By the time I had gotten to Rome I had driven from a small town in what used to be East Germany to Antwerp, Belgium where I photographed a model then to Paris, France where I found myself in the middle of an “underground” strike near the French Parliament. From there is was off to Bologna, Italy to photograph another model. My drive to Rome via my GPS and internet secured hotel took me the back roads, my first view of the ancient city of Rome were of some magnificent statues that were adorned with prostitutes at there basses. I wondered just what my hotel would be like.
I found the hotel a very European, very stylish facility on the outside. The area was not the kind you wanted to be out at night so I had to pull the car in a gated area and left the keys in it as requested. I checked in and was astonished to find that they did not have internet access except for dial-up, which despite many attempts I could not access. The hotel staff was very nice but when I got to my room I walked into this dark depressing room with walls covered from floor to ceiling with a dark green looking carpet. Despite having the halogen lights on I could not tell what color the bedspread was. After nearly 3,400 miles on the road I need something more cheerful then this. I made the decision to find something a bit brighter, something a bit closer to the Vatican and old Rome.
I can’t remember how but I found The Holiday Inn Rome West. It took a bit to find and I felt really bad for the hotel staff at the last hotel but I truly needed to be somewhere brighter. I checked in and found out what time the restaurant opened for dinner and asked if there was a place I could get a beer and a small sandwich. The front desk pointed me to the coffee bar around the corner from the front desk. I walked around the corner in the lobby to find this little bar with a few tables just across the isle. I pulled a stool up to the bar and was greeted by the bar tender who was this woman that just beamed when she smiled. She spoke first in Italian, I did not, she then asked “American” I said “yes”. She introduced herself; “my name is Ramona” I told her my name. We talked until it was time for me to go and get ready for dinner. It was decided that she would buy me a drink after dinner so I was destined to return.
While at dinner I was new to the food and was unsure of what was on the grill. A fellow behind me spoke a bit of English; “squid” he said “try, is very good” he continued. I figured what the heck and picked up a grilled squid and a couple of other things and went about eating dinner. I discovered you can make an Italian waiter cry if you just ask for beer with dinner when he asks which wine you want… Had to laugh, but by the end of my stay in Rome I was drinking a bottle of wine with dinner! Ok, so I finished dinner and made my way back into the bar area, where to my surprise I found Ramona waiting with a drink. She had a beer ready and waiting and was eager to talk some more. I sat and talked with her until the bar had to close, she had tried to come to America but had been rejected and had the habit of saying “it doesn’t matter”. She told me she would be working the next evening as well and after my adventures around Rome to come in for a drink. After a day walking around the Vatican I was egger to get back to the hotel and relax. I got down to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and met an American couple sitting at the bar talking to Ramona. She was excited to see me and wanted to talk but when the American couple discovered I was from America as well they took over the conversation. So much so that I can tell you what color "little juniors" eyes are, anyway, the wife decided to go back to there room and when Ramona turned around to acquire drinks for others the husband moved down to a stool right next to me and ordered several more drinks. Ramona looked at me and rolled her eyes, it was a moment that will last forever in my mind, we both started laughing out loud because we had the same thought. Another patron thought we were laughing at him but I said no it was a bad joke that I spoke of earlier.
Time for dinner came and I found myself back at the bar aftward. The fellow who made mention about the squid the night before was standing behind me waiting to order along with several of his friends. Though they did not know I understood them I knew they were poking fun at me. At one point I turned and said if you’re going to poke fun you should really make sure the person does not understand what your saying. It kind of shut them up pretty quick and gave Ramona a good laugh. I sat down and after these guys ordered there drinks they went and sat at a table. Ramona told me they were poking fun at me but was impressed that I knew it. She had to go over and serve them a few drinks and at one point I asked her to bring a tray of cappuccinos for everyone at the table. “This is not a proper drink for a man at night in Italy” she told me, I said “Yeah I know that’s the point”. She took the drinks to them and after a pretty good laugh they stood up and toasted me. The guy came over and shook my hand and invited me over to the table. I told him thanks but I was in the middle of a conversation with Ramona. He said something to her in Italian and shook my hand again. Ramona later told me he said that for an American I turned out to be OK. Ramona indicated she wanted to see the photographs from my next days adventure and I eagerly said of course! We talked until the bar closed again and I wished her a good night.
I spent the next day photographing old Rome and the coliseum the Palatino and walking the streets of Rome. By the time I got back to the hotel I was ready for a drink and some dinner! After dinner I went to the bar and Ramona and I talked for sometime. Being that the only sport I typically pay attention to is ice hockey I had no idea that it was soccer season. I had taken my laptop down to the bar with me to show Ramona the photographs I had taken from the last several days. I started the laptop when these couple of Scottish fellows came in “just back from a foot ball game” they already had a great deal to drink but were determined to drink more, another eye roll from Ramona and we laughed again. One of the brothers sat next to me the entire night and would not stop talking. In the mean time Ramona cleaned and closed the bar gathered her things and stopped to wish me a good night, she shrugged her shoulders and said “have a good night with your new friend”. And off she went.
My last full day in Rome was spent in the hotel as a bad weather system dropped several inches of hail and rain in the area and I discovered that my laptop hard drive was full, I had taken nearly 5,000 photographs by this time so I visited the electronics store a block away and spent the day backing up photographs to DVDs. I knew Ramona would be working the day (lunch shift) that day so I made sure to stop for a beer and lunch. I could tell she was in a different mood, perhaps it was because she knew I would be leaving the next morning. We did not speak too much but looked at each other as if we were studying each others faces to make sure we had an imprint in our minds. After my lunch I knew it would be time for Ramona to leave so I was sure to wait until the very last moment that I could. I went back to my room to complete my task of backing up photographs as I knew I still had many to take. It was a very long afternoon.
The next day I went downstairs to have breakfast and was surprised to see Ramona walking by with a plate of food. A big smile from her made my otherwise dreary morning warming. I finished breakfast and completed packing up my room and went to check out. Afterward I went to the bar to see if Ramona was still there, she was! She happened to be getting a plate for herself when I was in for breakfast. She wanted to buy me one last coffee, of course I said sure! Getting close to noon I had to tell Ramona that it was time that I was on my way. She once again said “it doesn’t matter” and extended her hand for me to shake. I stood up to lean over the bar to giver her a hug, she leaned toward me then pulled back, motioned to a couple of other guests one moment and ran around the bar where we stood holding each other as tight as we could. When I pulled back just a bit I told her “it does matter” and then one more hug before I could walk away. As I looked at her she had tears in her eyes and I suppose I did as well. I left her standing there crying and all we did during my time in Rome was talk.
Over the course of several days I learned many things about her but the most important things were, that Ramona was from Romania originally, and after trying to get a visa to study in America settled in Rome, Italy, and her name had Spanish origins. You just can't get any more poetic then that!