You have to try the chips – they’re amazing! Linda’s not joking. Even though I hadn’t accounted for the difference between English and American chips, and was therefore expecting something chunkier, the thin-sliced, so-fresh-they’re-still-hot crisps that arrive are delicious. Dipped in home-made tomato ketchup and washed down with one of the many beers on offer at Open Baladin, it’s a pretty much perfect light lunch. Except that there are the most amazing-looking burgers on the menu as well. Yeah, well that’s going to have to be done. Screw the diet and semi-vegetarianism. These look far too good to pass up.
We’re here for a WordPress bloggers meetup. There are maybe 15 of us, and the waitress is monumentally pissed off. Not everyone’s eating and we’re split over two tables, which is apparently a big no-no. Keane – the newest kid on the GoGoBot block – and I get our orders in quick and leave her to glower and roll her eyes at the others as they dither over what to order. I amuse myself taking photos of the hundreds of bottles of beer behind the bar, but don’t realise that Keane’s spying over my shoulder. Hey, that’s good! Ice broken, we chat about photos and being introverted and music and performance. You sing? Cool – me too!
Our burgers arrive, but the waitress has messed up the order, bringing two of my burgers. She’s convinced it’s our fault, and flounces back to the kitchen, black clouds wreathing around her head. Two minutes later another waitress brings the second burger over again. Anyone order a Singin’ in the Rain? We tell her no and she returns to the kitchen. Then the first waitress stomps back. Are you *sure* you didn’t order it? Another blogger, Eyal, has joined us at our table by this time, and he eyes it hungrily. We suggest the waitress leaves it with him, but she won’t allow it. No! If he didn’t order it he can’t have it. She storms back to the kitchen to throw the burger in the bin. Or, more likely, feed it to her mates and try to palm it off onto our bill later.
The blogging crowd slowly filters away. Keane’s just ordered another beer, and I’m thinking about doing the same. We move to the bar, and try to hook Robbin in on the way. But I’ve already had two beers – I should go …
A minute later everyone else has left and Robbin’s perched on the stool next to me. The three of us sit and shoot the breeze. I try a red beer, Rodenbach. It tastes like sour cherries. I like it. The barman comes over to ask what I think. I can’t remember the word for sour, so tell him it’s bitter, but not. You know – like lemons. Luckily he understands me. We get into a discussion of beer topnotes and brewing. In Italian. Now *that’s* something I never expected to happen.
Robbin asks to try a Geoffrey the Tortoise beer, more for the comedy value of the name than anything else. The barman pours a generous taster measure and we all have a sip. That Tortoise is yummy, let me tell you, and he’s the perfect way to not end up feeling like you’ve been hit with a beer-flavoured freight train. I steal the remainder of the taster and give it a good home.
Beers finished, we begin to slump into post-lunch dozes. Reluctantly we peel ourselves from our bar stools and wander blinkily into the late-afternoon Roman sunshine. As we meander along the street Keane spies one of the ubiquitous spigots which supply Rome with drinking water and stops to fill his water bottle. I’m thirsty, but nothing like as prepared, so cup my hands below the flow and scoop it into my mouth, ending up with plenty on my face and very little inside me. As I dry myself off, Robbin tells a story of how she watched a businessman in a suit approaching one of these taps. I thought he was going to do exactly what you just did but … She steps forward and puts a finger over the end of the tap, blocking the flow of water and forcing it out of the hole drilled into the top of the tap to make a rudimentary water fountain. She then takes a leisurely, non-splashy, drink.
Romans. Really quite clever.
Passing Grom gelateria in Piazza Navona, we (re-)discover the universal truth: however full of burgers, chips and beer you are, there’s always room for gelato. Especially if it’s an unbelievably smooth salted caramel with just the right balance of sweet to salt. We each order it as one of our two flavours, and a reverent silence falls as we take our first mouthfuls. Bloody hell it’s good. We head for a bench in the piazza and amuse ourselves, as we sink into dairy-induced comas, by critiquing the enormously twee, identikit artwork distracting attention from the Bernini fountain in the middle of the square.
Hey! I know that dog! I exclaim, pointing at the little grey terrier that’s just trotted into the Piazza. Keane and Robbin look at me in amusement.
That’s the quote of the afternoon, definitely, quips Robbin.
I laugh with them, and explain myself: No, but seriously. I met him outside the Pantheon earlier. The look on Keane’s face tells me that I’m not making myself sound any saner. I flounder on. His name’s Charlie. He’s super-cute!
Robbin grins. I think it might be time to go home now …
So we do, safe in the knowledge that we’ve made some new friends this afternoon.
And I’m not talking about Charlie.