by Mark Silva
ROME -- Of all cities, where some of the cobblestone streets are little wider than the automobiles that attempt to navigate them, this was the last place that needed the sort of traffic jam generated by the visit of an American president known for an unpopular war.
President Bush even apologized for his impact on the traffic here, during a press conference with the prime minister of Italy. Judging from a journey that we attempted to take to a restaurant on the final night of our stay here, the impact was nothing short of gridlock.
Thousands of war protesters and others with causes on their minds -- can you say globalization? -- had amassed in Roma for the president's visit. And so had thousands of police, not only the polizia of Rome, but also the carabinieri of Italy. Carrying shields, helmets and automatic weapons, the police girded for protesters carrying only a message or two.
It was a perfect storm of protest and police -- enough to make our evening journey to a restaurant by the river a 90-minute walk over what proved to be little more than a 10-minute cab ride home to the hotel near midnight. "Impossible, impossible,'' said one driver, when told where we hoped he might take us. So we hoofed it. But, oh, what we saw along the way:
Fontana di Trevi: The one where everyone throws coins. It was Saturday night, and everyone was feeling lucky. All photos by Mark Silva
We must mention, first of all, that Ann Compton of ABC News deserves all of the credit and all of the blame for this journey, for not only did she recommend the restaurant near the river for which we set out in search, but she also suggested we try a combination of cab and hiking to outsmart the protesters who had congested certain areas. We were joined in this journey by Michael O'Brien, the wonderful fellow from United Airlines whose charter got us here -- and who, it turns out, is really handy with a map.
Turns out they had congested every corner. But when we finally gave up the car, the foot-search spilled us into a fountain, the start of a tour that no one could actually plan. It was the surprise of it all that made it breathtaking.
If the big picture wasn't big enough, the small picture was even bigger:
So after the Trevi Fountain at sunset, we took one last look and headed out in hunger.
The problem was, everywhere we turned, there were more carabinieri, shields in hand, guns at bay, humor running thin after a long day of preventative deployment, blocking the road.
Some of these streets are pretty narrow.
But, you know, without the cars, they sure are more walkable.
We could have stopped for gelato along the way. My son, whom I'm happy to say made it to Rome before I did, told me this was a must-stop. But we were a good half-hour into the walk at this point, in search of that restaurant on the far side of town, and stopping seemed defeatist.
Pressing on, map in hand, fumbling with the street corner names that didn't match the map, or reflecting perhaps that we were lost, we stumbled into the Pantheon:
So, we might have stopped and looked around, but it was getting late, and the place had closed. And there were carabinieri everywhere, blocking our next attempted turns.
And it wasn't like we couldn't find antiquity on some other corner. We were at a loss to identiy some of the random ruins that stood between us and dinner.
Finally finding our way to the river, we turned along it and down a lovely long street named Giulia. The sun was going down, but our prospects of reaching the restaurant were going up.
And alas, after 90 minutes of dodging the police and our own readings of the map, we stumbled into Piazza de Ricci, and the open-air restaurant in the alley, Pierluigi.
Now, here they served octopus sliced thinner than paper, they served uncooked beef sliced even thinner and cooked ham cooked yet thinner. They served scallops in pesto. They served bread, and they served bottles of Barolo and Montepulciano, and then they served more.
The octopus, heroic photo courtesy of Ann Compton, who wouldn't touch the stuff.
And all we could think of, sitting here in Piazzi de Ricci, was how much we owed to the protestors, for making the streets of Rome impassable, how much we appreciated the police, for keeping the power holstered, how much we appreciated Ann for recommending this destination and how much we hope you enjoyed this long day's journey into dinner.
And we suggest, when you go to dinner in Rome, walk.
Cheers from Pierluigi, Mark Silva, left, Ann Compton and Michael O'Brien. Photo courtesy of our friends at the table.
One happy author.