1968 From Zuppa to Nuts
In mod skirts hemmed somewhere above the knee and below the panty line, we sashay around the most magnificent shopping street in the world, Via Veneto in the heart of the Eternal City Rome. Life is sweet for this fresh-faced threesome of world travellers, redhead Texas Patty, blonde New York Susie, and brunette California me. Effortlessly Rome steals our breath and trounces our Vogue-mentored young-sophisticate air. We stand awed and agog, living the dream, La Dolce Vita.
These are the not-so-serious-days before scheduled rounds of 26K marathons’ young women clad in jogging stretchies, contouring every gorgeous lean muscle, an intoxicating expose of femininity barely under wraps, a subterfuge, a quiet scream to, “Look at me; I’m beautiful.” These are the days Vogue ruled, queen dictate of fashion. These are the days none but a scant few privileged achieved a dreamy Italian vacation, an Italian leather designer handbag, a movie idol Italian guy, tall, dark, and handsome. Heretofore, only movie stars and Red Cross nurses got these work privileges belonging to the aristocracy and gentry classes. This was the beginning of a new class – a privileged American girl’s working class. Someone had to explore the fantasies and taboos of adventure land. We Pan Am stewardesses, the chosen few, did.
Eight months into my career as Pan Am stewardess, I earned free time to explore new worlds in-depth. Shopping, always a good way to get your feet wet in the depths of a new country, gets first billing on our list of things to do today. We shopped till we had tried on every dress, shirt and shoe on the Veneto, surrounded by beautiful people with uber chic coifs, professional makeup, chic skirts, and sandals – head to toe pricey.
Next depth to explore, cuisine. The bewitching scents of a bistro draw us in, a coffee shop really, surprisingly serving not much but sandwich fare and coffee. We ordered cheese sandwiches which came with freshly baked crusty little buttered rolls and rustic shaved slices of cheese, no exclusions, no exceptions, and a small cup of Zuppa di Pomodoro. Famished, we quickly eat and drink, until our hunger’s appeased. The cheese had layers of flavor, nutty, buttery, satisfying, and the soup, heavenly red velvet and spring all at once with earthy basil undertones. I’ll never eat canned tomato soup again. I look up for a nanosecond and notice people are eating almost in slow motion. Strange, Italians drive like they are negotiating a raceway while in reality gridlocked, and eat slowly, lingering over the tastes, rolling them over the tongue, sipping, smacking their lips, savoring like it’s the last meal, even when famished. Had we American’s gotten our behaviors all wrong?
Sated from our brief repast, we head for Borghese Gardens, which, how can I describe them – romantic, peaceful, classical? Wished I had strolled with a lover and not two girlfriends who were losing interest in ancient sites. Patty wanted to skip the touring and go to the next depth of exploration – men. I wanted to miss nothing. Susie wants to go home, not the hotel, but to America! Navigating the unending, unwieldy serpentine of Fiat 500’s (look like comic book cars) traffic with its choking fumes could have been distracting to a few, but not me. I’m living, and breathing, touching, seeing, smelling, eating my dream, caught up in an opera of horn honking, Italian patois shouting, fountain splashing, shopping bag shuffling, newspaper crunching, foot traffic scuffling milieu, against a back drop of ancient structures each telling its long story, like a wrinkled grandparent.
Obviously we three were not sharing the same dream. All Susie could see was dirt and noise. I suggested the ancient beauty of the buildings was in its patina, the varying shades of zucchini greens and sunset oranges. She said, “I cannot stand the filthy buildings and the filth everywhere. I want to go home.” Alas, not even in 1968 were all young women restless adventurers. What else can I say? We talked Suzie into staying for a second day, but more persuasively there was not a flight out for another day. While Suzie returned to our hotel, Patty and I, relieved to cut loose a downer, searched out a club. We had heard all about the fun of Italian clubs. Texas Patty could drink anyone anywhere under the table, was alternately thirsty, or looking for a restroom to pee. I’ve been lectured about using the expression to pee, but if you knew Patty, she would tell you I got it right.
