Wednesday, August 29, 2007

13 June: Tragedy Strikes as We Depart for Rome

I had seen very little of Frau Dörr over the past two weeks, but I did know that as of sometime last week, Endor had fallen mysteriously ill. Frau Dörr said he wasn’t eating and the last time John saw him, a day or two ago, he looked very thin and weak. At that time Frau Dörr told John that she was taking Endor to the vet for exploratory surgery the next day.

Mom and I were still packing right down to the wire this morning, so Endor was not at the top of my mind. I was taking Cody out in the final minutes before our departure when I spotted Frau Dörr working in the backyard. Cody ran up to her first and when I caught up, I realized that she was digging in the dirt with a shovel. My heart literally sank like a stone. She waved to the hole she was digging and said something about Endor, but I didn’t hear her. I said, “Er ist…?” not wanting to finish the sentence, hoping against hope that I had misunderstood. She nodded sadly and said, “Er ist tot.”

I am the kind of person who wears my emotions on my sleeve, and naturally I was devastated. Dear, sweet, Endor, the boxer with a face only a mother could love, was dead at the tender age of nine years – a good life, certainly, but all too short for a dog of his breed. I gave Frau Dörr a spontaneous hug (to hell with conservative Schwäbisch tradition) and called to Cody, who was dancing around as usual, no doubt looking for his buddy Endor in the garden below. Cody’s naïve cheerfulness only made things worse, and I couldn’t keep the tears back as I told Frau Dörr how terribly sorry I was (my German pretty much failed me at this point, but I think she understood). I literally had to tear myself away, as we were already running late.

I quickly called John and left him a message, telling him to hurry home and help Frau Dörr dig Endor’s grave if he could. By the time he got home from work, Endor was already buried. We later found out that he had died from liver failure, but he fell ill so suddenly that we have to wonder what exactly happened. We were afraid it might have been poisoned food, having recently heard about the massive pet food recall in the U.S., but we will never know for sure what ended Endor’s life so unexpectedly. I just cannot believe that he is gone. Cody has lost his favorite playmate, and the Dörrs have lost their much-adored companion. I was always planning to take some video of Cody and Endor playing in the backyard, but I never got around to it, so all I have are a couple of quick snapshots of Endor in his beloved garden. His was a sweet soul, and he will be missed.

Suffice it to say that this was not how I expected to begin our mother-daughter get-away to Rome. Mom and I arrived at the airport early enough to grab a bite to eat in a café and I just sat there in shock, munching on a dry sandwich. I had to make a very concerted effort to stop thinking about Endor because I was worried I might just cry my way through the whole trip. Fortunately we had other things to occupy us…Mom was traveling carryon and her bag turned out to be 2 kilos overweight (I didn’t realize that German Wings has an 8 kilo weight limit), but the man at the ticket counter was nice and let her take it on board anyway. We took a bus out to our small plane and our flight left promptly at 2:20 p.m.

After an easy 1 hour-20 minute flight over the Alps and down the western Mediterranean coast of Italy, we landed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. As we deplaned the flight attendants handed us cold drinks; I understood why when we stepped out into to the stagnant heat of a midsummer day in Rome. We had a rather long wait for my suitcase (during which time Mom espoused the advantages of traveling carryon), then found our driver Luca waiting for us with my name on a sign, just like last time (once again I had arranged for transportation through our hotel, which cost 45 Euro plus tip). Luca was very friendly and navigated his little minivan quickly – but not terrifyingly quickly – through the streets of Rome, taking the same route as in December, so I was able to point out some of the major sites to Mom en route.

I had booked us a twin room at Residenza Canali, located on Via dei tre Archi near Piazza Navona. The street is in fact a tiny alleyway, too narrow for even a single car, so Luca parked as close as he could get, grabbed our bags out of the back, and escorted us down the street. We didn’t find the hotel immediately, so Luca asked for the number again. I pulled our reservation out of my bag and confirmed the address. We walked the entire length of the street, which turns at a right angle at one end around a tall palazzo the exact shade of a weathered terra cotta flower pot, before finally discovering the unassuming entrance to number 13. It was a tall, dual-paneled wooden door in the aforementioned terra cotta palazzo, with a tiny white label next to the doorbell that read RESIDENZA CANALI in block print. Luca rang the bell, the lock clicked, and we let ourselves in. We found ourselves in a tiny entryway and the only way to go was up – a curving flight of stairs with an arched ceiling painted the color of a ripe apricot. We found the reception area on the second floor and Luca left us in the hands of the nice young man at the desk. I had read a few negative reviews about the service at Residenza Canali, especially with regard to female guests, so I was on the lookout for anything amiss. The only problem with our check-in was that the man did not offer to carry Mom’s bag, which she had to lug up two more flights of stairs to our room on the fourth floor (there is one more floor above ours with two rooms that have private rooftop balconies).

Our room was European in scale – which means small – with two of the narrowest twin beds I’ve ever seen, and about six inches of space between them. But we had a nice roomy wardrobe with space for our bags inside, a dressing table, and a small but very clean aqua-and-white tiled bathroom. There was only one overhead light in the bedroom, which made it a little dim, and a tall window with heavy green curtains. We realized that the outer shutters were closed and by opening these we could let a little more light in. Our view over the alley to the neighboring tangarine-orange house was not anything like the Albergo del Senato of course, but it was charming and quiet. The bathroom also had a shuttered window, so we had plenty of fresh air. Best of all, our room had an air conditioner, for which we ended up being quite grateful! I have to say I was a tad disappointed at the smallness of the room, based upon the photos on their website, but given how little time we ended up spending there, it really was not a problem.

We cleaned up and set out to explore our neighborhood. It was about 7 p.m. by this time and the sun had dropped low enough to give us some relief from the heat. We discovered that we were literally a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona (and I can’t throw a stone very far). Sadly, Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain in the middle of the piazza was still covered up for restoration; I guess they don’t do anything very quickly in Rome. We made a big circle of the piazza, which was full of happy tourists enjoying their dinners al fresco. Street performers were everywhere, including a handsome opera singer who had Mom totally fooled – she thought one of the restaurants was playing a famous recording!

We made our way to Il Bacaro, a restaurant recommended in my DK Eyewitness guidebook, which John and I had tried unsuccessfully to get into back in December. I had decided we should make a reservation for dinner there on our last night (a Saturday) so we wouldn’t get stuck without a nice place to eat. We continued on to Piazza della Rotunda and viewed the Pantheon from the outside (it was closed for the night), then decided to try Fortunato al Pantheon for dinner (also listed in DK), just around the corner. We couldn’t get a seat outside but it was actually quite cool and quiet inside - a welcome respite from the craziness of a hot summer’s eve in Rome. Our dinner at Fortunato was just about perfect. Mom had gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, followed by veal with lemon; I had spaghetti alla vongole (with clams) and an absolutely perfect (and quite generous) plate of carpaccio. We shared a bottle of Soave and while it wasn’t cheap (87 Euro), it was heavenly enough to be worth every cent!

We walked back to Piazza Navona via the Piazza della Rotunda again (I just can’t get enough of the Pantheon, and it is equally spectacular at night), where we stopped to watch a hilarious mime performing his heart out in front of the fountain. He kept following unsuspecting passersby as they walked across the square, mimicking their movements and acting surprised when they noticed him. One woman stopped to pose for a photo with him, and while her male companion snapped their picture, the mime picked up the woman and ran off with her! We ended up making another loop around Piazza Navona (which is apparently the place to be on a summer night in Rome) before returning to our hotel and literally collapsing into bed.

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