Darlene in the City
by Darlene Ford

Bella Italia 2006: All Roads Lead To Rome

Ciao, Belli! Welcome back, as we resume the better part of our Italian journey.

No easy task, mobilizing a large group, but Fleace' Weaver gently shepherded us, from LAX and through our layover in London-Heathrow. Our flight from London to Rome was a smooth one -- unlike the turbulent ride from LAX to London. Fleace and I discovered, much to our delight, that the Sicilian check-in agent at LAX had upgraded us to Business Class. (An Italian man giving us Love, before we even took off -- that's what *I'm* talkin' about!)

We reached Hotel Traiano in Rome around 1:00 am; still, most availed themselves of the late-nite fare of pizza and soft drinks. After a brief orientation, twelve stalwart souls braved the night at 2:30 am, to get an early taste of what Rome had to offer. Admirers called out and horns resounded, as we segued along. (Some stopped for flirtation and photo ops). Our hotel was ideally situated, such that we had only to round a corner to discover the bar, Nag's Head. We were an instant hit, and soon surrounded by ardent dance partners. About half remained to party there while the rest (myself, included) sharing a sense of empowerment at feeling safe walking downtown, in a major city, so late at night -- the very idea of which would seem CRAZY back in the USA - set off to find the Trevi Fountain.

The beauty of the Trevi Fountain, swathed in light, glowing in the night, swept over us all. Oh, to witness the delight beaming from our faces, as black women (nearly) forgot about our hair, to frolic in the night rain at 3:00 am and admire/capture the Trevi from every possible angle. Finally, happily, we discovered a short-cut back to the hotel; a walk punctuated by such exuberance that we had to remind ourselves that some people were trying to sleep...just not people like US! As we exited from the archway but a few cobblestones away from the hotel, who should hail us, but the other ladies -- flush from getting their groove on, with sexy Italians at their heels -- and all (minus the Italians) turned in for a good night's rest.

Approximately 4 hours later, after a hearty breakfast -- Yes, that WAS a cappuccino w/quadruple shots of espresso, thank you for noticing ;-) -- all were aboard who were going aboard for our bus tour of the city. Towering ruins -- the remains of greatness -- stand their ground with Modern Living. Here Art is not harnessed by curators but EVERYwhere, woven into the fabric of Daily Life. Our guide described "The Glory That Was Rome." Such an apt description, as the citizens/freedmen of that era, enjoyed public services and a lifestyle that was unparalleled and that utterly eclipsed those offered by modern society and/or governments.

Our stop at the Coliseum was brief, but our guide very deft at evoking an image of how the arena in its heyday (built in 72 B.C.), restoring it, layer-by-layer, in our minds-eye. The performances and spectacles once held there dwarfed anything our current technology has accomplished. (Vegas --"O" included -- has nothing on Ancient Rome!) Alas, we must fly, or miss the Vatican City, though one of our butterflies has flitted away from the flock...no worries, the hotel is close and she "wings it", savoring unexpected adventures along the way.

Vatican Square is MASSIVE and the line to enter St. Peter's Basilica is long, but we make fast progress. Just as the group passes through the final arch onto the church-proper, "Hark, a miracle!" After two years of reduction in one ear by forty percent, one woman's hearing "pops as clear as a bell". Amazing! This adds to the awe inspired by the majesty of the basilica's interior. Never in my life have I been inside a more beautiful building, and I doubt that there exists another to rival it, in the entire Earth. There's not enough time to see the Sistine Chapel, but several made plans to return the next morning, on their own.

Following the bus tour -- and trips to the Bancomat ... that's ATM, to you and me -- all set out to explore Rome independently. Fleace and I people-watched, al fresco, over lunch at Il Querino. Our waiter fell in love with us, and we fell in love with Roman food & wine (Lasagna w/porcini mushroom sauce, followed by Rosemary-Roasted Potatoes -- both Divine.) We enjoyed the first of many gelato stops, on our way to the Pantheon. Factoring in the need for primp time prior to evening festivities, we furtively shopped our way back to the hotel. (Such finds along the way, including my signature fragrance, Chopard's Wish, sooo much cheaper than in Beverly Hills!) After swapping tales & tips in the parlor with other "shoppeteers", evening fell and, one-by-one, our belles retired to their rooms ... re-emerging at their finest/hottest - Femmes Fatales, all!

