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When I returned back to Rome, after nine days by the sea in Marblehead MA, I was in the first hour taken by three things.  

First the smoking. Exiting the airport into the sticky Roman air, I was among knots of people who were standing about, smoking. Some smoking alone, some smoking while talking on their phones, some gesticulating while smoking, some in knots with other smokers and non smokers. Some kissing and hugging while smoking. The odor of lit cigarettes filled the air, and hit me by surprise after having seen not one cigarette in all my days away.  

The next impact was the confusion to find a taxi. Groups of people awaiting taxis were scattered along a 50 meter stretch of pavement outside the Arrivals terminal. There were three taxi signs, but there were no taxis at any of them.  Suitcases piled high in carts were spilling on the ground. No one moved much, in the intense heat, but just waited, each in their self selected spot.  After some time a swarthy man arrived with the word “Taxi” emblazoned on a vest. He positioned himself in the middle of the street opposite the #3 Arrivals door, with cars careening left and right around him, turned around and raised one hand at some unseen location far ahead. Within a minute a taxi creeped up. And then another. And then several. Passengers massed messily into a shapeless bunch and surged towards him, and with surprising efficiency, and speaking only Italian and the words “where you go”, he began a fast dance of pointing at the driver he had selected for each passenger group, opening taxi doors, shepherding in passengers, opening trunks, slamming trunks, closing taxi doors, all to repeat. 

The third was when I arrived home. I climbed out of my taxi to find by the curb my friend Dario, the restaurant owner. He was removing from a refrigerator bag at the back of his motorino three well wrapped aluminum pans. “Micio !”  “Micio, micio, micio !”  “Micietta !”  “Vieni Micietta amore di Papi !” From behind the jasmines emerged two shiny-coated, overweight cats, which darted to Dario and began a chorus of meows, rubbing against his legs, their tails erect.  Dario carefully removed the foil, commenting as he did so on my slight tan and how elegant I looked. (I was anything but.) He then placed the pans on the street, flicking a clam or two into the center of one dish. “Spaghetti alle vongole, senza guscio e senza peperoncino” he said as much to me as to himself as to the cats. Spaghetti with clams, without hot pepper and without shells.  “Filetto di merluzzo”. Cod fillets. “Acciughe sfilletate.” Deboned anchovies. The cats sat plumply, each one before one plate, and feasted. And then, as if pre-accorded, each moved a cat pace over to the next dish.

I stayed to watch for some time, leaning against my suitcase. “Bentornata cara“, said Dario, raising his eyes from the cats, smiling at me, and beginning to roll a cigarette with his fishy fingers. Welcome Home. 

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