We landed in Rome at 7am, having not slept a wink despite many well-intentioned recommendations to the contrary. But I mean really, WHO can fall asleep with the excitement of spending the next three days in Rome just lolling about one's head? Subsequently, we were exhausted upon arrival. Served us right. Fools.
Not surprisingly, our room wasn't quite ready - indeed, very few things are ready at 7am in Rome - so we set out in search of coffee. We asked the lady at the hotel reception where we might find a nice cafe to sit and have a coffee while we waited. She answered quickly in Italian and smiled half-heartedly before she walked away. I caught only a hint of what she said which, loosely translated and contextualized by her attitude, I took to mean something like, "There are no cafes open at this God-awful time, you clueless American tourist girls. Stop bothering me with your silly little questions. I am terribly busy looking fabulous."
A moment later, her co-worker appeared so we asked again and he confirmed, in English, that indeed most of the cafes did not open until 10. "OK," I said, with the eerie calm of a sociopath about to have a psychotic break, "how about this: did you have a cappuccino this morning before you came to work?" "Si signorina, of course!" "And where did you get this cappuccino?" "Oh, there is a small bar just around the corner..."
When we walked in we were mesmerized by the scene: steam rising from multiple espresso machines, the gurgly sound of frothing milk, the clanking of cups on saucers and spoons stirring sugar, a mountain of fresh oranges yielding nice pulpy juice, lovely breakfast panini and pastries beckoning from the counter, and the steady buzz of Italians ordering each other around behind the bar. We swooned and christened this our base camp for the weekend.
Retreating to the small sidewalk tables, we relished our first authentic Roman breakfast: the classic cappuccino and cornetto. Not an especially noteworthy breakfast, but a memorable one nonetheless.
Perhaps it was the morning sun filtering through the trees, the clacking of stilettos as a pack of supermodel-esque women scurried by, or the joy of simply being in Italy with my partner in crime...whatever the reason, it was one of those perfect moments in life that feels like the happy ending of a Julia Roberts movie. I could almost see the credits scrolling across the sidewalk.
A good cappuccino and cornetto will forever bring me back to this moment.
Alas, I wish I could offer up the recipe for a perfect cornetto but I haven't found one.
Then again, I haven't really looked.
There's nothing particularly magical about a cornetto - even a really good one. For me, its merits are inextricably linked to the atmospheric details of a bustling breakfast bar. The kinds of details that I cannot recreate at home, nor would I want to.
It's one of those experiential treats that is simply, divinely and unequivocally Italian.
Far be it from me to mess with that.