Back in Rome for a weekend I tasted Ice Cream heaven!

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I roll out of bed, throw on a t-shirt and jeans, and galvanize myself towards the breakfast room. Two perfect double espressos and a croissant later, I am buzzing with nervous energy and know that it is time to explore. I dump my room key at the reception desk and exit the hotel.

The ARS Hotel is built into a hill and with no real plans for my day, I decide to climb it. The coffee from breakfast is really pulsing through my veins and I still feel the need to shake this morning’s jumbled thoughts from my head. I find myself running, sprinting to the top of the hill. My breath is heavy but I push myself, I barely make it, although I do. I am perspiring, I can feel my heart pumping at speed and I’m trying to catch my breath – get it under control. I sink onto a convenient rickety wooden bench and just sit for a while, why not, after all there truly is no rush. Time is all I have at the moment.

As I recuperate, a petite old woman pushing a shabby aged shopping basket, comes to rest beside me. Her cart is brimming with apples. Surprisingly, she ignores the other vacant benches and sits right next to me. It is an unusual gesture and I wonder if she, too, may be feeling somewhat alone and would delight in company, even if it is just sitting beside a total stranger.

“Do you speak English?” I hesitantly try to strike up conversation. She turns and smiles at me, her teeth filled with gaps, and her skin crinkles with the movement showing her age, but her smile still lights up her face.
“Yes, I learned at school and lived in London for many years.”
I am in luck. I can have a conversation! “It’s better than my Italian that is for certain.” I grin. “I am curious however, can I ask why you sit beside me and not in the empty benches? Please, don’t misunderstand, I am pleased you have. I am simply wondering.”
“I like people, I like to feel close to people. I am 85 years of age and since my husband died two years ago, I am alone,” she replies, her face darkening slightly at her memories.
I feel her sadness suddenly and change the subject. “Where do you recommend here that you go to enjoy?” I ask, truly interested and pleased to see her face light up again.
“I always go for ice cream at Domus Joe, just down the hill to the left, you will find the place. I go most days, the very taste always cheers me up. There is just something about Italian gelato, it makes me feel like a little girl again. I may be 85, but behind this wrinkled skin and before my history, I am still just a little girl.”

We converse for a short while longer and then decide to part company. I find myself leaning towards her and gently kissing her on both cheeks, Italian style, and am off down the hill in search of Domus Joe.
It is an inconspicuous little box of a shop. I would have missed it if I hadn’t known about it. The owner, Giovanni, seems to be half expecting me. It is somewhat uncanny.
“Pronto.” He gestures towards the array of enticing colours. I have no idea what to pick, especially with him watching me. I point randomly to a green tub which I am assuming is pistachio. Giovanni dips an elfin sized plastic spoon into the tub and presents to me for a taste. I am speechless! It is so incredibly creamy, the dense milky taste melts in my mouth, and for want of a better word, it is bloody amazing.

He grins under his bushy moustache and presents me with yet another taste. This time dark chocolate with rum, it is impossibly good. I take two hugely over-sized scoops in a cup and sit down outside the shop to savour every lick. I can’t remember the last time I sat and enjoyed ice cream. Perhaps, on an old family holiday with my siblings, I just can’t think.

I devour the lot and pop back into shake the man’s hand and thank him. He is so happy I have and proceeds to chat to me in broken English. With much gesticulation, we manage to understand each other and his pride in his business is contagious. He is so thrilled I am taking an interest that he leads me to the back pointing at various machines, mixers, scoops, it is like a mini magical Willy Wonka parlor, homage to the iced cream gods. I stay and taste a wonder of flavours, mango, melon, and a lemon one that so truly tastes of the original fruit it cannot be more authentic if he had tried. Giovanni sits back and watches me before beaming and patting me on the back as if to say, yes, you enjoy. If I had come here as a child I wonder if I would have ever left. Sadly however, I am an adult and I do need to leave this heaven.

As we return to the shop front, I take my wallet out and he stops me, arms waving. “No, no, no.” He refuses to accept any money, the very pleasure of seeing a total stranger joyfully lost in his product is enough. I feel a tad awkward but understand that it is okay to receive. Indeed the actual act of taking from someone truly offering to give in itself, is a form of giving, if that makes any sense at all. To me, in this moment, it does.