I’m Heading To Italy, Where Should I Go?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some friends of mine are planning a trip to Italy at the end of the summer, and they recently asked me, “Where should we go?”, which, if you think about it, is quite a loaded question given the scale of the country. It’s kind of like asking, “What should I do with my life?” or “Do I look fat?”; questions that beg a serious, heavily crafted response lest your own safety becomes in peril.

What do you say? Classic (Rome), modern (Milan), romantic (Cinque Terre), iconic (Venice), off-the-beaten-path (Puglia), creative (Sicily)? See what I mean?

This Nat Geo piece makes a good argument for starting in Rome, and shows what the city’s like from the viewpoint of staying in the high-end spectrum of the lodging category (the Hotel Hassler —  Condé Naste’s Reader’s Choice for best hotel in Rome), down to the quainter, middle-of-the-road stay (the 13-room Hotel Teatro di Pompeo) where one can settle into the daily rhythm of the neighborhood and feel, at least for a small time, that they’re one of the locals. The best way to do this? Find a surrogate Italian mother that likes to feed you.

I enter into a relationship of a very different sort with an establishment next to my pensione. Trattoria der Pallaro is the localest of local haunts. From her small kitchen, Paola Fazi has been turning out meals for 46 years. A squat woman in a blue house dress under a well-worn apron, Fazi is an Italian mamma’s mamma. She wears her long black-and-silver hair pulled into a bun, which she wraps with a second apron, folded and tied around her head like a crown.

Der Pallaro has no menu. You eat what Fazi is making—and whatever it is on that particular day, she’s making a lot of it. With deep-set eyes and an aquiline nose, she patrols her sidewalk tables with authority. I dare not leave one zito uneaten. When she stops by my table and sees I’ve cleaned my plate, she puts her arm heavily upon my shoulder. With the fear of a second-grader, I look up. Deep black rings pool under her eyes. She nods, slowly. I stop breathing. Then she unleashes a wicked smile. I exhale and lean my head upon her breast.

After a little more pondering I thought, maybe I’ll just to refer them to Rick Steves. That way they can blame him if they don’t like any suggestions. But they’re my friends, of course I wouldn’t do that to them.

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