At the end of a long trip, and commute, I think back to how my morning started. On my recent Rome trip, the morning before my crew pick up at 10:30 am, I was drinking a cappuccino, leisurely gazing at the Roman Pantheon standing out in almost sheer solitude against a pale grey, early morning light.
Being a Sunday morning in Roman Catholic ground zero, the “day of rest” (well, the morning at least) is exactly that. The hordes of tourists, the tour guides and groups, and the constant stream of college students, free of the bondages of yearly study and now on European vacation, were all still slumbering. I heard them outside my hotel window until well after 1:00 am. Our crew hotel is close to Pope John Paul II’s favorite gelateria, Giolitti, a marked spot on the tourist trail of Rome, especially in the wee early hours of the morning. Now, at 8:15 in the morning, I was sipping my cappuccino at a table adjacent to the majestic and iconic Roman architectural wonder, the Pantheon, in almost utter peace and quiet, in late May, a bona-fide slice of tourist time in the travel tourist season.
I decided to sit at Di Rienzo, a café in the Piazza della Rotonda since 1952. The customary black and white outfitted waiters were smiling this early Sunday morning, allowing for the extra flairs and nuances that make Rome the romantic city it is, before the decent of the masses, which within record time can drain anyone of their civility. My waiter was charming and talkative, his blue eyes twinkling as he scattered rose petals over my table, petals floating down over my cappuccino, and homemade chocolate croissant (which turned out to be filled with Nutella).
A couple of times I saw heads peering out of lace curtains in the high windows above the piazza, windows being cracked open for some fresh, morning air. Two older Roman women walked in for their morning cappuccinos, leaving their equally older dog with crusted, tired eyes devotedly waiting for them at the entrance. A couple of bistro tables over from me were two priests drinking their cappuccinos deep in consultation, as well as an elderly British couple, fluent in Italian, the man drawing the scene in front of him seeing his subject in full view, his box of pastels splayed out on the table, with multi-colored dust on his fingers.
The day before, I crossed the piazza in front of the Pantheon in the afternoon. I weaved my way through the shady African immigrants selling fake Prada and Gucci bags, the packs of students, and the hordes of camera toting tourists competing for the best angle to take their proof of visit photo in front of the gorgeous rotunda building. I am sure there were some honeymooner couples thrown in the mix somewhere. But, this morning, it was when I was able to see the piazza, and the Pantheon, look Roman - majestic, an ancient architectural wonder, dominating.
By 9:00 am, Rome the tourist city was awake and on the move; a large tour group following their leader with her ubiquitous flag on a pole, tourists with cameras, the pushy Gladiators grabbing the attention of tourists for highway robbery priced photos with them. As the second wave now crested into the piazza, the priests, the artist and his wife, the dog walkers, the joggers, the men peeping out of their windows above the cafés and restaurants below quietly slipped away for the day.