We walk to a section of Rome hosting great night clubs. On the way, some Italian guys, notorious for eyeing the skirted pedestrian tourists, like a jeweler eyes a gem for perfection are doing just that. They stop and ask us if we are Red Cross nurses. I laugh. No, Pan Am. (One looked like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, even before there was a Rocky. This is 1968 and Rocky was the hit rags to riches hunky movie of 1976. Who wouldn’t trust Rocky Balboa?) His smile and those devilish eyes are game. We play Italian polo with these guys for a while. We say no, they say yes, we say no. Basta, enough. They talk us into going to club Bibliotheca, which translates to The Library…but not directly. We climb into their mini car. It reminds me of how many people can you stuff in a phone booth. Yes, I’m a phone booth generation. Don’t see those any more. I would like to buy a European phone booth and place it in front of my bathroom door, so you have to pass through it on the way to doing your business, but I digress.
Patty and I trust these strange Italians. They are part of our dream wish-fulfillment. We drive for quite a while. I say it looks like we are leaving the city, and I want to go back. One in the back seat says he’s taking us on a tour first. We drive up an unlit hill. They tell us to get out. I don’t feel like these clowns are going to rape or kill or rape and kill. So what are we doing here?
I don’t have to wait long to find out. We are in the largest cemetary of Rome. Not on the tourist map. The taller of the guys says we are naughty girls, and Italians know that only hookers, Red Cross nurses, and Pan Am stewardesses walk un-chaperoned on the streets alone and go to clubs alone to be picked up. Wow, that’s a mouthful! He says this is our punishment for being out after dark unchaperoned. I tell him in the USA we are nice girls, and he would be called a jerk. I tell Patty this is some weird Italian joke, as they drive away leaving us in the graveyard. Patty starts whining. I tell her to shut up and immediately start down the hill. We run down the hill as if the dead will rise and give chase when we see the little car backing up the hill. The driver stops and says we learned our lesson and get in. We get in the car again.
These guys drop us off at the club, but leave saying they have to go home to have dinner with the parents. I translate this to dinner with mommy. What hypocrites. So, Patty and I are happy in a rocking disco, dancing and drinking fancy no-name party drinks, and these guys show up again about an hour later. They sit with us, dance with us, and they pay the bill like gentlemen. They drive us back to our pensione with the warning that the mama will be angry with us and drive away not before giving us a sweet innocent kiss.
Now I know all I need to know about Italian men. They are kids at heart, playing life’s game for fun. They just happened to be handsome. I wonder at the time what Susie will think. The pensione mama yells at us, gives us the evil eye shaking her finger. I’m not sure who was scarier, the guys leaving us in the graveyard or this mad mama. I quickly decide it’s mad mama. Surprisingly, one thing saves us. We made friends with another young woman, an ebony beauty who knows the rules, on the flight over who is staying here. She knows the mama, speaks Italian, and intervenes on our behalf. Lady Luck, lesson learned. All cultures are different, so adjust. Mad mama, graveyard, Borghese Gardens, Zuppa Pomodoro, oh my, and we’re just getting started. We have another day in Rome before Spain and England. Our friend says it’s stricter in Spain. Forewarned is forearmed. I’d say it’s a sweet life, la dolce vita.
Here is my recipe for tomato soup concocted with my taste buds directing.
- Zuppa di Pomodoro
- 2½ pounds fresh ripe solid tomatoes, parboiled, peeled, seeded, chopped to ¼-inch dice
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 12 leaves of fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 T tomato paste
- 3 T olive oil
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 Recipe Tostato Parmigiano
- Cut a little X in the tomato skin. Parboil tomatoes for one minute. Remove tomatoes from boiling water with slotted spoon. Dunk in ice water so skins can be removed easily. When chopping tomatoes, most seeds will fall loose; those that cling can be included with tomatoes.
- Sauté garlic in olive oil in a large pan for 5 minutes, then discard garlic. Add basil, let it sauté for one minute until wilted. This releases more of the flavor. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and tomato paste. Stir paste into tomato mix until dissolved. Add broth. Cover the pan and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, taste for seasoning. This makes a clear but textured soup. If a non-textured soup is preferred, cool the soup and puree it in blender. Serve with Toast.
- One recipe produces 4 main course servings or 8 side servings.