2015 Spring Jessica Benmen Temple Rome


Andiamo!” cried Giovanna, the Italian professor leading my group on a walking tour of the Temple Rome neighborhood. “Let’s go!”

And so we went, poking around in the area while learning about the most important part of life in Italy—food.

She brought us first to an alimentari, basically an Italian deli, full of a wide selection of meats and cheeses, as well as various candies, pastries, and a small pizza selection (this is Italy, after all). It was here that I got my first taste of the metric system; cold cuts were measured in kilograms, not pounds. Luckily, the conversion is pretty straightforward—you get a little over two pounds per kilogram.

Then we headed to the bar next door, which is deceptively the Italian term for a café (if you’re looking for some vino, head to a pub). As a known caffeine addict, this was a particularly important stop, and I learned some important lessons about coffee culture in Italy.

First of all, what we Americans recognize as coffee doesn’t really exist in Italy. If you walk into an Italian bar and order a caffé, you’ll be served a shot of espresso (and if you’re lucky, there’ll be a cup of heavy cream on the counter, to sweeten your drink). Luckily, there are other options for the faint of heart who aren’t quite prepared to take their espresso straight. For example, many Italians start their mornings with a breakfast pastry and cappuccino, which is frothy, sweet, and much smaller than any Starbucks-sized drink. Later in the day you can go for a caffé latte, which is what we just call a latte in the US (pro tip: in Italian, “latte” means milk, so if you ask for a latte—and your server doesn’t take pity on you poor, uninformed American—you’ll just get a glass of milk). Finally, you drink your coffee in the bar—coffee to go is decidedly un-Italian. You do have options, though; you can take your drink al banco, or at the bar, generally meaning you throw back your shot of espresso while standing at the counter, or you might prefer al tavolo, sitting down at a table. Be warned: many food establishments charge extra if you decide to sit!

A typical Italian breakfast: un cappuccino e un cornetto con nutella
A typical Italian breakfast: un cappuccino e un cornetto con nutella

Next we passed by a pizzeria, and learned some more important vocab. While some pizza does come pre-sliced, some also gets cut to your personal specifications in the restaurant. As they’re measuring your slice, you can direct them to cut the piece di piu, larger, or more likely di meno, smaller (as Giovanna explained, pushy restaurant workers tend to attempt to convince you to buy as large a slice as possible).

In front of a gelato shop a few storefronts later we were told to be wary of shops displaying mountains of gelato in their windows—good gelato is always covered or away.

The Piazza del Popolo
The Piazza del Popolo

Finally we made it to the historic center of Rome. Passing through the Porta del Popolo, the northern gate of the Aurelian walls, we entered the Piazza del Popolo. With an impressive obelisk in the center, two gorgeous churches behind it, and beautiful statues of Neptune and Rome on either side, the view was breathtaking. Walking farther down the Tridente, or the three streets branching out of the Piazza into the greater city, we witnessed the funny peculiarity of contemporary Rome: old juxtaposed with new. Beautiful old buildings, painted in the yellows, oranges, and light pinks that are so characteristic of the city, housed big retail branches below on their main levels (H&M, Foot Locker, etc.).

Piazza del Popolo: the view from above
Piazza del Popolo: the view from above

All in all: Rome is extraordinary, orientation has been a fantastic blur, and I can’t wait for classes to start on Monday!

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