Coming Out in Rome

Saturday, May 26, 2012

This is the third post in a series discussing my recent trip to Rome, with its unexpected happenings while attending a scientific conference on diet and physical activity at the (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was all downhill after my first day admiring the gorgeous pignoli-giving umbrella pine trees. Minor edits aside, this post was largely written in real time on Thursday, May 17 while enjoying my last meal in Rome.

A simple yet satisfying supper in Rome: a trio of crostini with tapenade, four cheese, and asparagus paté & salad.

The conference was over, at last. Despite severe back pain, I had just given my final talk and chaired the post-conference workshop. My friends and colleagues were heading out to explore the city for our final day. A run along the river was in store with a fellow marathoner, followed by dinner at Piazza de Navona and a night walk to experience the Eternal City under starlit skies. A spectacular ending to a fabulous conference (I’m told – I missed most of it), especially sweet to those of us who had worked so hard on the scientific committee for the past year.

For me, ’twas not to be. With sorrow and envy, I bid them farewell and plodded once again to the medical center for another pain shot, anxious to lie down immediately. My evening plans were far more meager: God willing, I’d be able to make the short walk back to the hotel with a stop off midway for rest and dinner. The fine dining options I had researched were completely out of the picture; all I could hope for was for something decent en route.

Four hours later, I began the excruciatingly slow journey from FAO to my hotel. Happily, the walk took me by the Colosseum, which I never tire of viewing in all its magnificence. One can only muse in wonderment at the glories (and atrocities) Ancient Rome held. I pottered gingerly around its perimeter, hoping to head up one of the many hills of Rome and explore the yonder regions. I struggled with each step on level ground, however, and the seemingly interminable set of small, winding steps leading up a steep hillside gave me pause. I was reminded of the steps at Montmartre my father looked upon with similar trepidation; there are automated options to assist that particular ascent, however. In this case, I was on my own – and decided wisely not to attempt the long trek upwards. I knew I was thus limited to the restaurants on my direct path homeward.

I surveyed a few of the dining options in my immediate vicinity and rejected them all. Obvious tourist traps, the prices were outrageous and the menus included such things as chicken fingers and hamburgers. Pshaw. I continued on my way and, after turning a corner, happened upon a stage with four energetic performers, part of a major LGBT event / gay rights demonstration.

Not a great picture, I know, but the best my IPhone and I could do given the circumstances. You get the idea, though – and there’s the Colosseum in the background, too.

Wonderful! Lovely! I’m always up for some art and music to accompany my food. And supporting gay rights in so doing was just an added bonus. The restaurant to my immediate right thus seemed rather suitable, given its proximity to the stage, lively crowd, and good music. I entered without further adieu, anxious to sit the eff down.

In I go, yet I’m getting the vague feeling that I don’t quite fit in. This, despite the fact that my waiter was adorable and very polite and attentive. And not in a lewd sort of way, either. This was my first sign, you see (to perpetuate the stereotype that the manners of many Italian men towards female tourists are, er, questionable). As it turned out, I had entered a bar-slash-restaurant called “Coming Out,” in which I was one of very few females – and certainly the only straight one. The mood was all the merrier given the major event occurring outside on Gay Street.

Could I make this up? Yes. But I’m not. And here’s the menu to prove it.

I chuckled to myself. Why this struck me as amusing, I don’t really know. (I mean, other than the obvious irony of “Coming Out on Gay Street.”) Goodness knows I’ve spent my fair share of time in gay bars. I run a theater company, remember, and I pretty much assume people are gay unless told otherwise. I think that for the most part I smiled mainly out of happiness: I’ve stumbled randomly across many a music and dancing event around the world, completely by chance. ‘Tis a glorious part of travel – especially when the event is connected with such an important human rights issue.

Sautéed mixed mushrooms: the perfect accompaniment to crostini and red wine.

Further, the food was quite enjoyable indeed, starring a trio of bruschetta with tapenade, asparagus paté, and four cheese. A glass of red wine and plate of funghi completed my supper: don’t doubt how delicious simply prepared vegetables can be, like this plate of mixed mushrooms perfectly sautéed with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley. Dessert was the thickest, richest hot chocolate I’ve had in recent memory, warming both body and soul. So, yes, the food certainly contributed to my feeling of contentment.

Then again, it could have just been the heavy pain killers.

Pain, schmain. It’s good to be alive, I thought, as I paid my bill and prepared to depart.

One critical question at hand now remains, however: can I rise out of this chair?

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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