dive experiences.

When my time was up in Roma, I did not send a message to Marcello to come and pick me up from the hotel for a gelato and a reduced fare to the airport. I was afraid I would never get there.

Travel tip: When in a big city like Roma, take a photo of an address (or schedule) with your cell phone so that you have a simple visual record of where (or when) to go when you want to return. This strategy seems obvious but I forget to do it all of the time!

©2013 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com


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