We were shuttled to one of Rome's hottest, most exclusive restaurant-clubs, Gilda's (pronounced, there, Jilda's). After dinner & drinks (they served us a fabulous strawberry Bellini-style cocktail), we sashayed clubside, to the reserved- super VIP, Bella Italia section -- front row, center! Our ladies were truly the Belles Of The Ball and had a ball! Fast friends -- Lasting? Perhaps -- were made, as we took our pick amongst Rome's First Citizens. Who got the kiss of her life? Who was that promenading, arm-in-arm with her new amore? Who were the lovelies entertained by enamorati over champagne, in a private booth? Who of our queens enslaved the rich Roman aristocrat? I'll never tell! ...Well okay, the general consensus was that 'Italian men lead with their tongues'... ;-)

When the lights went up, I protested, "So soon? What is it...1:00 am? I thought clubs stayed open late, here!" Only to discover that it was 4:00 am! Okay, so Fleace and I closed them out and were the only two Bellas on the last shuttle back to our hotel (even as the manager gave me a very warm goodbye, right in front of his twenty-something girlfriend). Still too wound-up to sleep, we immediately skipped back out to the 24-hour bar around the corner, and picked up drinks & sandwiches (and, moi, a date for the following afternoon). I think we finally turned in about 5:45 am.

A wake-up call at 7 am, and off we go. Today, we're riding Vespas. It's raining...but, today, we're riding Vespas. (This loops in my mind, the entire time---;-) But, in Italy everyone rides on Vespas "rain or shine". So, in Rome...you do as the Romans do! Thirty-two African-American women on the back of Vespas. We were quite the sight -- and photo op for passing strangers -- as we suited-up then scooted behind and held on tight to our sexy drivers. We zipped and zoomed past & to monuments, attracting much attention and appreciative whoops -- Who was that wearing the full-body condom (extra rain-coat), her hand in The Mouth Of Truth? I'll never admit it! Then we whirred to a restaurant for lunch (alas, the picnic was rained out). After lunch, our new chariots (taxis) returned us to the hotel, and all were free to roam about Rome at will. Fleace buckled down in the lobby to do some online work, but I had an assignation in Piazza Navano to keep...

After dark, many of our Bellas swept passed the parlor, on their way to parties, fine wining and dining. Fleace and I, ultimately, stayed in for the evening, yet still managed to stay up and about well past 5 am. This placed us with eye & earshot of one of our lovelies as she was being courted in the parlor by her Italian caller, who was bearing flowers -- awww. Sitting in straight chairs in the bar area – self-imposed exile, to allow them privacy -- we sipped wine while waiting them out, for the prime seating. 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 am -- Man, was he EVER going to leave?!? Finally, we retired to our room. Sigh, but it was so sweet & old-fashioned, just as the sun was rising, he rose to take his leave, having lived out their moment as long as Time allowed. Pure Romance, in the city for which it was named, Roma.

After just 2 hours of shuteye, we're up again, to board the bus for Florence. (At this point, I was 100% fueled by caffeine.) Made aware that two of our number seem to be MIA, I banged on their door, to be greeted by the newly-awakened Beauty, with her roommate still sleeping in the background. ("Ladies, start your engines!") Within 20 minutes, all were present & accounted for, and we rolled forward, towards Tuscany and Florence.

But my soul looks back to Rome, The Eternal City, forever in my heart

Next time, see you in the cities...of Florence, Venice and Milan!

About Darlene Ford

Darlene Ford is an award-winning Film Producer, Writer, Music Aficionado, World Traveler, and Gourmet.

The daughter of two party animals, some of my favorite memories of growing up in Detroit were of my Big Mama's Basement Parties. At least one Saturday night per month, people would flock to her pay-parties, where they could buy a home-cooked meal & drinks then ante up at the card & dominos tables. In the back room there was hi-fi music and/or a live band with dancing. (At one such party, my father wooed and won my mother.)

I always crouched down on a step peering in at the revelries -- of, often as not, sneaking all the way to the back room - then Big Mama would catch sight of me and send me off to bed. Of course, this only made me hungry to see more.

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