The taxi driver didn’t know the names of the streets, but he knew the way. When the car could go no further, he parked at the edge of Campo de’ Fiori in the heart of Rome and pulled our suitcases from the trunk. Once his hands were free, he dispatched his directions.
A long, exaggerated hand wave represented crossing the piazza. A gentle gesture to the right, a turn on a narrow street. A sharp jerk to the left, don’t miss the first turn. Then we would arrive. With these swift directions and a clap on the back, he said, “Capito?” (Got it?), and jumped back into his taxi without waiting for an answer.
It was almost midnight on a Tuesday in early June and the piazza was quiet. A few couples were eating a late dinner in the restaurants flanking the square. Groups of students were hanging around the central statue of Giordano Bruno. Our suitcases bounced over the cobbles as we crossed the square, each adjacent building its own dusty shade of soft pink, yellow, or rust red.
The taxi driver’s directions led us straight to the door of our small guesthouse. We were probably hungry, after flying and an unusually long wait at baggage claim, but exhaustion won over hunger that night and behind closed shutters, we went straight to sleep.
For the first few hazy days of our honeymoon, my husband Peter and I wandered around Rome without much of an agenda. There was cracker thin pizza to be eaten, a gelato shop to track down in Trastevere, and negronis to sip at sunset aperitivo on the Tiber River, but we had no other boxes to tick. On other trips we had seen the Colosseum and gotten up early to see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in relative peace. For this trip, instead of sightseeing we would walk and eat.
Each day began with breakfast in Campo de’ Fiori. We didn’t need an alarm—the shouts of children making their way to school three floors below our window roused us from sleep each morning. I slid the ancient room key into my pocket and we walked down the cool stone staircase before stepping out into Rome’s flushed heat. By day, Campo de’ Fiori (literally translated: field of flowers) is a far cry from the peaceful, open piazza glowing under soft lantern light that we encountered late the night before. The square is transformed into a noisy, tightly packed outdoor market with tables covered in produce and shaded by big white umbrellas. As we approached, I could hardly believe that eight hours before I hadn’t seen a single trace of the market—not a stray artichoke leaf or wilted sprig of basil.
In the heart of the market, a man wearing a green apron stood at a small table surrounded by baskets full of electric red pomegranates. He sliced open a couple to display the rich color and cluster of seeds inside. An old-fashioned fruit press stood on the table. As customers watched, he slowly sliced a pomegranate in half, placed it flesh side down on the press, and reached up to pull down a heavy lever, crushing the fruit and releasing its juice into a cup below. He repeated the action with the other half, in no particular rush, and collected two euros in exchange for the juice. I handed over my coin and stained my lips with the juice, trying to savor small sips but giving in to swallowing large gulps, the liquid an antidote to the heat of the June morning.
We continued to a different stand, where fruit was carefully arranged in colorful pyramids. It was watched over by a scowling octogenarian woman with a pair of glasses parked at the tip of her nose. She had her eye out for tourists that wanted only to take photos of her beautiful display, but not purchase anything. When someone would approach with a camera, she wagged her finger sternly. “Compra qualcosa!” (buy something) she said, “poi le foto!” (then photos).
I had my eye on her peaches. While peaches at other stands looked either bruised or under ripe, hers were perfect. Before I even touched the flesh, I could smell their ripe scent. We chose three and paid for them. I pulled my phone from my pocket, sparking a frown, but when I asked, “posso?” (can I?) her frown turned into a smile. “Certo!” (Of course!), she said, rearranging the peaches just so. I snapped a few photos and thanked her.
Beyond the umbrellas at the edge of the market, cold water ran from a fountain. We waited while a couple kids filled their hands, splashing water on their faces and slurping some into their mouths. Then we washed the peaches, one by one, passing the flesh back and forth one bite at a time until only the red-tinged pit remained. We ate the second, and though planned on saving the third for later, ate it, too. Our mouths full of fruit, we didn’t talk much over this quick breakfast. I watched a woman buy an enormous bundle of pink peonies. An older couple was haggling with one of the vendors. Kids tried to stray from their mothers while they shopped. The peaches left our fingers and wrists sticky with juice; we washed our hands in the fountain and shook them dry.
We wandered the narrow streets around the piazza until a coffee shop caught our eye. Inside, if Italians were eating breakfast at all, it was a pastry alongside coffee while standing at the bar. I’ve never been much of a pastry person; a morning cornetto would just take up precious stomach space reserved for the day’s pizza or pasta. We joined the sharply dressed businessmen—still in blazers despite the June heat—for a macchiato at the bar.
Over the next few days, I skipped the morning pastry but never the peaches. By the third morning, the scowling vendor was smiling when she saw us, and stopped what she was doing to help us select a few of her best.
A ripe peach is now the taste of the carefree first days of our marriage, when we had nothing to do but laugh at a pig on a leash in the streets of Rome and wonder what life would bring.