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That Roman Holiday

Rajen Bali

The Eternal City. Rome. A glorious summer with blue skies and bright sunshine. Absolutely perfect times for a song in one’s heart and on one’s lips. But I was not happy. I was very troubled and sad. The reason? I had very little money in my pockets.  I had taken a longish route from Trieste to reach Rome with stopovers in Venice, Ravenna, Rimini, and Ancona. Between Ancona and Rome. I was robbed of most of my money in the train. So here I was in Rome, on a very, very tight budget. I had paid one week’s rental in the modest but very clean, well-located pensione. The owner and his family were quite sympathetic and had agreed for me to stay till some money I had asked from friends arrived.

The circumstances called for very strict budgetary control of my meager monetary assets. Since I had a roof over my head, the next item on the agenda was to do a food plan. It was not my first time in Rome. On my first visit, I had flipped over the shoulder the mandatory coin in the  Trevi Fountain – of ‘The Three Coins in the Fountain’-fame – and true to the legend, my wish for coming again to Rome had been granted. How I wished that I had added a rider to my wish to come back to Rome – “May I return with enough money in my pockets!”

The food plan? Eating was restricted to two meals a day. One meal was a 350gm helping of piping hot simple Pizza Margerita or Pizza con funghi, direct from the oven. I had found that there were two basic kinds of Pizza Sellers. There were the fancier places with the round pizza that we usually see. But there were also the more popular, small places where the pizzas of different kinds were baked in rectangular trays and sold by weight. These places were patronized by the common people at large including the young, the working classes and others with modest means. So these pizzas-by-weight were my basic daily sustenance. Why 350gms? That was the amount I had calculated which I could afford on daily basis.

The second meal of the day required about three kilometers of walking to the St Peter’s Square. This daily walk was ‘unhealthy’ in the circumstances because it whipped up a bigger appetite. But the alternate-days food choices were much more than adequate even to take care of this whipped-appetite. Along one of the walls of St Peter’s was small bakery which had the most divine cream buns. One bun was a soul-satisfying meal. Not too far way was a very small ice cream shop. For less than a US dollar, one could get four scoops of different flavors of ice cream topped with one scoop of real, thick, fresh cream. The result was not only heavenly bliss but to drop on the knees and send up a daily prayer of “Thank you, O lord, for the Divine Cream Bun/Heavenly Ice Cream.”

Italy may have world leaders in fashion like Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and others, but it also has an excellent beer – Birra Peroni, brewed since 1846. About a 15 minute walk from my pensione was a small restaurant which had live singing in the evenings. I found that I could afford one beer, enjoyed sitting like a lord at one of the tables, every alternate day. On the ‘dry’ day – when I could not afford the price of a beer – I would lie in the lawn, enjoy the music, waiting all the time for tomorrow to come so that I could have another beer.

One sunny afternoon, I was rather sad. Money which I had sent for was taking much too long to come. I also had a fever. I was lying in a park lawn, my face covered with the day’s New York Herald Tribune, feeling quite miserable. Oh, the New York Herald Tribune. I did not mind starving, but I had to buy the New York Herald Tribune daily just for the vital and essential soul-food of the humorous column by Art Buchwald. But even the great humor of the great Buchwald did not help. I continued to be miserable under the cover of the newspaper. Suddenly I became aware of a passing couple, laughing away to glory. I was thinking: “Here I am lying utterly miserable and these people are laughing. How dare they do that?”  But then there were others passing by and laughing. Another ten minutes, I threw away the paper. I too was laughing. Loudly and uncontrollably. At my stupidity of feeling miserable on such a lovely, sunny day. A day fit enough to sing loudly the ‘Pippa’s Song’ – “God’s in His heaven, All’s right with the world.” Luckily it was a Birra Peroni Day and there was beer-and-music in the evening.

My money arrived the next day.