I’m not on Roman time.
It’s becoming gradually clear to me as I wander Rome’s Pigneto neighborhood with two magazine articles listing addresses of hip bookstore-winebars. It’s right around lunchtime, and a lot of storefronts still have that metal-gate-down look that makes you wonder if there’s a business at the address at all.
I only arrived the previous night (too tired to do anything but eat gelato and pass out) and I have a flight to catch at 8PM. With a stopover in Rome, I didn’t want to spend a fortune, and I didn’t want to be in the thick of the tourist crawl. I was in Rome as a sightseer around this time last year, and I know what those crowds will be like. I’ve walked in the Coliseum and been splashed by the Trevi Fountain. Today, all I want from Rome is the summer atmosphere, freedom from crowds and hawkers, and—of course—some espresso and good food.
And maybe a used-book store or two.
I’d read about Pigneto in a couple foodie magazines (this article, I kid you not, I cut out of a Bon Appetit in 2009, when Europe was just a twinkle in my eye), and I saw the evidence of the Metro line-in-progress that’s going to link up this very local-feeling area to the main drags of Rome. But this June on a 90-degree-plus day, it felt like me and the Italians—overall younger, slightly more alternative and bohemian Italians than I had been encountering in Noepoli. Here, no one expects me to say “Ciao” to them as I pass. I try it on a couple strangers and receive a funny look.
The main event transpiring is the market, sweating in the heat down the Via del Pigneto (the end to the west of the Circonvallazione Casilina). The zucchini blossoms are out in force, cheaper than I’ve ever seen them elsewhere. I sternly remind myself that my suitcase cannot accommodate produce, but I cave and ask a man how much he is asking for his beer-jug, unmarked bottles of homemade passata. He shows me with fingers: one Euro fifty. If that’s the tourist price… I buy two, and cram them in the bag.
The neighborhood’s not glamorous, and it hasn’t been shined up for tourists. It’s a comfortable place to be. In the end I spend most of the morning sitting outside at a cafe called Lo Yeti. I order fresh cherries and receive a bowl that could feed four alongside my espresso. I sit and write a letter to a friend, processing my week and loving the European cafe mindset that will almost never chase you away from a table.
I never make it to most of the places I’d highlighted in my magazines (at least, not while they’re open). In the sweltering heat, I walk slowly back to my hotel, stopping for a treat at Pasticceria Gastronomia Dolce e Fantasia. I choose something chocolatey behind the gigantic case, and eat it while it melts on my fingers.
If you’re trying to see all the Top Ten Sights of Rome, Pigneto’s a little bit out of the way. But if you want a more lived-in atmosphere (and a cheaper hotel bill, too), I’d recommend it.
The Pigneto hangs out to the southeast of Termini Station in a triangle bordered by the via Prenestina and via Casilina. The market, Lo Yeti, and some of the places that weren’t open were clustered in the mini-triangle in the left of this map above, bounded by via Casilina and via l’Aquila.