"Shall we walk to Trastevere and find lunch there?" Cayden asked, reaching for our handy dandy map.
I had no sense of direction, so I let Cayden man the map.
"Isn't that on the other side of the river? Where the hell are we, anyway?"
Cayden held the map close to his face and traced his finger along one street and then another until he came to the Tiber.
"We're pretty close actually," he said. "The Tiber is just this way."
I wasn't sure how far "pretty close" was in British terms but I decided to trust him anyway.
I squinted against the sun and kicked myself for not bringing sunglasses. I blocked out the pain in my legs and tried to enjoy the feeling of the sun on my skin, Cayden's hand in mine, the breeze through my hair. Everything we passed looked ancient and worn and textured. Everyone we passed wore puffy black shiny coats that looked like inflatable trash bags. I realized it wasn't the map that made us look like tourists, it was our lack of inflatable trash bag jackets.
I couldn't wait to get to Trastevere. Ever since I cracked open the book Four Seasons in Rome, I felt drawn to it. I wanted to find the exact streets and buildings the author had mentioned, but I didn't bring the book with me that day, so I tried to visualize the words in the book. I had a photographic memory, so if I focused hard enough I'd be able to remember. The problem was, I could only visualize pieces of the street names: via, viale, Gia-something.
Cayden squeezed my hand and I looked up.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked.
"I'm trying to visualize the places Doerr talked about in the book. I want to see them. I want to see all of them."
"Well, what do you remember?"
"I remember he lived on the top of a hill, Janiculum Hill. He lived next door to a palace, which is where he worked: The American Academy. There were tall trees all around, and if you hang around the palace long enough you might even see a parrot. He said if you go left out of his apartment, you'd come across the palace, but if you went right, you'd see and hear a huge beautiful fountain. Or was it the other way around? The fountain on the left?"
"We'll ask around," Cayden said. "We'll find it."
"Oh, and I also remember steps. A lot of steps. Slick, and covered in moss. He and his wife carried their 40-pound twin strollers down the steps."
"Look!" Cayden said, pointing ahead of us. "The Tiber."
As we walked across it, Cayden's eyes never left the water.
"I can't believe it. It's so much prettier than the Thames. And it's so wide, and green."
He was in awe. I loved watching him when he was awestruck. It changed his whole face. His eyes lost their usual intensity and went soft. His mouth hung open just a little bit and his eyebrows lifted so slightly that it almost wasn't noticeable unless you were used to studying his face, which I was. The way he looked at that water was the way I imagined a new father would look at his baby boy the first time he held him in his arms.
Don't get me wrong, the river was pretty and all, but I held my excitement for what was on the other side.
Once across the bridge, we darted across the street, dodging cars and scooters. I chose the first narrow alley I could find and pulled Cayden into it. Then I stopped dead in my tracks.
"Baby, THIS is Rome," I said, borrowing his awestruck expression. The apartment buildings were older, the streets narrower. Every narrow alley was lined with pizzerias and cute, non-touristy shops. I felt like I found the locals.
"No, baby, this is Brooklyn," Cayden said.
I immediately understood his reference. The east side of the Tiber was like Manhattan, it was where all of the flashy buildings and tourist pit stops were (flashy in very different ways, of course). And Trastevere was like Brooklyn—slower paced, less flashy, with more of a community feel. It almost felt like a place visitors weren't welcome. But I didn't care. I was in love.
I pulled Cayden into a cute, little shop lined with necklaces and hats and purses. I ran my fingers across a chunky, silver heart-shaped necklace and then a thin bronze necklace with a pink rose dangling from it.
"That one is beautiful on you," said a voice over my shoulder that didn't belong to Cayden. I turned to see a middle-aged Italian man who I identified as the store owner. "You want to try on?" he asked, gesturing toward the necklaces.
"No, but thank you," I said, "I actually came in here to find sunglasses."
The man pointed to a rotating rack of sunglasses in every color. Cayden and I tried on almost every shape and color, using each other's sunglasses as mirrors.
"Thees one is beautiful for you," the man said, handing me a pair of black sunglasses with tiny rhinestones along the top outer corners of the frames. The Italian man was so cute I wanted to take him with us. I put them on and looked at my reflection in Cayden's sunglassed. He was right. Thees on is beautiful for me.
"I'll take 'em. How much?"
We took back to the streets with my first Rome purchase resting lightly on the bridge of my nose. Then I pushed the glasses up on top of my head because I didn't want to miss seeing any part of Trastevere.
