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Breakfast at the gas station

The Adriatic Sea. Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Rome:

Fatma arrives shortly after 6:30 for our trip to the islands and Alex proclaims gleefully that we have time to get breakfast. He stops at a gas station on the way south, which surprises me slightly, but I think, OK, I can make do with gas station food.

Apparently, however, gas station food in Italy is a bit different, because there’s a nice little bakery-café inside, where I eat the first sfogliatella of my life, along with a demitasse of excellent cappuccino. The sfogliatella is a multi-layered pastry shell filled with ricotta, and is mildly sweet. I wonder why I haven’t eaten these before — other than the fact that I’ve never seen them for sale anywhere that I remember. Then we continue our drive along the coast of the Adriatic for another hour, all the way to Termoli, where we buy tickets for the ferry to the archipelago of the Tremiti islands.

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The best pizza in Rome, definitely

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Rome:

Antonio is intrigued, but still very confused, so he takes me back to the pizza oven and finds someone who speaks slightly more English than he does. It is enough to get the point across. I find a photo on the wall of Marc, Louis’ father, from when all the family but Louis came to visit the Italian cousins, and point. Antonio asks me, in Italian, which one of the brothers pictured is my boyfriend. I shake my head. He says, oh, he was the one in Iraq. I nod. “Si, si,” I say. Is he still in Iraq, or did he come back? Asks Antonio. I beckon cheerfully to indicate that in fact, he has come back.

At this point, two other older men, the other two brothers who own the pizzaria, come out and kiss me on both cheeks. They welcome me in Italian, and I sit down, and order in (bad) Italian. That much I can do. My pizza comes, along with my sparkling water, and a few locals come in and sit down. I can hear Antonio explaining to one well-dressed couple who I am. The man speaks English, and he tells me, grandly, that this is the best place for Roman pizza in all of Rome. It’s the best pizza I’ve had in Rome, anyway. It is nothing like American pizza, and the crust is so thin in spots that it crumbles like a cracker. The olives, salty and plump, still have the pits in them.

I finish the entire pizza, and I ask the waiter for the bill. He goes off, and Antonio comes back. “No, no,” he says, waving his hand at me. He turns and asks the couple to translate for him.

“No, no,” the woman repeats, waving her hand.

“It’s only one pizza,” the man finishes for Antonio.

The other two brothers come out again and kiss me goodbye, along with Antonio. They say to give their regards to Luigi and Marco. I nod. The well-dressed man repeats this for me in English case I haven’t understood.

And then I head back towards the metro, with a full stomach, smiling.

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In search of the best pizza in Rome

Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Rome:

My boyfriend has family in Rome, and he asks me to go visit them for him. They’re his second cousins or something along those lines, and there are three brothers who own a pizzeria not far from the Spanish steps, he tells me. Also, as a bonus, it’s supposed to be the best pizza in Rome, although my source may be biased. “Go early,” he tells me “it can get crowded.”

I take the metro to Spagna and head down Via Condotti. Valentino, Prada, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel line the street, displaying impossibly high heels and beaded dresses and delicious leather handbags. Behind me, the sun is setting. At the end of the street, there’s a huge sign for Fendi, and a triangular mess of small streets, and I duck into the Via Leoncino and find myself face to face with the pizzeria.

There’s a man at the door who I find out later is called Antonio, and I remember that I should have been practicing my Italian on the way over to try to explain the point of my visit. I get as far as “yo sono…” and then ask if he speaks English. Not very well, he says, and thinks I want something to eat when I try to tell him who I am. I shake my head.

“La familia DiConti,” I say, “In America. You know? I am the girlfriend of Luigi DiConti.”

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Cherries on the terrace

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Rome:

Just to the left of the apartment building, there’s a fruitteria. Wilma tells me that if we both go out, we need to leave the keys with Mimo, the proprietor of the fruit stand, because there’s only one set. I’m rather keen to take it easy today, but a fruitteria sounds promising. I go down and for a euro, buy a small bag of ripe cherries and a peach, and then I go in the tiny grocery store next to it and buy a liter of sparkling mineral water for half a euro. I sit on the terrace of my (or mine, for a few moments) Roman apartment and eat my cherries. They are perfect, deep red, juicy.

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Wilma the couchsurfer from Chile

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Rome:

Wilma the couchsurfer. Photo by Katie Botkin.

The latter half of my stay in Rome is much more relaxed than the first half. I have found possibly Rome’s most trusting, most big-hearted person on Couchsurfing, and he has told me I can stay in his apartment even though he is not there. Another couchsurfer is there already, he tells me. Wilma, from Chile.

I’m not sure what time Wilma will leave the apartment, so I take the metro early. I take the elevator to the seventh floor, and ring the bell. Wilma knows I am coming, but she hasn’t read my message about what time, so she greets me with a dustcloth in hand. She asks if I speak Italian or Spanish. I say no. She says she doesn’t speak English, but she says it in English, so I say, I can help teach you if you want.

Wilma had been cleaning the apartment, but she takes a break to make us some tea and get acquainted. She is 50 years old, and has a daughter my age. She’s spent the last year in Italy traveling around after selling everything she owned in Chile and returning here, because her grandparents were Italian, and they regretted never coming back. So now, she is “closing the circle.”

After tea, she is tired from trying so hard to speak English, so we clean the apartment together. I sweep, she mops. This is what I do when I couchsurf, she says. I put the place in order. “I was…” she hesitates, and says a few words in Spanish and Italian, until I decide that “disorganized” is the one she wants. And then she needs “before.” But now, Couchsurfing has forced her to be organized.

I nod. I understand.

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