97. Birthday in Roma

I always celebrate my birthday with a nice Italian meal. It used to be Babbo in New York before Mario Batali’s disgrace, or Brigantessa in Philadelphia. So when I realized when the two-week-long olive harvest took place, I couldn’t resist scheduling our trip to include my birthday, November 18.

We spent the afternoon on the train from Bari to Rome, arriving at 5:00. First order of business was going for gelato. I haven’t eaten sugar since 1978, but Gelateria Della Palma near the Pantheon has a handful of soy varieties made without sugar, so it’s always a must-stop for me. Odd to have gelato at 6 and dinner at 8? Not in Italy, where you often see people snacking on a cone during the early-evening’s passeggiata.

Chocolate and hazelnut combo. Better than birthday cake.

We even had the added bonus of being able to pop into the Pantheon, which we were surprised to find open in the evening. Originally dedicated as a Roman temple in 128 AD, it became a Catholic church, Santa Maria Rotunda, in the seventh century, in the Church tradition of simply appropriating Roman worship sites and customs as its own. There was something magical about seeing the night sky through the oculus in the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, still considered an architectural marvel two millennia later.At work, I happened to host a guest speaker from Rome last week, so I took the liberty of asking him for a restaurant recommendation. The place he suggested, La Matriciana, was terrific, filled with Romans, and coincidentally, across the street from our hotel. We shared prosciutto carved before our eyes, pasta matriciana — a Roman specialty — and grilled squid.I am not normally someone who is sensitive about my age, although this year, I felt a little twinge turning 67, the age at which my father died suddenly of a heart attack. So what a gift to have my birthday in Italy, and more importantly, a husband who indulges my desire to travel there. Lucky me.

Ben at work in the olive groves.

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