We did the trattoria dance, again. We skipped from one outdoor menu to the next to the next, trying to find the perfect place to eat even though they all served the same food.
"Win! We're eating here!" I said, calling to Cayden who was looking at another menu down the street.
"Why?" he called back.
"The pizzas are only 3 euros!"
Everywhere else we looked the pizzas were at least 7 or 8 euros. It was a no brainer.
We ordered bruschetta, two Cokes, a margarita pizza for me and some kind of meat-topped pizza for Cayden.
Another couple sat at the table just inches away from ours. I tried the eavesdrop on their conversation, but had to stop immediately so I wouldn't laugh out loud. The guy sounded exactly like Old Greg and I had the sudden urge to ask him if he liked Baileys. Cayden raised one eyebrow at me, trying to figure out why I was holding back tears.
The bruschetta came out and we studied it.
"Think this one will beat Fireside?" Cayden asked, holding the tomoto-topped toast inches away from his face as he studied it.
"Something has to beat Fireside! I mean, hell, we're in freakin Italy!"
We both bit into our crunchy, crusty pieces at the same time, and then watched for each other's reaction. I chewed slowly, trying to soak up all the flavor while also trying not to scrape up my gums with the crunchy bits. Cayden furrowed his brow while he chewed.
"Nope. Fireside is still in first," I said after swallowing.
"Damn. Not bad, though, but damn."
Just then our waiter came back with two huge pizzas. For the 3-euro price point, I expected a slice, not a huge thin crust that would feed a family of four. (OK, I'm exaggerating a little)
"There's no way I can eat all of this!" I said, although it looked and smelled amazing.
"I can," Cayden said, digging in.
I took a bite and let it sit there in my mouth for a moment before chewing. I could taste the flour on the bottom of the crust. I could taste the crust. I could taste the thin layer of sauce causing the cheese to slip off the crust and adhere to the roof of my mouth. I could taste the thick, stringy mozzarella. I don't think I'd ever eaten a pizza before that I could taste each and every ingredient separately and all at the same time.
I tried to savor it, but I shoveled it. I talked with my mouth open, my fingers powdery from the crust, a sauce streak at the corner of my mouth.
"This is [chew] by far [chew] the best [chew, chew] pizza I've ever had [chew, swallow] in my entire life," I said to Cayden with 100 percent certainty.
"Really? I didn't really like mine," he said jokingly, nodding at his empty plate. He'd devoured his entire pizza in the time it took me to eat a quarter of mine. Of course, he'd eaten his with a fork and knife like a proper gentleman. I was tearing mine apart with my hands and sipping my Coke before I'd swallowed my pizza. What a pair.
I'd eaten nearly three-fourths of my pizza when I had to call it quits.
"I can't," I said pushing the metal platter away from me.
"I can," Cayden said, cutting himself a slice of mine.
"I have to pee," I said, pushing my chair away from the table. I realized then that maybe I should have said, "Excuse me, I need to use the ladies room."
I weaved my way through the narrow paths between the tables and toward where I guessed the restrooms would be. I found the right door and pushed it open. Then I stared down at the toilet in confusion. Where was the toilet seat? Who makes a toilet with no toilet seat?? What the hell was I supposed to sit on? I could try the squat-and-hover method, but we all know that never ends well. We ladies lack a little thing called "aim."
I decided to wait until our next pit stop to pee. I passed the girl who had been sitting with Old Greg next in line for the bathroom. I thought about telling her there was no seat, but then decided she could make that judgement call on her own.
When I got back to the table, Cayden was chatting away with Old Greg.
"Whitey! He's from Bury, can you believe that?" Cayden was from Bury.
"Wow, that's crazy! Speaking of crazy, there's no toilet seat, so I'm going to hold it."
"Yeah, those are hard to come by around here," Old Greg answered. I bit my lip so I wouldn't laugh.
We talked about what they'd seen so far, where they were headed next, why I was there from Texas. I locked it up the entire time, keeping my laughter hidden. About 10 minutes into the conversation, I realized his girlfriend wasn't back yet. I decided one of three things had happened: 1. she fell in, 2. she took 5 minutes to line the rim with layers of toilet paper, 1 minute to pee, and 4 minutes to sanitize, 3. she was dropping a giant duece. If she wasn't back in five minutes it was safe to assume all three scenarios had occurred.