For a vegetarian, the only escape from Roman pasta is falafel. While I saw two Chinese restaurants in Rome, neither of them had a single vegetarian entree. So I went seeking falafel.
My hotel had been advertised as in the Jewish quarter– one of the things that appealed to me. The Jewish quarter in Rome struck me as one of the most rebellious spots on earth. Rebellion deeper than black leather jackets and motorcycles– rebellion smart, loyal, relatively quiet, and stubborn as hell (no pun intended). I also felt comforted: the Protestant girl could, if necessary, hide from the pope with the Jews. We could be heretics together. When I arrived in Rome, and saw some of those brilliantly expressive counter-Reformation paintings of Protestants burning in the eternal fires, my instincts were confirmed.
My hotel didn’t seem to be in the Jewish quarter, just very near it. A five minute walk from the synagogue. I happened to walk right past that my first day in town. Back behind the synagogue, I had to wander around a bit. No more pasta. Anything but pasta.
Some guards stood watch with machine guns. Around the synagogue, and other buildings, were huge, heavy potted plants of the kind dumped all over New York after 9/11. They keep lunatics from blowing things up quite as spectacularly as they might wish to.
There are a lot of– I don’t know– alleys in Rome. Narrow passageways that cars probably can’t fit down, with doors that lead to who knows what, each side a two or four story-building with smooth sides, painted a flat beige or yellow or grey. Cozy and a little scary, if it is dark, and you are alone. I threaded through several of those. Finally I found a street of restaurants.
Men wearing dark colors, with beards and hats, were eating at the tables that rolled out onto the piazza. Aha! I walked up closer and saw, to my great disappointment, that they were eating Italian food.
To be honest, I was relieved: these restaurants were intimidating. If I met those guys at a party, I wouldn’t know if it was okay to talk to them, or if they would be traumatized by my naked hair and bare shoulders. Usually I seek out such new people and adventures, but I had been in Rome a while, rarely conversing with another English speaker, let alone another American. I was tired.
I kept walking. Finally, a little sign. Inside, vats of rice, and pictures of pita bread. The thrill! I ordered and a woman dished up my food on a paper plate. Sat at the counter. It was just me and that lady, who was running the place. She wasn’t too friendly. I was grateful, though: with my old buddy falafel, and my dear friend hummus, I felt right at home.